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Burnout: Prevention & Recovery

Prolonged exposure to mental, emotional, and/or physical stress without enough time or space to recoup may result in feelings of exhaustion, overwhelm, anxiousness, and perhaps also like being a failure, broken, embarrassed, ashamed, or even hopeless. Some may hit a point where they can't function at all, and even need to take time off work or school. This is burnout. It is important to recognize the signs of burnout and take action to address it.

Cartoon image of a very burntout looking person with an arrow pointing to a group of very blissful people suggesting that it is possible to reduce stressors and make way for a more blissful life.
It is possible to move from/ prevent burnout and to have a life more worth living. It can be hard work, and it's best not done alone, but the key is: It IS possible.

Burnout is understood to be most common in the following groups:

  • Moms & women in high-performance careers, including entrepreneurship. This is because women continue to bear the majority of the mental & emotional load at home (doing the majority of unpaid work in society), and the expectation that women give to others first.

  • People with ADHD, Autism, Giftedness, LDs, and/or a trauma history. This is due to long term masking and a sense of failure around not being able to match neuro-typical function as well as linked to comorbidity of other menal health conditions (ie. anxiety, depression, PTSD, etc.). These individuals often have difficulty accurately gauging their own emotional/ mental/ physical state, which can lead to getting into situations with higher levels of anxiety, depression, and stress. Additionally, masking symptoms can lead to long-term physical and mental health issues which can be difficult to overcome.

  • People in Health Care/ Allied Health Care. People working in these roles during the pandemic have experienced an incredible surge in demand for service at the same time as resources were depleted (ie. reduced staffing, PPE, etc.), and more restrictions/ expectations were imposed. This created a sense of being stuck, trapped, dehumanized, overwhelmed and so on for many in these professions.

These are some of the highest risk groups, but anyone can end up in burnout. However, burnout can be prevented and recovered from by taking proactive action starting with determining what is contributing to stress and managing this. To do this, it is recommended to do a stress audit - this means take out a paper and pen and write out every last thing that you can think of that is causing you any level of stress. Then, group these items into things you can control or influence, and things you cannot. Work with the stressors you can control and influence first. Look through them and establish where you can adjust your experience of them by:

  • Setting boundaries & managing expectations - it is crucial to know and respect your limits and convey to others what is and is not possible for you. Setting boundaries is letting everyone know what you will and will not be doing (and what happens if that's not honoured). Managing expectations is clarifying with others what is and is not actually possible (within your role, responsibilities, and authority, for example).

  • Planning and prioritizing tasks - if anything can be moved from a state of urgency and deferred to a planned timeline, it will allow you to focus on what is truly a priority at present. Many people experiencing burnout have lost track of what is most important and most needed. Some people struggle with this and will be better off asking for support in planning & prioritizing.

  • Delegating out - ask for help at work and in your personal life to decrease the stressors you have. Additionally, getting support from Allied, Completementary, and Alternative Health & Care Professionals (ie. doctors, clinical counsellors, occupational therapists, massage therapists, accupuncturists, naturopathic doctors, nurse practitioners, chiropractors, psychologists, physiotherapists, etc.) to better manage how you are feeling & showing up vs. trying to do it all on your own is highly recommended.

  • Deleting stressers that are unnecesary - it's important to notice how you are spending time, and if there are things (even feel-good things) that are not needed and just taking up time, it's often healthier to stop doing them. Sometimes this means making a career change or leaving a relationship. Sometimes it can mean cutting down on drinking or scrolling social media. The important piece here is committing to STOPPING doing things that are not actually healthy/ helpful.

  • Taking breaks - you need to rest and relax and to have built in occupations to complete the stress cycle. Connecting with yourself, others, the world, and/or a sense of purpose are good guidelines for what to do to create meaningful restorative breaks. Getting regular exercise is one kind of break that can be really helpful - even if it's just 20 minutes of moderate exercise each day spread through the day in smaller chunks, there are significant benefits to this. Taking a healthy snack & hydration or meal break is another good option. Journalling, drawing, walking with a friend or pet, sitting outside, practicing 5 minute mindfulness, practicing some breathing techniques, engaging in self or other massage, doing artwork, gardening, having a bath, brushing your teeth - these are all examples of healthy breaks that you can intentionally add in to your days to help with burnout.

  • Practicing gratitude - this can really help with mindset because when we are approaching burnout, it is hard to maintain a positive mindset, which increases how defeating things feel.

Managing burnout is a lifelong process. Each of these steps above can help with burnout, and can be helpful to turn to regularly. This article is not meant to replace professional/medical advice on managing burnout - if you are in a state of burnout, please talk to your health care team immediately and ask for real time support.

If you are in BC, AB, SK, MB, NL, YT, NT, or NU (subject to change as provinces regulate therapy), our team of Registered Clinical Counsellors can help work with you to address your burnout. In BC, our Occupational Therapist is also an option. Book a free consult - we're here for you.

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