We’ve finally started talking about burnouts more. I’ll be honest, a few years ago I didn’t even know what a burnout was - and I was even studying psychology!
We now recognise the dangers and frequency of burnouts, but did you know there are also different types of burnout? Aside from occupational burnout, which we hear the most about, there’s also social burnout and emotional burnout. Social burnout occurs most commonly in introverts, who struggle to match the extroverts level of contact around them.
Today we’ll focus on emotional burnouts because that’s something I have a lot of experience with. As someone with Borderline Personality Disorder, I feel all my emotions on a heightened, extreme level. Feeling 100% of my emotions all the time means that things hit me hard, and take longer to get over. I quickly grow emotionally tired, and in the face of major life changes, I reach emotional exhaustion.
But even if you don’t have a personality disorder or any mental illness, you can experience emotional burnouts from difficult situations and toxic relationships, so let’s find out more.
An emotional burnout usually occurs from accumulated stress, whether that’s work-related, relationship-related or anything else in your personal life. You’ve been at such a heightened level of emotion for so long, that your body is exhausted - hence the emotional exhaustion.
It’s common amongst people with demanding jobs, caregivers or anyone experiencing a major life change, such as losing a loved one, living with a chronic illness, financial stress or those with mental health struggles.
It’s like how you often get a cold after a particularly stressful period, as your body was in fight or flight mode for too long and couldn’t look after itself. This is happening emotionally, like a feelings cold. You couldn’t process your emotions due to stress, and so your body didn’t do its upkeep. Emotional burnout can be accompanied by physical ailments too, or just be a state of pure emotional exhaustion.
There are many causes of emotional burnout to consider, including but not limited to the following:
It feels like an exhaustion that carries down to your bones, to your essence of being. We’ve all been tired, after a late night out or busy time at work. But emotional exhaustion is the kind of tiredness that sleep can’t help, no matter how much of it you get. You feel drained and unable to get back to who you are. There’s a constant state of hopelessness and pessimism.
Additionally, this exhaustion is directed towards social situations and handling any incidents. The smallest problems feel huge. You jump to irritation over the smallest of things, and assume people are intentionally trying to bother you.
You might struggle with brain fog and find your productivity dwindling. You also just don’t care as much, and feel lower commitment to your job, partner, friends or family.
Physically, you might experience headaches, weight gain or loss, a lack of appetite, fatigue and soreness in your body. Never forget the mind-body connection, we feel our emotions in our bodies.
And what does emotional burnout look like? Well, not pleasant.
As a result of your emotional exhaustion, you might isolate yourself from others. It’s a coping mechanism, as on some level you know you’re not equipped to handle things emotionally, and so you retreat. Like a wounded animal that won’t approach others.
If you’re pushed to see others, or you ignore your instincts, you might be more irritable or feel distant from others. You’re struggling to regulate your emotions and others might bear the brunt of this. It might be that the people in your life create that distance as they don’t understand what’s going on or know how to help you.
In the past, when I experienced emotional exhaustion, I forced myself to continue social situations as normal, even though my very bones were screaming at me to stop and be alone for a bit. As a result, I was constantly defensive to everyone around me. I assumed people were trying to hurt me with the smallest of actions. I wasn’t a very great friend to anyone, least of all to myself.
If you feel like an emotional burnout is creeping in, you recognise those symptoms, or you simply think you’re at a higher risk for one, don’t worry just yet. There are many tips for preventing an emotional burnout before it gets out of hand.
My word of the year is ‘boundaries’. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries, I am never stopping. I recently spoke about creating boundaries at work, as well as setting boundaries in your friendships, and it turns out the two aren’t that different after all.
Set boundaries to protect your mental health and well-being. Don’t let people guilt you into taking on more than you can, and especially don’t guilt yourself into it!
Focus on setting aside time to rest, to engage in hobbies, to be alone and everything else you need in life. Don’t let people take more than you have to give.
Without a routine, it’s easy to say all these things you’ll start doing. I’ll start working out more, I’ll start eating healthier, I’ll start meditating…
Stop saying and start planning. Design a routine that incorporates everything you need to look after yourself. Decide when and how often you’ll exercise or read or do something else you love. Decide how much sleep you need per night and then remove all distractions. Create a routine that you love to follow and makes you feel good.
I recently mentioned how this app helps me to be productive during depressed episodes, but it also helps to kind of slow me down.
On Perfectly Happy, you can create vision boards for your life. And not just for your work goals, or in my case writing. You design your life holistically, including what you want from relationships, friendships, wellness and more. Whether you create vision boards through this app or just on paper, they help you to frequently check in with yourself, and so you’ll notice the strains of emotional burnout quicker.
I’m such a big believer in the power of alone time. I think spending time on your own allows you to reset. You get to see your opinions and feelings without the influence of anyone else. You get to create an emotional baseline to incorporate into social situations.
Plan time to be on your own. Don’t just wait for it to happen. Schedule it in your agenda like you would any other meetup or event. It’s up to you what you do alone, whether it’s reading, walking, going to a cafe, watching shows, baking or anything else. I love starting each day with a walk on my own to process how I feel.
Life is hard, to put it mildly. Life is really difficult, a lot of the time, and it often feels like we’re just waiting for the next awful thing.
The only way I could handle all the awful in life was to train myself to find the little moments of joy as well. Some days my depression feels so overwhelming that I need to find anything good to hold onto, whether that’s lighting a nice candle I’ve been saving, petting a cute dog on the street or taking a bubble bath. Find the tiny moments of joy and cling to them, because they give you a moment of emotional relief. Fight the overwhelming negativity by finding little releases for your positive emotions.
Whether that’s on the app I previously mentioned, in a journal or just mentally for a moment, frequently check in with yourself. It’s important to track your moods so that you recognise the warning signs.
Recently with my therapist, I created a scale for my mood changes and the symptoms that accompany each stage. It was really enlightening to pinpoint the warning signs, physically, emotionally and thought-wise. What did each impulse mean? What did I need in each moment?
I try to end each day with a minute of journaling. First I write down what i achieved, as even on days where I feel I didn’t do enough, I can always find something. Even if that was just vacuuming or getting out of the house. Then I write what I want to do tomorrow, to ensure it’s manageable and focused. And finally, I just scribble my thoughts down so they’re not trapped in my mind when I try to sleep.
While those prevention tips can help some, they’re not always enough, or some things slip past. I don’t think any tips could’ve helped me to avoid the emotional exhaustion that followed the passing of my father.
I will never pretend that daily walks or journaling are enough to cure a burnout or other mental health issues. They can help you to manage things, but sometimes you need more than that. And that’s okay. It’s vital to admit when you need more help than small lifestyle changes, because people want to help once they know.
Consider speaking to a professional about your situation. They can help you far more than I can in this article. Many therapists are specialised in burnout, and can help to identify the triggers for your situation and what can help. More than anything, it can help you to feel heard and understood, to get the validation you need to stop berating yourself for this situation. It’s not your fault, and I know they’ll tell you the same.
You need to rest. Not a night of sleep, not a weekend at home, but extended rest. You need to allow your body to leave the extended fight or flight mode and find a baseline normal again. If you have vacation days, use them. Time off from work isn’t just for jetsetting, it’s for resting as well. If you can take sick time, then use it. Explain that you are unwell right now and it’s affecting your work. See what you can do, but know that your health can’t wait forever.
We’ve come a long way in discussing mental health and burnout, but there is still that underlying shame around it. We can only fight this shame by sharing our experiences. When something is scary to talk about, there’s usually a reason for this, and it’s exactly why we should.
People can’t help you until they know you need their help. People can’t support you until you give them the space to do so. Tell people you trust that you’re struggling and what you need right now.
When in doubt, put yourself in their shoes. How would you react if a loved one told you they were struggling with emotional burnout or another mental health issue? Would you begrudge them, or would you be so eager to help in any way that you can? Let them do the same for you.
As always, with emotional burnout, it is so vital to be kind to yourself. We’re often so quick to offer kindness to everyone but ourselves. You’re only human, so treat yourself as such. Give yourself rest, compassion and joy. Don’t allow yourself to slip into a life that has no room for these, or if you’re already in one, work towards a way out. If you need help, ask for it, you’ll never regret taking that step.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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