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    How to recognise burnout: symptoms, causes and strategies for recovery

    We all know what it’s like to finally reach the end of a long, gruelling day and collapse onto the sofa, utterly drained. Your body aches, your mind is foggy, and the weight of exhaustion hangs over you like a leaden cloak. 

    But what if this weariness becomes constant? What if it starts affecting every aspect of your life, eroding your motivation and leaving you feeling detached and drained? In this case, you may be experiencing burnout.

    Burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion – the body’s response to long-term, persistent stress. It can impact your work, relationships, and physical and mental well-being.

    Here, we’ll describe the symptoms of burnout, explain the root causes, and explore ways to help you recover.

    The symptoms of burnout

    In today’s so-called hustle culture, there’s so much pressure to be constantly on the go. We take great pride in being seen to be busy. It can therefore be difficult to tell if any physical or emotional symptoms are just side effects of a hectic lifestyle or actual burnout.

    That said, unlike everyday tiredness or stress, the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified burnout as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ influencing health. 

    Here are some of the main burnout symptoms:

    1. Mental and physical exhaustion

    The fatigue associated with burnout goes beyond the normal weariness that follows a busy day or a physically demanding task. It’s a profound and pervasive feeling of depletion that can make even the simplest activities feel like a monumental effort. Unlike regular tiredness, it doesn’t dissipate with a good night’s sleep or a weekend off. This persistent exhaustion can affect every aspect of your life, especially work and relationships.

    2. Difficulty sleeping

    Ironically, despite your exhaustion, those suffering from burnout will likely find it difficult to sleep. Insomnia or disturbed sleep patterns are common in burnout; racing thoughts, worries or an inability to relax can make falling or staying asleep challenging.

    3. Poor cognitive function

    Burnout can also impact concentration, memory and overall cognitive function. You may experience difficulties staying focused, making decisions or retaining information, leading to decreased productivity and performance.

    Businessman in black suit of hands touching on the eyes due to tiredness from working computer for a long time, may be the cause of office syndrome.

    4. Poor physical health

    Burnout is often accompanied by physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension and gastrointestinal problems. The immune system may also be weakened, making you more susceptible to illness and infection.

    5. Poor emotional regulation

    Those with burnout may also experience emotional effects. For example, you may find that you’re more irritable, impatient or short-tempered than usual. In addition, you might feel heightened anxiety, sadness or a sense of detachment or demotivation. 

    6. Mental health problems

    Burnout can lead to a host of other physical and mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and chronic illness. If you’re experiencing any of these issues, seeking professional help is vital.

    What are the causes of burnout?

    Burnout generally begins at work, and those with stressful, high-stakes occupations, such as doctors, lawyers or high-ranking executives, are particularly prone to it.

    One of the primary causes of burnout is an overwhelming workload. When you face excessive demands at work, especially without an adequate support system, it can lead to chronic stress and exhaustion, which can also be detrimental to your performance.

    A poor work-life balance can also cause burnout. Spending too much time at work denies the opportunity to rest and recharge, making burnout more likely. It can also negatively impact your relationships as you neglect quality time with family and friends.

    But what if everything is fine at work and you still can’t shake off burnout? It could be that you have certain personality traits, such as perfectionism, ambitiousness and a high degree of self-discipline, pushing you to work excessively and neglect your well-being.

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    Strategies for recovery from burnout

    Recovering from burnout requires a multifaceted approach that addresses both the physical and emotional aspects of this condition. 

    Here are some strategies that can help you recover from burnout. 

    1. Remove yourself from your usual setting

    Being in a different environment allows you to physically and mentally distance yourself from the stressors and triggers contributing to burnout. It provides a break from routine and allows you to step away from the demands of work or other responsibilities. 

    Spending time in nature will have a positive impact on your well-being too. Consider taking a break somewhere with lots of beautiful outdoor spaces where you can get active or simply relax and enjoy your surroundings. 

    2. Look after your physical health

    Caucasian female stretching lunging outside house exercising focused while practicing yoga . High quality photo

    If you’re experiencing burnout, taking care of your physical health is incredibly important for recovery. It can positively impact your mood, cognitive function and overall mental well-being.

    Engaging in regular exercise, whether it’s cardio, strength training or yoga, releases mood-boosting chemicals in the brain called endorphins. This, in turn, helps reduce the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body.

    You should also work to mitigate the effects of burnout-disrupted sleep patterns or insomnia by adopting healthy sleep habits. These include maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating an environment conducive to sleeping and practising relaxation techniques before bedtime.

    What’s more, as burnout can weaken the immune system, eating a balanced diet full of nutrient-rich foods will help you to stay healthy and give you the energy to recover.

    3. Prioritise your mental well-being

    Prioritising your mental health is crucial in alleviating symptoms of burnout. This means taking time to do activities that nurture your mental and emotional health. This may include allocating set times to practise self-care, such as engaging in relaxing hobbies like painting, gardening or reading.

    It can also be beneficial to spend time with loved ones. Cultivating your relationships provides you with a strong support system to turn to when you feel overwhelmed. 

    Nurturing your mental well-being also involves engaging in self-reflection and cultivating self-awareness. Activities such as meditation or journaling allow you to check in with yourself and examine factors in your life that may be contributing to your burnout.

    You’ll gain a deeper understanding of yourself and be able to make lifestyle adjustments that align with improving your well-being.

    4. Establish clear boundaries at work

    Establishing clear boundaries is crucial to prevent burnout from recurring. You should learn to recognise your limitations and communicate them effectively to others.

    Set realistic expectations for yourself and learn to delegate tasks when possible to lighten your workload and reduce stress. Practise saying no when necessary and avoid overextending yourself with commitments and responsibilities. 

    You may also consider exploring alternative solutions at work. For example, you may be able to implement a flexible work arrangement where you work remotely some of the time to spend more time with your loved ones.

    By setting boundaries, you create space for self-care, engaging in hobbies and spending time with those closest to you, fostering a healthier work-life balance.

    5. Seek support

    Why taking time away from work is important

    You should also seek support from friends, family and colleagues at work. Friends and family can provide a listening ear and offer valuable advice, while colleagues can help to create a healthy, supportive work environment. 

    As it can often be challenging to identify the underlying causes of burnout, you might also find it beneficial to seek professional help and guidance. For example, counselling can provide additional insights, support your recovery, and teach positive coping strategies for managing stress in the future.

    White River Manor’s team of professionals can provide the tools and guidance needed to recover from burnout and help you replace harmful habits with healthy coping mechanisms.

    Get treatment for burnout at White River Manor

    Are you or your loved ones experiencing symptoms of burnout? White River Manor’s Wellness & Executive Burnout Program can set you on the road to recovery. 

    Our team of professionals will offer you a combination of talk therapies and consultations with dieticians and personal trainers to help you prioritise your mental, physical and emotional well-being and give you a fresh new outlook on your approach to work.

    Located in the heart of South Africa, our wellness retreat also offers you the chance to take a break from your daily routine and focus solely on your recovery. 

    Our luxury five-star accommodation will guarantee you’re always well-rested, with your energy restored, and ready to face any challenges when you return home.

    While professional chefs ensure you have proper nutrition, you can enjoy our fully-equipped private gym, or get out into the South African wilderness to enjoy adventure activities such as a safari, mountain biking, water rafting, and horse riding.

    You can relax and recharge afterwards in our on-site spa, which offers massages, beauty treatments and more.

    Ready to beat burnout? Contact us to learn more about our programs and how we can help.