Let’s talk about the burnout buzzword.
Unfortunately, the term burnout is becoming well known because people are feeling it more. It’s a worrying reflection of the demands of the fast-paced and intense modern life we lead.
Burnout describes a state of emotional, physical, or mental exhaustion. It’s a recognised psychological term and is caused by excessive or prolonged stress.
Sufferers of burnout are those that push themselves excessively hard in an area of their life, to the point where it all becomes too much.
The issue with burnout is that it can creep up pretty quickly. You might not even notice you’re on your way there.
The symptoms of burnout can vary, depending on the type of stress causing it. Often, sufferers of burnout will experience not just one but multiple of the below:
- Fatigue and physical exhaustion
- Headaches, stomach aches, or frequently feeling unwell
- Lack of appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
- Irritability and negativity
- Lack of motivation
- Detachment and feelings of emptiness
- Isolating self from others
- Being unproductive
- Lack of self-care
However, these symptoms are relatively ambiguous. And we probably all feel some of them at some point or another. So, how do we know when it’s burnout?
To tackle this exact question, the MBI was created. The Maslach Burnout Inventory clarifies burnout based on three key symptoms: total lack of energy, negativity or cynicism, and reduced efficacy or performance. Scoring highly on all three criteria is used to diagnose burnout and separate it from other issues that might only involve one of the three symptoms.
Burnout or not, when you notice any of these signs and symptoms, it’s important to acknowledge them and start putting self-care first again.
Burning out because of work.
The most common cause of burnout is due to work stress. There’s even a term for it: occupational burnout.
Workplace stress varies widely depending on the type of job you have. It’s easy to assume that job burnout can only come from the amount you have to do and being extremely busy. That’s not entirely true.
Your job takes up such a significant proportion of your time that dissatisfaction in the workplace has a big impact on your mental and motivational state even when you think it doesn’t. This has become even more true throughout the pandemic and lockdown. With little else to do and focus on, careers and jobs can feel like the most critical thing in our lives.
Occupational stress and burnout can happen because of a continuing lack of control, progression, support, clarity, or anything that leads to feeling dissatisfied and unhappy. It doesn’t matter what’s causing the stress, but feeling it for a prolonged or excessive amount of time can lead to burnout.
The signs of work burnout include:
- Lack of interest or motivation at work
- Reduced performance
- Emotional or physical exhaustion
Pandemic burnout is real.
The past twelve months have presented a new way to feel burnout that isn’t related to work or any other type of stress we usually face. Pandemic burnout has been coined.
It’s probably something we can all relate to in some way. When the first lockdown started, it was stressful, anxiety-inducing, and scary. All serious feelings, but we weren’t burnt out.
A year later, those feelings have morphed. We have no energy left for it, are more cynical and pessimistic, and cannot motivate ourselves to perform at our best anymore. If by the third lockdown, you had given up getting dressed, had no energy for home workouts, withdrew from social contact more, and found it hard to muster the motivation to push through, then you’re not alone.
Pandemic burnout isn’t just feeling over it or indifferent. It’s that feeling of having nothing left to give and being on the verge of some sort of collapse, even though you’re not quite sure what that would look like.
Exercise and burnout have a few different links.
We know what burnout is. And the usual ways it comes about, so what does that have to do with exercise?
Well, there are quite a few ways the two are linked. And it’s actually a more complicated relationship than you’d think. There are a few different topics to discuss on it, and we want to highlight three of them.
Exercise is a type of physical stress. Not one we associate within a negative way like mental or emotional stress, but it’s still stress. When we exercise, we subject our muscles to tension or pressure. The same way your brain feels when they’re under stress.
So, in the same way as work or pandemic burnout, it is possible to hit fitness burnout. Coming back to the definition of burnout, fitness burnout happens when your body has been under excessive and prolonged stress, and it just can’t take anymore.
Fitness burnout has a different set of signs that can indicate it’s happening:
- Physical exhaustion
- Stagnant or zero progress
- Inability to perform as usual
- Often feeling unwell or sick
- No longer motivated
- Moody or irritable
Fitness burnout can be severe and lead to long term damage if not addressed. The critical thing to remember is that there isn’t a defined frequency or intensity of exercise that causes burnout. Everybody is different. Understanding your limits and abilities is essential.
There’s an issue in acknowledging fitness burnout is because people often feel they shouldn’t be allowed to feel the way they do because they compare themselves with others. Keep listening to your body and what it’s trying to tell you.
Burnout exercise routines.
The second way burnout and exercise are linked is that a ‘burnout workout‘ is actually a specific training structure. It’s a little bit confusing because it’s not the way we’d usually think about the link between the two.
Burnouts are an advanced strength training style, so they shouldn’t be implemented into everyone’s workout. They are designed to push you to your physical and mental limits, so you’ve got to be in the right starting place before you try and tackle them.
Burnouts involve targeting the muscle you just worked with your standard sets and reps with another exercise using a lighter weight in an attempt to completely fatigue the muscle and all its fibres. For example, after 4×6 overhead presses, you might grab a lighter weight and perform 12 lateral and frontal raises. This means an extremely high training volume for your shoulders, and they will feel completely burnt out afterwards.
Relieving or avoiding burnout.
Before we move onto the third way burnout and exercise are linked, let’s touch on avoiding or relieving burnout. That probably suggests what the third thing might be anyway.
Once you’ve identified burnout, which is sometimes the most challenging part, it’s important to act upon it asap.
The best advice, as cliché as it sounds, is to prioritise self-care. We are inherently intuitive beings, but we’re very good nowadays at ignoring what our brains and bodies tell us they need.
When you feel like you’re reaching burnout, start setting boundaries straight away. And do the things that you know are guaranteed to replenish your energy.
Treating burnout will depend on the exact stress causing it. But options are similar and are all to do with putting your mental and physical health first:
- If possible, rest from what’s causing you the stress (take time off work, a week off the gym)
- Start setting yourself boundaries and get back in control (designated lunch hour, scheduled rest days)
- Seek support and talk to others about how you’re feeling
- Eat nutrient-dense meals
- Prioritise 8 hours sleep a night
- Try something restorative (yoga, mindfulness, meditation)
Relieving burnout with exercise.
Exercise offers relief from burnout, especially if it’s characterised by mental or emotional exhaustion. It’s a way to escape and remove yourself from the immediate stresses you’re facing. It’s time back just for yourself, doing something that improves your health.
Exercise offers distraction, releases endorphins that improve your mood, gives you more energy, helps you sleep better, and improves self-esteem. Exercising in nature is even more effective for treating burnout. It’s an obvious example of self-care that shouldn’t be underrated.
However, when feeling exhausted, the last thing you might want to do is exercise. So, it doesn’t have to be a 10-mile run or a sweaty HIIT session. There are so many ways to fit exercise in and feel the benefits whilst keeping it enjoyable.
- Take a long walk, preferably in nature
- Go for a swim at a pool or lido
- Spend 45-minutes doing a Yoga flow
- Head for a cycle ride somewhere new
- Play tennis, golf, or football with friends
All these ways help you use exercise to look after your body and take back some of the time and headspace that’s been spent on stress. Even fitness burnout can be remedied by these ‘active rest days’ and gentle exercise amounts that remind you why it’s important to fit it in.
Burnout in a nutshell.
We’ve been through a lot, and burnout is a complex topic. So, to summarise it all up and walk away with the right takeaways, this is what it’s worth knowing.
- Burnout is caused by excessive or prolonged stress
- Burnout can be mental, emotional, or physical
- Any type of stress can cause burnout; it’s not all about heavy workloads and intense workouts
- Burnout can be relieved by prioritising your health
- Listening to your body and what it needs should be the focus
- Taking time away from the source of stress is most effective
- Light-moderate exercise is an effective way to reduce burnout