I am not ashamed to admit that I have had ups and downs with my mental health, particularly during my thirties, and I have had to learn to become more in tune to the signs that my mental health might be sliding, so that I can take timely action and stop self-destructive behaviours to avoid full overwhelm or burnout.
And I know I am not alone in having had these experiences.
Last year, the World Health Organisation added burn-out as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ to the International Classification of Diseases.
This demonstrates how significant a problem stress and mental exhaustion are in our current modern society, yet still too many of us feel guilty for taking the necessary time to recover and achieve balance in our lives.
Putting ourselves first and practicing self-care leaves feelings of guilt and even selfishness. This is particularly the case when we live with a seemingly constant pressure to be available online, working and productive or else to be improving ourselves in some shape or form.
But, as the World Health Organisation are now demonstrating, this way of life inevitably ends up, sooner or later, leading to burnout, ill health (mental and physical) and for some, complete break-down.
It is therefore important that we all learn to become more self-aware and recognise the signs (however subtle), that indicate that our mental health is starting to slide.
When we can recognise the signs and take prompt remedial action then we are more likely to avoid a full burnout.
Warning Signs of BurnOut
Key signs of increasing stress, overwhelm and failing mental health that are common to many of us are:
Feeling more overwhelmed by small things that need to be done.
Becoming increasingly irritable.
A negative shift in mindset; seeing the worse in a situation and spiralling negative thoughts.
Losing the ability to find things to be positive about or grateful for.
Becoming physically more exhausted and wanting to sleep more.
An increase in body tension, such as stiff shoulders and back, tension headaches or stomach disturbance.
An increase in noise sensitivity (a key sign that the stress response is switched on and so the brain is more alert to ‘dangers’).
Developing a more obsessive approach to work, with simple tasks can feeling more ‘urgent’.
Increasing temptation to isolate yourself from other people.
Frustrations grow, even about small things.
Increased anxiety over things that would not normally make you anxious.
Feeling emotionally numb. Any range of emotions can be lacking.
Conversely to the above, feeling very low and tearful.
Worsening sleep as the mind is not switching off at bedtime and the sleep that does occur is more likely to be filled with anxious dreams.
Taking life much more seriously than it really should be taken!
When you do notice these symptoms, it is vital to take steps to address the situation and take your finger off the button leading to self-destruction.
This involves taking time to focus on the things that will help your mental health (and ultimately your physical health too because the mind is part of the body!).
Early action ensures that recovery is swift and so you can be stronger to ultimately live the life that is important to you and feel more energised and motivated in doing so.
How To Avoid BurnOut
The first step to avoid burnout is to recognise the signs and then to put measures in place to avoid any further self-destruction.
Below are some key steps that will help you to avoid burn-out and ultimately allow the mind and body to re-boot:
Rest – ideally with more sleep!
Switch off screens. This is a big one as screens keep us hyper-alert, do not allow the brain to slow down and can cause tiny hits of stress hormones from the constant barrage of information, alerts and notifications during the day. Switching off screens is key in being able to switch back on to ourselves.
Avoid ongoing demands from social media. This is linked to the above but even if you are still using a screen, at the very least ensuring you avoid social media can be of benefit.
To practice the above two points, actively tell people, “I am offline” and so won’t be responding to messages. This will stop you worrying that you are missing an important message or from feeling guilty that someone might think you are deliberately ignoring them so you can relax more freely.
Talk to someone else about nonsense!! Sometimes we just need to get out of our own head and connect to someone else about other things that just don’t matter but are fun!
If something is troubling you then talk to someone about it, rather than letting it build up inside.
Watch a film that you know you will escape in, can switch off to and cry or laugh if you need to. Something like Mama Mia works for me!
Spend time with a good book (and not learning or development style reading but just some mindless fiction).
Be creative or do something that you can escape into but that is not ‘work important’. For me this can be cross-stitch or jigsaws.
Be in nature – just getting outside. Nature is proven to work wonders on our mental and brain health.
Go to a coffee shop and just people watch, read and be in the moment.
Try meditation or gentle yoga and stretching.
Put your mind to what would fulfil you more in life; any changes you can make to what you do or how you live that you have always dreamed of and that will energise and excite you. Consider realistic steps you could start to take towards this.
And you can do all of the above while taking a ‘mental health’ day or even week!
Finally, use a coach to support you to develop key skills in stress reduction, anxiety management or burn-out avoidance, while still working towards your life goals.
These steps can all be key in helping to avoid burn out when you feel the stress start to build up.
However, the real key is to develop habits that allow for balance in life and incorporate regular practice of the things listed above so that your life is more fulfilling, incorporating stress management as an ongoing process.
If taking time to recover your mental health does leave you feeling guilty or selfish then recognise that thought pattern, label it as inappropriate and turn it around. To burn out will leave you no use to anyone... and at the end of the day, we get one life. This one. Don’t waste it pleasing others and killing yourself.
Ultimately, we need to recognise that it is not us who are wrong to need more balance in our lives or to find ways to stay well…
It is the society that needs to change in having created the pressures that we now live under, which are creating this surge in cases of burn-out and poor mental health.
But unless we each take a stand and support one another in taking the time to take care of ourselves then the culture won’t change. Little by little, we can change it though by taking the time for balance in our lives and supporting our colleagues, friends and loved ones to do the same.
As a coach, I work with people experiencing stress and anxiety, supporting them to make life changes that matter to them, developing greater resilience and improved mindset. If you do think I could be of service to you then please book a free introductory call with me by clicking here.