Burnout, the point of physical and emotional exhaustion, is often experienced when people take on too much, have high expectations of themselves, or can’t say no. Not limited to those with ‘high stress’ jobs, burnout can often affect students, parents, and is common amongst the neurodivergent community. Read on for tips on how to recognise, and prevent burnout.
Symptoms of Burnout
Symptoms of burnout can include:
- Inability to make decisions
- Feeling trapped
- Feeling overwhelmed
If you’re taking on a lot at home, work or school, and you’re starting to feel some of the above, it could be burnout. It’s your body’s way of getting you to slow down and if you don’t, or you can’t, your health could start to suffer.
Read on for tips on how to reduce the likelihood of burnout:
1. Set Boundaries
As many more people are working from home, the boundaries between work and home can be increasingly blurred. (See my blog post on 5 Self Care Tips for Working From Home for some ideas on setting boundaries around working from home).
If you’re studying at home then, in the same way, create boundaries around where and when you work in the house, and where you can relax. Create a space if you can where work is not calling you – a place to relax and rest.
It’s important to set these boundaries so you are able to have some leisure time and to concentrate on you. Set leisure time in your calendar as you would any other appointment. Make it a priority in order to avoid burnout.
2. Have Realistic Expectations
What are your expectations of yourself? Maybe you’re starting a new job, a new year at school, or a new venture and you want to make sure you keep spinning all the plates without dropping any. Having such high expectations of yourself can be exhausting, and hard to sustain.
If you have a perfectionist streak, you may well be used to this but having high expectations of yourself can lead to burnout. You keep working and working, not giving yourself time to recharge.
Try writing out your goals for a particular project or activity – what are you expecting of yourself? Now look at your notes, does this seem fair? Would you expect this much from others? How much time would you reasonably expect to spend on this?
Then look at the workload – do you have to do everything yourself? Or can you share the load? Can you ask for more guidance, or turn to a friend for their opinions?
Think about what is realistic and set some limits around how long you spend on something, making sure you plan in breaks to enable you to stand back and be objective about your work.
3. Just Say no
Not being able to say no can lead to burnout. Have a think about why you struggle to say no. This may be about confidence levels (are you someone who has trouble asserting yourself?) Maybe you can’t say no to authority, or perhaps it’s about people pleasing and not wanting to disappoint. (See my blog on 5 Traps That People Pleasers Fall Into for more on this).
There are many ways to say no without actually saying no. A few examples below…
Say no to the little things first, like not going to an event you don’t want to. With practice, you can become used to speaking up about the bigger things and reducing your workload.
4. Self Care
Self care can seem like an overused term these days. But actually, caring for yourself is so important in order to keep your life in balance.
Self care doesn’t have to mean bubble baths and spa days, it can just be listening to your favourite music, connecting with a friend, or doing some physical activity.
Being creative can also help calm the mind and reduce the stress your body is feeling. Even just spending some time outside can do wonders for your mood.
Self care will be different for everyone, think about what keeps you relaxed and calm, and do more of it!
By making sure you’re regularly checking in with what your body and mind needs, you’ll not only help prevent burnout, but you’ll be get better at recognising when something is out of kilter in your life.
See my 5 Self Care Activities That Won’t Cost You A Penny for some low cost ideas to look after yourself.
5. Mindful Breaks
Schedule in plenty of breaks in your day, and think about incorporating some form of mindfulness to really feel the benefits.
Meditation is great for calming the mind and there are lots of guided meditations on apps such as “Insight Timer” to try like this one from my friend, Amy McMillan
But mindfulness doesn’t always have to be in the form of meditation, it can be used in short moments throughout your day in order to make the most of your breaks.
Take a look at my 3 Mindful Moments for ideas on ways to more mindful in your day.
So next coffee break, instead of reaching for your phone to scroll through social media, try some mindfulness to really give yourself time out and a little recharge before starting work again.
For autistic individuals, or those with ADHD, burnout can often be an issue. This can differ from the burnout talked about above and it can occur even when someone seemingly has less on their plate. Autistic burnout is often thought to be as a result of trying to function in a world built for neurotypical people. Particularly common amongst neurodiverse teenagers and young adults, this burnout seems to occur when a lifetime of masking has led to overwhelm. This can show itself as a reduced capacity to function, intense anxiety or depression, physical exhaustion and sensory overload.
Self care, again, is absolutely key here and knowing what you need (or don’t need) is equally important. Start by removing yourself from the stressful situation as soon as you can. Maybe you need a day off to rest and recharge in a calmer setting. Reduce sensory stimulation if you can.
Work on learning how much of something you can tolerate before needing a break, or a different environment. Learn what tends to trigger you and see if it can be avoided, or minimised in some way.
If the situation can’t be avoided, see if accommodations can be made for you, or maybe think about scheduling a rest day afterwards.
Reduce the amount of changes you have to make in one go – change can be very stressful for many people.
Finally, ask for more support from your workplace or school if you need more help.
Amy is a qualified counsellor working in Kent and online with adults and adolescents. Amy works with a range of issues and specialises in working with neurodivergent individuals and their families.
Contact Amy here for more information.