Mental Health Awareness Month: Understanding Burnout and Prioritizing Mental Well-being

An image of a woman sitting at a computer looking stressed out.

“I am not leaving because it was hard,” said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden, in her resignation speech.

“Had that been the case I probably would have departed two months into the job. I am leaving because with such a privileged role comes responsibility, the responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead, and also when you are not. I know what this job takes, and I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It is that simple.”

Arden, the youngest woman ever to be elected prime minister at just 37 years old, caused shockwaves with her announcement of resignation in January 2023. Though she didn’t use the word “burnout” in her speech, her resignation sparked a larger conversation around mental health and what burnout feels like.

With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, we thought now would be the perfect time to shed light to this topic. While small amounts of stress is a normal part of the human experience and can even improve mental wellbeing by boosting productivity, alertness, and energy levels, chronic stress can have overwhelming consequences on your mind and body.

What is Burnout?

Burnout is a state of profound mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion. It can make it challenging to engage in activities that usually bring fulfillment. You might find yourself losing interest in things that are important to you or experiencing a growing sense of hopelessness.

Signs and symptoms of burnout may include:

Physical symptoms

  • Headaches
  • Stomachaches or digestive problems
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Increased susceptibility to illness
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns

Emotional symptoms

  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Growing cynicism
  • Sense of failure or self-doubt
  • Decreased satisfaction in activities
  • Feeling disconnected or isolated
  • Loss of motivation

Behavioral signs

  • Decline in performance in daily tasks
  • Withdrawal or social isolation
  • Procrastination in completing responsibilities
  • Outbursts of frustration or anger
  • Using substances as a coping mechanism

What causes burnout?

Burnout doesn’t stem solely from stressful work settings or overwhelming responsibilities. It can affect anyone facing prolonged periods of chronic stress and pressure, whether from work demands or responsibilities at home.

Factors that contribute to burnout include:

Work-related causes

  • Limited autonomy or control over tasks
  • Absence of acknowledgment or recognition for efforts
  • Excessive job demands beyond manageable levels
  • Repetitive or uninspiring tasks leading to monotony
  • Stressful or disorganized work environments

Lifestyle causes

  • Imbalance between work hours and social/relaxation time
  • Lack of close and supportive relationships
  • Overwhelming responsibilities without adequate support
  • Insufficient sleep or rest

Personality traits

  • Perfectionist tendencies that drive unrealistic expectations
  • Pessimistic outlook on oneself and the world
  • Desire for control over situations and outcomes
  • High-achieving nature, often setting ambitious goals

Preventing Burnout: Tips & Advice

Preventing burnout involves several strategies that focus on maintaining a healthy work-life balance, managing stress effectively, and prioritizing self-care. Here are some tips:

  • Set Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries between work and personal time. Avoid checking work emails or taking work calls outside of designated work hours.
  • Prioritize Tasks: Organize your tasks based on priority and deadlines. Focus on completing high-priority tasks first to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
  • Take Regular Breaks: Schedule short breaks throughout your workday to rest and recharge. Use these breaks to stretch, take a walk, or practice deep breathing exercises.
  • Delegate Tasks: Don’t hesitate to delegate tasks that can be handled by others. This helps lighten your workload and reduces stress.
  • Practice Time Management: Use time management techniques such as the Pomodoro Technique to work efficiently and avoid burnout from long periods of uninterrupted work.
  • Engage in Physical Activity: Regular exercise can boost your mood, reduce stress levels, and improve overall well-being. Find an activity you enjoy and make it a part of your routine.
  • Get Adequate Sleep: Prioritize getting enough sleep each night to feel refreshed and ready to tackle the day. Lack of sleep can contribute to burnout.
  • Seek Support: Talk to your manager or HR department if you’re feeling overwhelmed. They may be able to provide resources or adjust your workload to help prevent burnout.
  • Practice Mindfulness: Incorporate mindfulness practices such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises into your daily routine. These practices can help reduce stress and increase resilience.
  • Take Time Off: Use your vacation days and take regular time off to relax and recharge. Avoid the temptation to work during your time off to truly disconnect and unwind.

Burnout isn’t about giving up because of challenges; it’s about recognizing when your capacity needs replenishment. It’s a state of deep exhaustion, affecting not just your work but your entire being.

As we navigate the complexities of modern life, especially in demanding roles or environments, prioritizing mental well-being is not just a luxury but a necessity. May this discussion serve as a reminder to prioritize self-care, listen to your body and mind, and seek help when needed. Your well-being is paramount, and by taking care of yourself, you can continue to thrive in all aspects of your life.