These days, many of us have increasingly busy lives that show no signs of slowing down. But if your hamster-wheel schedule has you feeling overloaded and unappreciated most of the time, you might be experiencing burnout. How do you know if the stress you’re feeling really is burnout? And if it is, how do you step away, slow down and reclaim a healthier lifestyle? A Healthier Michigan podcast recently tackled the question of how to recover from burnout.
Dr. Kristyn Gregory, medical director of behavioral health for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, described burnout as a triple threat: A state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion that happens when people are under a lot of stress for a prolonged period of time. The best way to keep burnout at bay, she said, is to find ways to deal with your stress in the moment, before it becomes a chronic problem.
Stress vs burnout
All of us deal with stressful situations at one time or another. And periodic stress is different from the exhaustion that comes with burnout. For example, taking a test or getting ready for a work presentation can spark some short-term stress. But going to work every day at a job you don’t like or for a boss you strongly dislike can leave you feeling the emotional symptoms of burnout. This might include feeling disengaged from your job, or feeling like you’ve got no hope or motivation.
If you’re not sure whether you’re stressed or have descended into burnout, it’s time to do a little self-reflection.
“I think we have to look at your symptoms,” Gregory said. “And if you're starting to feel down or depressed, or if you're starting to feel those symptoms of hopelessness, if you're having insomnia, if you take an inventory and you're like, ‘This year, this time, I've found myself drinking more, or being more irritable with those that are close to me, whereas last time at this same time of the year it wasn't like that,’ then it's a good time to sit down and see what the difference is.”
Chronic stress and burnout can also manifest with physical symptoms. It can spike your blood pressure, cause intestinal discomfort, interfere with your sleep, and give you chronic headaches. If you have diabetes, it can make it harder to manage your disease.
If you find you are experiencing burnout, there are a couple things you can do right away to try to reclaim your physical and mental health.
- Exercise with a friend. Exercising is good for bringing down stress levels, but working out with a friend has other benefits, too. It keeps you accountable. You’re more likely to show up for a morning walk or an afternoon workout if you’ve agreed to meet a friend. And the social aspect is good for your mental health. You can talk to another person, even talk about what’s stressing you out, if you’re close friends.
- Talk to a professional. Talking to a therapist can be a great first step toward solving any personal issues that might be causing you stress. And if your burnout is work-related, tap into your workplace’s employee assistance program to get some tips on bringing down your stress level.
- Create boundaries. Sometimes friends, family members or co-workers can be sources of stress. In these cases, you can still be polite but set firm boundaries - at least until you feel like you’ve got your stress triggers under control.
“I think a lot of times we get in our head that in order to be a good person, you have to take this all on, but sometimes self-care is being a little selfish,” Gregory said. “And that's OK, because you're not going to be able to help anybody else if you're feeling all these things inside. So it's a difficult thing to do. And I think it takes a lot of practice as well, to set those boundaries.”
To learn more about this topic, listen to the podcast, “How to Recover from Burnout,” to hear the entire conversation. A Healthier Michigan Podcast is brought to you by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. To hear more episodes on your smartphone or tablet, subscribe on Apple Podcast or Spotify or your favorite podcast app.
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