When you’re burnout and struggling through a fog of exhaustion, worry and overwhelm you may find yourself thinking, “How did I get here? How did it get this bad?” You may be feeling empty, powerless and fearful of failure.
They say prevention is better than cure. Whether you’re already burnout or feel like you’re heading in that direction, understanding what burnout is and what the causes are can help you find compassion and empathy which are vital in burnout recovery.
What is Burnout?
So, we’ve heard about my experience of burnout in Part 1; the confusion and guilt, exhaustion and loneliness I experienced as I tried to cope. And we’ve looked at what burnout can feel like so that you can identify it.
But what is it?
Burnout is total physical, mental and emotional exhaustion which leaves you feeling unable to cope or sometimes even function on a daily basis.
This state is not simply a caused by working too hard for too long. This is a common misconception but it’s more than that.
When the balance of work, deadlines and the numerous life responsibilities become greater than reward, recognition and relaxation and this continues for some time, burnout can occur.
Struggling to cope with many and conflicting demands can leave you feeling frustrated, hopeless and unmotivated. Often there is total disengagement and detachment from work and those around you.
This numbness is a protective mechanism; a defence to keep you from the maximum point of pain which would be intolerable to face.
At it’s worst, burnout can leave you questioning the meaning and purpose of your life. From these depths, it can be difficult to see a way out. But understanding leads to compassion and empathy, and from here healing can begin.
What Causes Burnout?
Burnout is a troublesome combination of 2 elements:
Disequilibrium + ineffective coping style = burnout
Disequilibrium is the imbalance between your output and input.
Output: anything that can become draining, stressful and exhausting. E.g caring responsibilities, work, organising an event.
Input: anything that helps you relax, is enjoyable and rewarding. E.g exercise, socialising, chilling on the sofa with a good book.
While output activities can be enjoyable and fulfilling, if you don’t have enough input, like a battery that isn’t recharged, you’ll become drained; empty with no energy left to give to anything or anyone.
Having an ineffective coping style determines your reaction to a situation. It can be the difference between sleepless nights and stress induced fatigue and being able to let go of what you don’t have time to do, knowing that you are enough. Altering your perspective or making external changes to your circumstances can enable you to cope.
But what are the causes of this disequilibrium?
I’m guessing you’re a caregiver…? Am I right? You go the extra mile when caring for your children, friends, family, or an elderly or sick relative. Caregivers tend to get so busy looking after others, that they neglect their own needs. Unrealistic expectations, role confusion if looking after a spouse or parent etc., and lack of control all contribute to burnout.
Positive relationships include give and take. Giving and receiving support is important. Not having adequate support can be a major factor in burnout. And don’t forget about the relationship with yourself; it’s important to take time to look after you, self-care is key.
Work can bring us a sense of purpose, satisfaction and community. But when demands increases beyond your capacity and recognition and reward don’t meet these demands it can leave you feeling defeated and stressed. Monotonous or unchallenging work, a chaotic or high-pressure environment and fear of failure or judgement all contribute to burnout.
Death of a loved one, the breakdown of a relationship or loss of your health all have the capacity to be huge life changing events that can cause worry and stress creating the disequilibrium that can lead to burnout.
These are the smaller things that can be overlooked but after a while they can build up and become frustrating and stressful adding to the feelings of overwhelm.
What’s the link between Grief and Burnout?
Grief is a painful process that has a very real impact on the mind and body. Although we may not realise it, it weakens us.
The death of a loved one can be a double threat:
a major life event + loss of a supportive relationship = disequilibrium.
For caregivers, it’s highly likely you’ll be entering grief feeling exhausted after caring for your loved one before they died. You’re not only psychologically worn out, but physically too.
After a loved one passes away the busyness of preparing the funeral, dealing with their belongings and sorting out the estate can, be a welcome distraction from the pain of your loss. But it can also delay the grieving process and perpetuate exhaustion you may already feel. Slowing down, feeling, thinking and just being can an overwhelming prospect.
The exhaustion of bereavement can leave you feeling weak and fragile and make normal daily tasks, difficult. Cognitive function of memory, decision making and clarity of thought are affected too, and it can feel like you’re moving through a fog. Loneliness and intrusive thoughts can be upsetting.
Burnout can be caused by a combination of any number of factors and is experienced in a personal and unique way and grief can be a major cause too.
You may be tempted to brush it off; you’ll be fine, you just need… more sleep/time/ etc.
But burnout generally gets worse when it’s overlooked. Your coping mechanisms aren’t quite working. Sharing how you’re feeling with someone who understands and will be able to offer support is an important step that can bring great relief, understanding and compassion.
Not sure who to talk to? I can help. I know how difficult it can be to say, ‘I can’t do this on my own, please can you help me?’ And while some may say asking for help is a sign of weakness, this in fact takes honesty, humility and courage and is a sign of your strength.