The simple guide to beating burnout
RACHEL DOHERTY
Social worker, teacher and the founder of Tweens2teen
Burnout is part of the job in the helping professions. School chaplains and youth workers need to be vigilant in spotting the signs.
There’s a few things about burnout that unless you’ve gone through it, you might not know. It’s a sneaky thing, creeping up on you when you’re at your most effective, doing your best work. It’s also difficult to spot when you’re in the thick of it, but others around you will be able to see the signs.

Burnout is one of those things that people can treat as a badge of honour. One you get for surviving in the game long term.

In reality, burnout just chews you up and spits you out. It robs you of your sense of control, some relationships and definitely changes your life. Burnout often limits your work capacity or how much stress you can cope with from now on.

For all these reasons, it’s important that all youth workers know what burnout looks like and what to do about it.

“Toil without song is like a weary journey without end.”
H.P. LOVECRAFT

The signs of burnout

Everyone’s experience of burnout will be different. And it can be hard to spot when you’re coping with stress in a couple of spheres of life, like at work and home. But here’s some definite signs of trouble:

  • You are having trouble sleeping. You either can’t sleep, or go to bed exhausted but wake up thinking in the middle of the night. There’s a constant sense of weariness.
  • You’re losing your love for your work. Frustration with your coworkers can make going to work harder. If you struggle to let go of little annoyances, it’s time to take stock.
  • You feel like you’re all alone. No one else seems to be experiencing life the way you are. No one seems to think what you’re feeling is that big a deal. We can often ignore when others try to help us at this point and make ourselves even lonelier.
  • You find yourself dreading going to work. The thought of going to work can be wearying. Everything about the job feels overwhelming.
  • You seek out time alone, but it’s not recharging you. There’s something about burnout that the more you try to deal with it on your own, the more you feel the symptoms.
  • You worry about lots of little things you know you shouldn’t be worrying about. This is anxiety, and it too creeps into your life when you’re under stress.
  • You’re noticing big changes in your weight or your appetite. Up or down, big changes are a sign that your body is reacting to stress and you need to look at what’s causing that.
  • You don’t feel all that happy anymore. There’s not a lot of things in life that you can say give you joy and most things feel like a drudge.

Your mind seems a great big puddle of muddle. Any sense of organisation and the ability to develop plans seem to get sucked up and turned into mush. You end up living day to day with a rather confused mind that makes you feel worthless.

If you’re spotting one or two of these signs, it’s time to make some changes. Have a look through my article on self-care strategies and put one or two into place today.

If you’re spotting a lot of these signs, then see if you can have a day or two off. Have some sleep and then do a stocktake of why your life feels like this. Talk to your boss. Line up some professional supervision and start to put your mental health first.

“It’s important that you don’t lie to yourself. If you lie to yourself, you end up with burnout.” – Patrick Pichette

What you can do to beat burnout

Even a couple of these signs means you need to make some changes to your life. Get you self-care back on track. But don’t try to do it alone.

Burnout convinces us that getting help will be a bad thing. The fear of losing your job or appearing inadequate can push us to try and muddle our way out of the darkness alone. But burnout will take a lot longer to recover from like that. It will leave much more permanent scars if you don’t do this in community.

So here’s my thoughts on how to beat burnout:

  1. Open up to those around you. Gone are the days of shame when it comes to mental health issues and stress. So pluck up some courage to talk to your boss. They’ve probably already seen the signs! Sit your partner down and talk to them about how you’re feeling and then talk to a couple of trusted coworkers too. Be accountable for getting help.
  1. Build a support structure around you. If you’re ended up isolated in all this, it’s time to turn that around. If you’re not getting regular professional supervision, then get it. You can’t wait 12 weeks between sessions if you want to survive this. Have a look at what to look for in a professional supervisor, as well as the supervision I provide.
  1. Take another look at your work timetable. Avoiding burnout involves getting the balance between work, rest and play right again. So sit down and list all the things you do in a typical week, day by day. Are you doing too much? Use this tool to reflect on your work, and then have a chat with your boss if you think you need to cut back on things.
  1. Slow life down a little. Most people aren’t only workers. They have a family, are part of a church or community groups, have friends and even some neighbours too. When burnout has you in it’s grip, it’s time to review all your commitments. Think about taking a break from some of them for a season or two. Pare back life to the essentials while you give your brain and body time to recover.
  1. Make time for exercise. Exercise is a powerful treatment for negative thoughts and anxiety. Somewhere in your day, make time for a decent hit out to help your body recover.
  1. Find your source of hope. We all have something that provides us with hope that this life is not all an accident. Find new ways to reconnect to your inner values and beliefs.
  1. Plan a holiday soon. Not a big, busy holiday, but a week off with something to do each day. Spend some time thinking about how you want to feel at the end of the holiday and what could help you get there. Write these things down and have a very conscious, “caring about yourself” break.
  1. Catch up with a friend. Not to dump your burdens on them, but to reconnect and fight that feeling of weariness and loneliness. Send a message and line up a coffee, then before it’s over, book in another one next month.
  1. Unplug from the digital world. You don’t need to read every email the minute it comes in, or know what your best friend from Year 2 had for breakfast today. Make sure that you put your phone down and give yourself a break from technology at the end of each day. If it’s contributing to your sense of overwhelm, look at having a holiday and turning it off for a week or two.
  1. Ignore the negative thoughts and build a growth mindset. There’s a lot of guilt associated with burnout – letting others down, being weak, not being good enough to do your job… You have to let that go. Start looking at the concept of a growth mindset that Carol Dweck developed. You can read more about it in my article on disappointment, but I’d also recommend checking out her YouTube talk.

You can recover from burnout without having to leave your job. You can build a better life after it, but you have to catch it early enough and be consistent in dealing with it. Once you’ve had it once, you have a greater vulnerability to burnout striking again. That means the practices you develop need to be for life.

If you’ve spotted some signs that you might be on thin ice, then don’t just nod your head, but do something about it today. You won’t regret it!

What do you think? Do you have some other ideas on how to beat burnout? I’d love you to share them below.

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