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What Does Burnout Feel Like?

This the third in a series of blogs about burnout. We will focus now on what does burnout feel like?  Like the image above, is your battery fully charged or are you operating on empty?!  (Future blogs will look at the key differences between stress and burnout and how to prevent and to recover from burnout.)

And although the examples I will use in this article involve workplace scenarios, it is important to say that ANYONE who feels overworked and undervalued is at risk for burnout—it can also affect stay-at-home parents coping with all kinds of demands, or indeed anyone in a caring role such as those caring for a sick or elderly relative or partner.

I am quoting from an excellent article published in the Irish Times giving two real life case studies of burnout. The first is from 2012 when the then 37-year-old Natalie Garland Cooke found herself lying on her office floor, unable to move.

“The panic takes over and you’re panicking because you’re panicking…I was working as a sales and marketing manager in a demanding environment…I was in the office, and I started to feel so ill – it was like my body wanted to give up. I had to put myself on the floor, and I couldn’t move for 20 minutes. It was like an out-of-body experience. I couldn’t even move my hand. It was like every bit of energy and blood had been sucked out of me.”

Natalie managed to get to the phone to call her husband, who came and drove her to her GP who signed her off work with stress. She says that looking back, she can see that a number of factors had led to her burnout. “I was looking after my husband, who had a chronic illness that meant he was unable to work. I’d been doing the jobs of 3½ people on my own. We were going through IVF, and it wasn’t happening. We had negative equity. It was coming at me from all angles…  I’ve had to learn that self-care and self-compassion isn’t selfish.”

The second real life example describes Patrick Stack, aged 59, who had gone through a very intense period of work for about six weeks. He was working as a part-time adult education tutor and also ran his own business as a web developer. Patrick said: “I was putting in 70 to 80 hours a week, but I was feeling great. I didn’t realise I was emptying the tank.” Then he began to feel tired. “It was gradual, very insidious. It’s like this vague feeling of unease…It gradually built up…I wasn’t suicidal, but I lost the sense of joy in everything, even the taste for my food. I had a bout of depression 15 years ago, but this felt different. I was suffering from extreme anxiety and tension.”  A few months later, his sleep was affected, and he was having nightmares. He went to his GP and also started counselling sessions and found that a major rethink of his values was required. “I don’t like the way society is going, in that everything is valued in terms of money rather than your worth as an individual. If there’s one thing I learned, it’s to be kind to myself – being kind to yourself is not selfish.”

In my own private practice I have talked to many people with stories very like those of Natalie and Patrick. For both of them and for my own clients, the onset of burnout was slow and almost undetectable to begin with – it was only in hindsight that they could plot its course. And of course, the recovery period is going to be slow as well, although very often people will tell me “thank goodness I hit rock bottom. I’ve been able to completely re-appraise my life and my values since then.” Does any of this sound familiar?

Need some advice and support?

If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.       Sept 16th 2017

Book a counselling session today!

See also: Am I burnt out?, What is burnout?

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