It’s a new year, which means that most people have new goals. Personal, financial, business or health, goal setting is a wonderful way to create intentions and move to the next level. BUT, there’s a catch and it’s something that shows up in clinic time and time again.
It’s the dark side of pushing over the line to get to that next level. Suddenly you’ve lost your balance and you no longer have all your ducks in a row. And I’ve seen some pretty horrendous cases of it in the last 6 months and a couple in this new year alone. Maybe you don’t agree, but I am convinced that our body’s weren’t designed to be ‘on’ all of the time. However, we now live in a world where its almost an expectation. If you truly want to maintain your health then you need to push back on this expectation and learn to find the balance among the chaos.
True burnout is like a big, black hole. Usually, it takes years, maybe even decades to get to that point… and it will therefore take many months, possibly years to truly come out of it.
So, what does this look like? What kind of signs and symptoms might show up if someone’s crossed the line and is starting to get lost in the big, black hole….
Each of us is individual, so it can show up in different ways. This can make it challenging to recognize, particularly for the person going through it. In my experience, anyone who is truly close to burning out really needs permission to feel that way…. I don’t mean this in a nasty way, but someone close to burn out has likely pushed themselves incredibly hard for a long, long time. Typically they are high achievers and have a ‘never give up’ attitude. In some ways it can be a massive relief to hear from a professional that hey, its truly time to put the brakes on and take some time out.
Here are some common signs and symptoms that may indicate its time to re-evaluate:
- Recurring sickness: constantly getting every cold, sore throat or virus that’s going around is a signal that the immune system is completely exhausted and depleted. Sure, you can pump yourself full of medications or vitamins, but ultimately you need to address the underlying cause – not enough down time. This doesn’t mean taking a few days off… it means having a good hard look at your life and putting the pieces back together with genuinely more down time. Long term. NOT just until you recover from your current bout of illness.
- Sleep: sleep onset (time to fall asleep) may be greatly compromised as well as the duration of each sleep cycle. Think about this…. if you’ve been demanding your brain and body to be ‘on’ all the time eventually, it’s going to hit back and forget the mechanisms to ‘switch off.’ The biochemical explanation of this is too much cortisol (stress hormone) and a subsequent inability to produce melatonin (sleep hormone).
- Constant niggles and injuries: this one applies to athletes…. how often does an athlete (recreational or professional) truly have an off season? Pretty much never. Ongoing issues are indicators of generalized inflammation in the body and a sign to stop. Perhaps consider some more restorative exercise like resistance work, yoga or Pilates to build a base and then return to the sport rested and rejuvenated.
- Overwhelming anxiety, panic attacks or simply having a lot less patience with others: you’re at the end. You’re done. Everything is completely overwhelming. It’s ok. Maybe its time to put yourself first? Putting yourself first is actually not selfish – if you’re not in peak condition, how can you take care of those around you that rely on you? The biochemical reason for this can come back to a serious depletion of gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) in the body and brain, as this is our main inhibitory (relaxing) neurotransmitter.
- Irregular bowel motions: quite simply, stress plays with your poop. The lining of the gastrointestinal system is covered in nerve endings so the brain can literally talk to the gut. Changes in serotonin (the ‘happiness’ hormone) alters bowel function as it assists with peristalsis of the bowel wall (i.e. helps you poop!). Therefore, long term stress, the kind that eventually leads to burnout may present as IBS like symptoms.
- Never ending bloats: got the bloats? Like all the time? Long term stress and burn out may mean the body redirects its resources to ‘necessary’ processes. Digestion isn’t at the very top of the list unlike ‘breathing’ because theoretically you can live for a while even if your digestion isn’t crash hot. So if you are completely out of your mind stressed and run down, food might just be hanging around in that gut of yours and not being properly absorbed so you may feel 6 month’s pregnant by lunchtime each day.
- Weight changes: looking after what you eat, but just can’t manage your weight? Long term exposure to high cortisol (stress levels) and not enough sleep will drive triglycerides up (fat) and increase tissue storage around the middle. Although this can depend on your genetics because some people close to burn out may go the other way, losing too much weight to maintain normal hormonal function as a result of an overactive metabolism or complete loss of appetite.
- Absolute exhaustion no matter how much you sleep: this is a common presentation in the clinic and a sure sign that you are pretty far down the big, black hole. Not only is it time for a holiday, its time for a major lifestyle change as well as a patient, ‘take every day as it comes’ kind of attitude because its a long journey back to health.
These are just some of the red flags that may mean burn is around the corner. Never before have we asked so much of our bodies and minds and yet given it so little time to recover… don’t you think? Thankfully, the evolution that is mindfulness serves as a constant reminder to us that we must counteract the stress we place on ourselves by making time to look inwards. Make sure you adopt some of these habits before its too late. If you don’t make time for them now, you will have to make 10 times as much space for the recovery journey you’ll be faced with beyond burn out.
Wanting help to regain energy or something in this article struck a cord with you? Drop me a message or give me a call 07 3343 1602. Always happy to chat and arrange a consultation if I feel I can assist.