Burnout is a word that’s long been used to describe a specific type of sheer exhaustion leaving you physically and emotionally depleted. We’ve probably all described ourselves as a bit burnt out from time to time, knowing our body is kicking off about how much we may be taking on. And with news that the World Health Organisation has added burnout to the International Classification of Diseases as of 2020, this condition is now getting the official recognition it deserves.
But what actually is burnout? Referred to as a chronic stress that hasn’t been properly managed, Nutritionist and Fitness Instructor Cassandra Barns explains, “You can reach ‘burnout’ when your nervous system is in overdrive for too long, often due to stress. A lack of rest, relaxation or general ‘downtime’ from stress is like depriving your body of good food – eventually your energy and mental resources start to run out.”
Cassandra continues, “The results can include fatigue or exhaustion, so that even the smallest things become an effort. You might feel emotional or short-tempered, find it hard to concentrate or make decisions, and find that even little things upset you”.
Social media manager Liv, 27, experienced burnout two years ago. Enduring a traumatic split from her boyfriend while juggling intense round-the-clock work demands and with little chance to recover emotionally, her stress levels spiralled out of control.
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“It just all became too much”, Liv says. “My body began to let me know that I was severely stressed and fatigue hit like a brick wall. I would snap at the slightest thing and felt completely overwhelmed by even the most basic activities. Washing my hair became exhausting and I no longer had the patience or attention span to be with my mates. While in the past a night out was my favourite way to let off steam, by this point it brought worry about whether I’d even manage until 9pm. After crying on the floor one day, too tired to hold the hairdryer, I realised I needed help. In the end I had to take lengthy sick leave and move back home temporarily, unable to properly look after myself”.
With 24/7 social media demands, Liv said she put answering client messages or posting pictures online above decompressing after a busy day. She simply didn’t feel there was time to relax in the day, as her autopilot would always be set to on.
Now acutely aware of the damage that can cause, Liv urges others to make sure no is a word used more often, emphasising how important it is to put yourself and your health first. “Nobody should get to the point I did,” she finishes, “and while the stressful breakup circumstances were out of my control, I now put a lot more emphasis on looking after my emotional and physical needs. Managing stress has become a concerted effort, and to me, it’s vital- I recognise the warning signs of burnout and act on it”.
Today’s classification news being a welcome move, hopefully raised awareness will help sufferers or ideally, prevent burnout happening in the first place.
But what can we do? According to the UK’s leading nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville, it’s all about focusing on priorities. She explains, “If you feel the symptoms of stress coming on, learn to get your priorities right. There is nothing in your life right now more important than your health. Learn to say no if you feel that you have taken on too much. Being assertive is invigorating and empowering. It also helps to make lists of what is or is not a priority and to tackle the priority tasks first. This will help give you a sense of control over your life.”
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Self-care being a buzzword all over Instagram, this doesn’t just mean having a bubble bath or painting your nails. Running out of fuel is a very real danger for so many of us, and today’s emphasis on burnout serves as a timely reminder that nothing is as precious as our health.