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Four tell-tale signs you’re suffering from burnout

Woman looking stressed, suffering from burnout. (Getty Images)
Could you be suffering from burnout? There are some tell-tale signs to look out for. (Getty Images)

The last few years, and all the unprecedented challenges they have brought, have left many of us feeling as if we’re teetering on the verge of burnout.

But, even though it's been over three years since the stresses of the pandemic, our mental health still seems to be suffering, with the specific condition of burnout also on the rise.

Mental health charity, Mental Health UK, has issued a new warning that Britain risks becoming a "burnt-out nation" due to poor mental health.

The warning comes after a YouGov poll revealed that more than a third of workers faced high or extreme levels of pressure at work, while 20% required time off because of stress impacting their mental health in the last year.

Brian Dow, chief executive of Mental Health UK, said that the high levels of work absence because of poor mental health pose a "major challenge", but there are "complex" causes behind them.

He added that we "live in unprecedented times, and life outside work has become increasingly difficult due to the cost of living crisis and pressures on public services, while global challenges such as climate change and artificial intelligence fuel stress, anxiety and feelings of hopelessness".

Statista
(Statista)

The charity is calling on the UK government to hold a summit so that ministers, employers and experts can have a "national conversation" on how to provide better support for workers.

Last year, a study by The Dawn revealed the prevalence of burnout amongst ‘C-suite level’ managers and executives in the UK, with over half (54%) saying they’ve suffered from the condition, often experiencing panic attacks and other physical symptoms such as heart palpitations and headaches brought on by work stress.

Around one in six (16%) of those impacted say they've been forced to take up to three months off work as a result.

Commenting on the findings, Helen Wells, clinical director at The Dawn, where around a quarter of clients treated each year are from the UK, says: "Many of our clients have reached the top of their game at work. But while everything looks great on the outside, they are really struggling internally."

Wells says the clinic is seeing many cases of burnout, which she describes as a state of chronic physical and emotional fatigue that leads to feelings of detachment, demotivation, depression and anxiety.

"When a person is suffering burnout, they are usually at a point where they are no longer able to function in an efficient way in their personal and professional lives," she explains.

Woman looking stressed and exhausted.
Feeling exhausted is one of the signs of burnout. (Getty Images)

The good thing is, it can be treated, but you need to be able to spot the signs first.

"Even though there’s no defining moment when a person is ‘hit’ with burnout, the human body often flashes many warning signals," Wells says.

Warning signs of burnout

Chronic exhaustion

Distinct from ordinary feelings of tiredness, exhaustion from burnout doesn't go away after a period of rest. "Starting to lose motivation to work, or thinking, 'what's the point?', can be serious indicators of professional burnout," Wells warns.

Changes in mood

Burnout sufferers may notice themselves arguing with friends, family and colleagues more often. "But this is not about having a bad day, or even a bad week," Wells explains. "It's a persistent quality that develops as stress accumulates".

Decreased effectiveness at work

Unsurprisingly, feelings of exhaustion and mood changes often have a negative impact on performance, creativity and judgement at work. "As burnout intensifies, cognitive efficiency also deteriorates," Wells adds.

Physical symptoms

A lot of people suffering from burnout will experience unexplainable aches and pains. "Other common symptoms include loss of appetite and insomnia," Wells adds.

Man looking stressed at work.
Burnout cases are on the rise. (Getty Images)

So how can we prevent burning out?

Dr Elena Touroni, consultant psychologist and co-founder of My Online Therapy says one of the key ways to protect yourself against burnout is to prioritise your own wellbeing.

"As many of us have made the move to working from home, we might have found that the boundaries between work and home life have become blurred," she previously told Yahoo Life.

"So it’s important to establish a clear divide between work time and downtime for example don’t take work calls past 6pm and resist the urge to check emails from bed."

She also suggests making sure you’re doing plenty of activities that provide you with a sense of wellbeing, for example online yoga classes, reading a chapter of your favourite book in your lunch break.

"Take breaks every couple of hours to break up the day," she continues. "True productivity requires us to be fully present so it’s important to take appropriate breaks throughout the day to keep our energy bank 'topped up'".

As many of us also have busy, stressful lives, Dr Touroni suggests starting the day with a short morning mindfulness meditation.

"This can be really beneficial in giving us an understanding of how we’re feeling so we can structure our day in a way that is sensitive to that," she adds.

Woman taking a nap.
Taking a regular nap could help prevent burnout. (Getty Images)

Other tips to prevent burnout

Get your rest

"Napping for just 20 minutes can improve cognitive functioning and processing of information," suggests Dr Niall Campbell, from Priory’s Roehampton Hospital.

"Rest also encourages greater tolerance for the tasks that may lead to burnout."

Encourage ‘good enough’, not ‘perfection’

Perfectionism can actually hinder success, and may be a large cause for burnout. "We can often measure ourselves against impossibly high standards and striving to achieve these standards," says Dr Campbell.

"Setting the bar too high is dangerous as we will never consistently be able to deliver."

Go for optimisation, not maximisation

According to Dr Anne Whitehouse, author and subconscious transformation expert this is the most important tip of all. "Think of your life as a jigsaw puzzle," she suggests. "When you optimise all the pieces, you get the best picture. If you put all your time and energy into one thing (ie work) the picture is warped, and you lose your wellbeing and maybe your health and career too.

"When you optimise all the aspects of your life, including rest, fun, friends, family, self-care as well as work, your achievement level is actually better, and instead of draining yourself like a battery, you can enjoy a full and successful life for many years."

Watch: Five tell-tale signs of burnout

Mental health: Read more