How to spot burnout. And what to do about it.

Recent studies report that between  23–54% of workers have previously or are currently dealing with burnout. In this article we’ll dig a little deeper in to burnout: what it is and how to spot it.

What is burnout?

According to Dr Mark Winwood, director of psychological services at Axa PPP’s specialist health services division, we should not be surprised.
‘People have been living on adrenalin for the past few years,’ he says.
‘After a long time running on empty, all of a sudden they become very, very unwell. It has a name: burnout.’

In my experience, however, it’s rarely all about work.

So while work-related stress is blamed, in reality, when we dig a little deeper, these executives are displaying signs of two sadly ubiquitous psychological conditions: depression and anxiety… presenting as burnout.

How to spot burnout in colleagues and ourselves.

Dr Winwood suggests some of the following: an inability to make decisions, a feeling of mental confusion or unusual aggressiveness. People might also have mood swings, be fearful, lack confidence or feel unmotivated. Physical warning signs are moving more slowly and changes in weight. Some can’t stop eating; others have no appetite at all. Unexplained aches and pains, such as headaches, back ache and shoulder pain may also be signs.

‘There is a sense of priority confusion,’ he adds, ‘where the priority of work overwhelms everything else and you need to achieve perfectionism in your work.’

It can happen without our knowing. Breakdown appears slowly and quietly inside us, a subtle creep we’ll hardly notice in the rush of life… it’s easy to miss.

But then our mind and body begin to complain more audibly, symptoms appear, we’re not as we wish ourselves to be – and if we’re wise, we attend to the issue by speaking it with someone.

One of my most common observations in a Mind Clinic session is simply this:

‘I’m not sure you appreciate how much you carry inside you each day, the number of situations you’re having to hold. You’re magnificent – but even the magnificent will struggle with that load!’

It usually comes as a huge relief to the individual, and heralds the start of a new conversation with their life, their work and themselves.

Let burnout be the beginning, and not the end, of the conversation.