How to pull back from the brink of burnout

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There’s a thin line between having a stressful life and utter exhaustion. Peta Bee, in The Times, asks the experts how to spot the difference and what to do .

In May 2019, the World Health Organisation recognised burnout as a legitimate medical condition. In an update of its International Classification of Diseases handbook, a benchmark for doctors’ diagnosis, burnout is described as “a syndrome” that arises “from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.

In 2018 researchers at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence estimated that as many as one in five “highly engaged” employees is at risk of burnout.

First signs of burnout. “These often emerge at home,” says psychologist Dr. Campbell-Danesh. “When work becomes increasingly demanding, we typically respond by investing more energy into our jobs at the expense of restorative time with family and friends, with the effects then bubbling to the surface at home. We often misattribute the cause of our strain to family issues.”

Avoid ‘superman complex’. From his research, Olusoga has found that developing a “superman complex” — trying to do it all — can contribute to burnout. “We are seeing people taking on longer and longer working hours with multiple roles and never switching off their phones,” he says. “You can only keep this up for a certain amount of time.” 

Healthy Diet: Helen Bond, a spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association, says that what you eat can have a big impact on your body’s capacity to deal with stress. “It’s definitely a good idea to pack in foods containing B vitamins such as eggs and dark, leafy veg,” she says. “They help your body to release energy from food so that it can fight stress.” You could also try a vitamin B complex supplement”.

Take control of something : A step towards relieving the feeling of having lost control can come with reconnecting with something that you can take charge of. Studies show that achieving even small goals can lead to increased production of dopamine, a chemical responsible for the brain’s pleasure-and-reward system. Making to-do lists of tasks can be helpful as long as it doesn’t lead to you feeling more overloaded. You may receive a spike in dopamine if you tick off a tiny task, such as regularly drinking water to stay hydrated.

Try yoga. A recent review by Italian researchers suggested that it helped to manage and prevent burnout in healthcare workers. Even something as simple as a daily walk is beneficial.

Get rest. Insufficient sleep is one of the main risk factors. “As exhausted as you might feel, you find that you can’t sleep at all,” Campbell-Danesh says. “And breaking that cycle is important.” Good sleep hygiene makes a difference too — don’t take phones into the bedroom, avoid caffeine and other stimulants before bed and make sure your curtains, mattress and pillows are helping you to sleep.

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