What is Emotional Burnout?
Burnout is a state of mental and physical exhaustion. It takes away your energy, joy, and motivation to the point where it may be hard to get out of bed, be engaged in relationships, and attend work. It can impact all areas of your life.
You’re at risk for burnout when 1) situations are out of your control and 2) situations are making demands of you that are not in line with your personal goals and values.
Impacts on the Brain and Body
Burnout activates the stress response system in the body. This is called the sympathetic nervous system, which is associated with our brain and body’s “fight or flight” response. The sympathetic nervous system helps activate brain and body responses when there is a threat. This helps you have the energy and focus to either fight off the stressor or run away from the stressor. When you are burnt out, the sympathetic nervous system gets stuck in a permanent fight or flight cycle. This leads to wear and tear on many systems within the brain and body and can lead to stress-related health conditions like heart attacks, stomach ulcers, and tension headaches, for example. Your problem-solving and rational thinking skills are not at their best. So, your work or other projects in your personal life may suffer. Emotionally, you may feel numb and like you can’t react much anymore. You may not feel the highs and lows of your emotions because you don’t have the energy to invest in them. Alternatively, you may feel anxious, worried, and tense a lot of the time because you are stuck in a heightened state of alarm. This is a state of chronic stress.
How To Know If You’re At Risk?
1) Check in with yourself to observe if you have been in stressful situations lately, especially ones in which you don’t have much control and/or you are being asked to do things that don’t align with your personal goals and values.
2) Notice if you are feeling more tired than usual. Are you feeling physically run down?
3) Are you feeling mentally slowed down and sluggish?
4) Are you overwhelmed and having trouble making decisions?
5) Are you feeling emotionally numb with limited range of emotional responses?
Ways to Get Back on Track
Go back to basics to restore and replenish yourself.
1) Try to find a bit more time for sleep
2) Eat healthier foods
3) Make some time for self-care, even if it’s just a few minutes each day
4) Make some time for pleasant activities with people you enjoy, even an hour per week can help.
5) Try to identify the source of your stress and work to problem-solve ways you can gradually address it. Consider seeking help from family, friends, or professionals if that’s necessary.
6) To lower levels of arousal in the brain and body caused by being stuck in fight or flight, practice diaphragmatic or belly breathing. Practice taking deep breaths from the diaphragm in through the nose and out through the mouth. This helps lower heart rate, blood pressure, and re-regulate stress chemicals in the body. This can help you regulate your emotions, too.