Burnout is more common than ever. But are you speeding toward a mid-year crash? Dr Sarah Brewer explains the symptoms of mid-year burnout.
It’s a great time of year: summer has been deliciously good to us, and we still have the beautiful orange hues of autumn awaiting us. Days are still long and nights are even longer, sun tans and late summer seaside breaks are still to come, and we’ve spent endless evenings spent knocking back Aperol Spritzes. While it might be getting a little colder, we still have a few months of balmy nights to look forward to.
But could all this combined lead to mid-year burnout?
Juggling the pressures of an increased workload and an explosion of social commitments leaves many of us exhausted, over-stretched and rather disillusioned with our professional, social and personal lives. In fact, it’s important we learn to resist the UK’s toxic culture of overtime, which can lead to burnout,
So what is mid-year burnout, and what can we do to avoid it? Stylist has collated everything we know about burnout and why it’s so common right now, as well as top tips to prevent it bringing you down this season.
What is mid-year burnout?
One of the most recognisable symptoms of burnout is feeling drained, Dr Sarah Brewer, medical director of Healthspan and author of Cut Your Stress explains to Stylist. “Burnout describes the feeling of being drained of energy, and the physical and mental exhaustion associated with long-term stress,” she says.
“This can happen during summer or in the middle of the year and is especially common when kids are out of school on a long summer break and want constant care and entertainment.”
The summer months are also when people are most likely to go on holiday, which in turn means there may be a huge pile of work to get through before you go and when you return, making it difficult to switch off fully whilst you are away, Dr Luke Powles, associate clinical director, Bupa Health Clinics adds.
“As colleagues are also away, you may find that you are picking up some of their work as well. There is a perception that summer is a quiet time for business, when this in fact isn’t always the case.
“A busy work schedule, mixed with various after-work social activities and the hot, humid weather can result in exhaustion and burnout.
“It is important to remember that the feeling of burnout can occur at any point during the year and if you experience any of the symptoms, make sure you seek professional advice,” he says.
Liz Tucker, a health and wellbeing counsellor specialising in stress management, spoke to the NHS Moodzone website about burning out at 30 years old. She was starting work at 7am, finishing at 8pm and, the year she burnt out, racked up a whopping 100,000 miles in her car. But, typically with burnout, she didn’t recognise the symptoms of her stress and thrived on the pace of life she’d created.
“I loved the buzz of it. There was a lot of stress involved, but I really enjoyed the adrenaline kick of having something turn out right in the end. It was very satisfying.”
As Liz describes, burnout often sees people strive to work hard and play harder.
What are the causes of mid-year burnout?
Burnout is often the result of long-term, chronic stress which can result from working long hours, feeling under excess pressure at work or home, and even from enduring a long daily commute and being in need of a holiday, Dr Brewer explains.
“Excess stress has physiological and emotional effects, promoting fatigue, snacking and weight gain, as well as suppressing immunity. You may notice that when stress ends, for example when you go on holiday, you immediately come down with a nasty cold as you have less resilience to help fight off new bugs.”
What are the symptoms?
Back in May, the World Health Organisation confirmed “burnout” as a recognised medical condition. The three key symptoms are:
1) Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
2) Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
3) Reduced professional efficacy
“When you feel under excess stress, your body goes into Fight or Flight mode, which is driven by the adrenal hormones: adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol,” Dr Brewer says.
“As well as making your heart pump faster and your pulse race, these hormones increase your blood pressure, make you breath more rapidly, tense your muscles and cause blood glucose levels to rise to provide instant energy. These effects prime you to fight or flee and when this expected physical activity does not occur, the effects are prolonged leading to burn out, difficulty concentrating and foggy thoughts.
“Having a persistently high cortisol level reduce your response to insulin, and also promotes an increase in triglycerides and visceral fat laid down around your waist. Prolonged, excess stress eventually leads to physical and emotional burn out – the so-called ‘nervous breakdown’. Stress exacerbates pre-existing conditions such as asthma, eczema, psoriasis and irritable bowel syndrome, as well as contributing towards glucose intolerance, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.”
How do I avoid mid-year burnout?
So how can we avoid burning out at the time of year when we’re most likely to be burning the candle at both ends?
1) Allow yourself to say no
“It’s important to remember you’re not invincible and there’ll be times when you can’t do everything you’re asked, whether this is social plans or taking on too much at work,” Dr Powles says.
“By trying to do too many things, you’ll increase your stress levels and your risk of burning out. If you’ve had a really busy day at work and don’t feel like doing anything in the evening, then don’t. There is nothing wrong with cancelling plans and you may feel better for it. Similarly, if you are invited to do something, don’t feel bad saying no.”
2) Eat well
“Good nutrition is important at all times but especially during times of stress,” Dr Brewer explains.
“Eat a high-fibre, wholefood diet with an abundance of fruits, vegetables and salads, while decreasing your intake of sugary foods and salt. Try to avoid convenience foods which, although time-saving, are often nutrient-poor.
“Vitamin C and B group vitamins are rapidly used up in the metabolic reactions associated with the fight-or-flight response and B vitamins are further depleted by the metabolism of alcohol and sugary foods which are often resorted to in difficult times. Lack of B group vitamins can itself lead to anxiety and irritability, making symptoms worse.
“Stress also depletes the body of calcium and magnesium so a multivitamin and mineral supplement is a good idea as a nutritional safety-net. A probiotic to replenish immune-boosting bacteria in the gut is useful, too.”
3) Talk to someone about your feelings
“Speak to someone,” Dr Powles says. “If you’re stressed it can help to talk to someone about how you’re feeling, whether this be a close family friend, relative or a medical professional. It’s also a good idea to talk to your boss about your workload if you feel it is unmanageable.
“If you are embarrassed about speaking to your boss, confide in a colleague who may be able to help. If you are really struggling, I would advise speaking with your GP and finding out what you can do to relieve some of the pressure you are putting yourself under. Your local area may also have a self-referral counselling service which your GP surgery will likely have the details for.”
4) Be kind to yourself
“If you feel like your ‘to do’ list is piling up, set yourself targets and take regular breaks once you’ve completed them. With burnout, people often feel negative towards their jobs and this can result in decreased professional success.
“Make sure you are taking your lunch break and getting away from your desk. You can also try taking regular breaks and going for walks around the block to get some air,” Dr Powles adds.
Images: Getty, Unsplash