Who is affected by burnout?

In my counselling practice, I have the great fortune to work with many clients who also work in a helping field.  A good number of my clients are nurses, social workers, youth workers, palliative care specialists, and community centre employees.  What most of these individuals have in common, is their innate desire to be of assistance to others as best they can. This isn’t just the case for those in helping fields, there are also those who are paternal or maternal by nature, or who also would be described as empaths.  Regardless of how you came to be someone who is always looking to be helpful, this personality trait usually means you have an increased risk of developing burnout.

What signals burnout?

Have you noticed some of these experiences becoming more frequent in your life, or showing up at times when normally they wouldn’t?  It might be burnout. Burnout often shows up disguised as other stresses, such as:

  • anger
  • insomnia
  • fatigue
  • detachment
  • isolation
  • forgetfulness
  • becoming more blunt
  • loss of appetite
  • loss of care or concern for ourselves or others
  • anxiety
  • increased illnesses or levels of physical stress

This list above could be indicative of many ailments. This is why identifying burnout is tricky. It doesn’t present like a typical illness. There aren’t any particular features of burnout that are exclusively distinguishable to burnout and that makes it hard to pinpoint when it is developing.  We generally don’t realize we are burning out until we have already done so.

My hope is to shed some light on a few things you may want to consider in order to avoid burnout before it even begins. In order to do that we must explore what within us leads us down the path towards burnout.

How do we burnout?

One major contributing factor to burnout is being a ‘yes person’. What’s a ‘yes person’? You may be someone who finds it very difficult to say no and to set boundaries that may help protect you from burnout.  Another trait that may lend itself to burnout is putting everyone else’s needs in front of our own. Perfectionist traits coupled with pessimism and controlling behaviours can also lead to burnout. As can a lack of support, connection, and positive self-affect.  

How do we combat these traits to avoid going down the path to burnout?  Here are a few suggestions you may want to try:

Be present

Be sure to do something you enjoy and be present to the effect it has on you.  I ask people to consider things they loved doing as a child, such as painting, playing sports, theatre, music, or learning something new. If you don’t have something in your life that brings you joy, it’s time to get on it!  Adding something like this to your life will help recharge your battery and reverse burnout so that you have more to give when you need to.

Set boundaries

Try to set some boundaries.  When things are being asked of you in many parts of your life from many people, try and see how you can learn to say no without feeling as if you are disappointing someone or disappointing yourself. Saying no can greatly decreased burnout. Some ways you can do this is by trying to delegate the tasks asked of you to others who are available to do them. You can also work to communicate that you aren’t able to take on so much but would like to be as available as possible without pushing yourself overboard.  

Develop your self-worth

Consider that you may be viewing yourself as less valuable than others.  Try considering this pattern of thought: if we don’t take care of ourselves first, we won’t be able to take care of others to the level we would like to.  A primary example of this is for anyone who’s ever flown on an aircraft, in the safety demonstration they always speak about ensuring that you put your oxygen mask on first before assisting anyone else with theirs.  This same concept can be used to avoid burnout. Consider taking care of yourself so that you can be available to take care of others.

Be mindful of energy exertion

Another reason we may begin to develop burnout is because we are trying really hard to get connected to someone or something so we put all of our energy into things hoping to get energy given back in return.  Be mindful of where or with who you are exerting yourself. If you begin to notice that you are giving way more than you are getting you may want to reevaluate and consider putting your efforts elsewhere where you believe and can see that an equal energy exchange can occur.

I hope you find these suggestions around burnout helpful.  Continue being your beautiful giving selves, just make sure you are also receiving energy in return to help recharge you for whatever adventure you may go on next.