It’s difficult to talk about burnout without discussing one of the main culprits that leads us to burnout- the ‘busy-ness’ epidemic. When societal pressures and personal hopes collide it’s a problem and recent research from Columbia University supports this conundrum. We want to be less busy personally to follow our dreams and have balance in life, however research has shown that busyness is a form of social status, and it says things like “I am popular and in demand”. Therefore, a difficult feeling to give up when it is closely linked with social gain and our dopamine system as it feels good to be wanted and when we are ticking a million things off the to do list, our dopamine continues to build. That coupled with the fact that the human brain struggles with uncertainty and in these times of the pandemic, we tend to stay doing what we are doing as this brings some certainty to the brain.

Some of us have started to ask questions through the pandemic such as “am I living my best life or is this the job I really want to be doing or are my relationships serving me? We work harder, double down and even numb with our work. There are others of us who don’t even have time to ask these important questions as guess what? Some of us are just too busy to stop and ask these questions. I knew this all too well, when I was so busy running my private psychology practice, the referrals kept coming, and remember the above research that says this feels good reaching social status right? Well, this leads to burnout, and I started to feel just that with so many moving parts to hold together along with a family. Covid gave me the chance to speed up of course at first to keep abreast of everything, and that’s part of the problem we get swept up further in moments and times rather than zooming out, being mindful of the pace and slowing down to choose the life we want to be living and to choose the things we spend our time doing.

In another study it was found that business leaders want to spend 97% more time in strategic planning while a separate study found 96% of leaders say they don’t have time to be doing the thing they want such as strategic planning, further to this the study found that the average professional attends 62 meetings per month, 28% of their time responding to emails and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. When people spend too much time at work or get caught up in the busy-ness cycle they tend to think well I’m not using drugs or doing anything bad, but what are they choosing and if we think longer term is this truly a sustainable solution to get trapped in busyness, I think not. We think triumphs succeed, however if you take time to look under the surface, check in and ask a few questions of yourself, what’s motivating this busy-ness, are you in control and what is really motivating this urge to do more? This is when the real freedom comes when you create space to breathe and to choose with whom and what you want to spend your time doing.

Now back to burnout and what to look out for, what did I notice before making significant changes to life and business, see even those of us who know the signs get swept up in the epidemic of busy-ness. You think the first clue would have been working everyday to get the endless tasks finished and thus the working harder with an inability to switch off. Recognising that I wasn’t just experiencing the stress of life, I was actually starting to experience the symptoms of burnout, it was then that I was able to make life changes, rebuild my business and life in a healthier way with all the psychology tools I already had. So, what is burnout and how does one get diagnosed with it. Luckily, I noticed before the diagnosis and speak often to people about the early warning signs, and they look and say, “wow that’s me”. You don’t have to get to this point. We must remember as many misunderstand struggle and say they endure set back after set back and describe this as resilience, to just keep getting through life, to charger through, this not the healthy way to manage stress, we need to prevent stress, not mitigate it. As World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2019 classified Burnout prior to Covid-19 and following this we now have had more complex layering of stress and must really pay attention, so we don’t burnout. In 2019 Stanford published research stating in the USA Burnout cost 190 billion from lost productivity in workplaces and Australia is conducting its own research which doesn’t seem far off this amount with relevance to population. Building the muscle of resilience is more important than ever. Resilience is how you recharge, invest in wellbeing, and replenish to stabilize and feel calm. All individuals as well as business owners have a responsibility to themselves and their employees to invest in workplace wellbeing.

The 3 components of burnout are:

Emotional exhaustion- You feel tired all the time and not up to facing your workday, even if it’s just a normal day. You may wake up every morning with a feeling of dread and it doesn’t ease.

Cynicism/Depersonalization- You may have started out as someone who really enjoyed working with people or dealing with clients. Now, you find yourself feeling increasingly angry and irritable toward them. Can you think of someone you know that has become more cynical or is that person you?
Reduced personal efficacy- You’re losing confidence in your ability to do your job, even though you used to be quite good at it. You work harder and harder yet seem to accomplish less. Your productivity has dropped significantly, and maybe your belief in yourself has fallen also.
We hope that if you are reading this you haven’t gotten to burnout stage yet. If you have reach out and get help and create the changes you need so you can be sustainable and be the best version of you for a healthy future. Even if you are noticing you are experiencing one of the above components pay attention as you may be functioning ok for now but may be on the road towards full burnout and from my experience of supporting people with burnout it’s a long road to recovery from there when we have these pivotal moments to prevent and thrive through work and life.

Here’s a few tips to help you prevent burnout:

If you feel mentally drained, do less with less instead of trying to do more with less.
Identify the predictors of burnout to stop it from happening again by keeping track of your symptoms and take notes. Scale your stress 1-10 and when it is creeping up have coping strategies to reduce to healthy range.
Develop good self-care practices: Meditation, exercise, sleep, and healthy eating are often prescribed as good antidotes to burnout. These work well but remember that they may only act as a short-term solution for coping with burnout. Self-care is not a luxury but an essential ingredient to greater wellbeing.
Speak to a therapist or a coach to support good business practices, values checking and lifestyle choices.
And remember it is possible to thrive in a world of change without burning out, we can all change societies expectations of holding up busy-ness as a badge by slowing down and celebrating and holding up those who slow down. Let’s role model efficient work practices and a more balanced life to others in business and life.