Being burnt out felt like paddling against the current,” says Tasmin, 26. “No matter how hard I tried, I wasn't getting anywhere and utlimately, it left me feeling exhausted. I was drained physically, emotionally and mentally and lost motivation for everything - not just work. The weight of everything intensified to the point where even taking my morning shower felt like hard work.”
Tasmin is one of thousands of people realising her extreme stress and anxiety might actually be burnout. Perkbox Medical found that searches for “what is burnout?” increased by 55% on average from 2018 to 2019, and a viral article by BuzzFeed on “How Millennials became the Burnout Generation” became a sensation earlier this year when it hit the nail on the head with how many of us are feeling.
In fact, the condition has become so talked-about that the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently made the decision to list burnout as a recognised occupational phenomenon. As a result, it is now classified as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.
#Burnout is included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (#ICD11) as an occupational phenomenon.
It is NOT classified as a medical condition https://t.co/t9pjcv3ctX pic.twitter.com/FF6Zzfwoj7— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) 28 May 2019
In a time when career success is highly sought-after and admired, we're putting more and more pressure on ourselves to be successful and – just as importantly – appear successful to our peers. The result can be extreme emotional and physical stress. “It's only now that I've left that job that I look back and realise that I was burnt out,” Tasmin admits. “At the time, I knew that I was unhappy in my job and frustrated with feeling like I was fighting a losing battle.
“I guess I was kind of in denial about the whole thing because I thought being burnt out meant I was failing at my job.”
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According to the latest Wellbeing Index report, Almost half (48%) of the British workforce agree that they suffer from workplace stress and anxiety. For 36-year-old Binny, burnout was the catalyst behind her choice to quit her job and pursue a freelance career.
“I was trying to allocate time to keeping up with deadlines for my blog as well as ensuring I was concentrating on projects in my full-time job,” she tells Cosmopolitan UK. “I had to change my routine and began waking up at 5am every day just to get a couple of hours of work done for my blog posts every morning. My days would normally end at around 11pm.
“When I started to feel overwhelmed, exhausted and anxious I knew I had reached boiling point... something had to give. I would often feel anxious, suffer from tension headaches from stress and would fall ill quite often from being run down and from lack of sleep. The symptoms were both physical and mental for me.”
Binny had to plan ahead and bide her time before she could leave her job, but “I saved up a lot of money as a buffer to tide me through until I was able to make a decent monthly income,” she admits. “Being freelance has enabled me to manage and schedule my time on my own terms and ensure that I always have sufficient ‘me-time’ blocked out, which I think is really key.”
What actually is burnout?
Award-winning NLP Master Coach & NLP Hypnosis Trainer Rebecca Lockwood told Cosmopolitan UK that burnout can occur at any time – and it doesn't only happen to those in “high-powered” jobs.
“If you are beginning to feel very fatigued and as though each day is just getting lower and lower, it is a good indicator that you may be experiencing burnout. If you're lacking interest in normal day-to-day activities and have little or no interest in your work or anything you would usually enjoy, then it's time to take some action.”
That action can come in the form of therapy, counselling or a job change – or it could simply mean taking more time for yourself.
What are the symptoms of burnout?
There are no clear-cut symptoms of burnout, but the below are all good indicators that you could be affected:
-Physical and emotional exhaustion
-Inability to concentrate
-Weakening immune system
How can you overcome burnout?
“It's always important to check on all areas of your life when it comes to burnout,” says Rebecca. Quitting your job immediately may not be the answer – especially if there are changes you can make to manage your mental workload. Rebecca suggests considering:
1. What are your thoughts on a daily basis?
"Become aware of the thoughts you have going on in your mind at any time. Are you being kind to yourself or are you being negative towards yourself? What words do you use to describe yourself? You are only your internal representation of yourself and this is what you will project out into the world. Look in the mirror and tell yourself how proud you are of you."
2. What are you fuelling yourself with?
"What are you eating on a daily basis? Avoiding foods that take you time to digest can have a huge impact on the way you feel every day. If your body is being used up for digestion then that will be zapping your energy, especially in the longer days during summer. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water."
3. Where are you getting your energy from?
"You've most likely heard about introverts and extroverts. Introverts get their energy from being alone, and extroverts get their energy from being around others. What if you were to imagine your energy coming from the sun, or the universe. Imagining a ray of sunshine pouring into you like a light or a beam of light pouring into you from the universe. Gaining your energy this way will support you because it can be done at any time, only depending on yourself."
Recovery from burnout is personal
Alex Hirst is the Co-Founder and Joint CEO of The Hoxby Collective, a global community of 1000 freelancers in 30 countries. He created the company when he realised that his mental health was suffering from working 9-5. “For me, burnout consumed my emotion to the point where I could no longer feel it,” he told Cosmopolitan UK. “I felt isolated and detached from the people and things that were happening around me - dismissive of the highs and ambivalent to the lows."
He believes that “In the digital era, we can (and should) create work that fits around the uniqueness of our lives, rather than trying to make our lives fit around a rigid work system."
But leaving your job and starting all over again isn't always realistic –and, more importantly, not everyone can thrive in self-employment. Instead, Rebecca recommends taking some time out and figuring out what might be causing your burnout – and what will help you get back to you.
“Self-care and mindset is key to a full recovery,” she says. “Staying on top of your mindset and energy using the tips above will support with ongoing control of symptoms of burnout. It can be so easy to get wrapped up in the digital and millennial world we live in, thinking we have to rush to get everything done. We all want instant gratification.
“Remember that it is the journey that is the most rewarding, so be present with yourself and those around you.”
For information on therapy and counselling, visit the NHS or the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.