YO, CAN I GET A JUMP-START?
If we rewind the past 72 hours there’d be no life-shattering news that I’d receive, no devastating event to happen to me. What you would see, though, is an exhausted writer juggling two, near full-time editing jobs, finally on the downhill stretch for one of them. You’d see me physically exhausted from flying all over Europe every week for the past six weeks. You’d see me mentally exhausted from writing an entire magazine in a month while maintaining my day job as a fashion editor. And you’d see me emotionally exhausted from repressing four years’ worth of overwhelming loneliness from living a workaholic life in London.
“There are different types of burnout.”
For four years I’d been juggling chronic and acute stress, and September 12 was when I finally reached my limit. Simply put, I burnt out.
I think why my anxiety attacks even happened was because I was finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, i.e. my side project’s deadline looming. Just like when you get sick on holiday, I’d relaxed just enough for my body to take over and my damn feelings fell out. Apparently I had a lot of ’em.
Since then I’ve not had any further “stress climaxes,” shall we call them (chiefly because I’ve not put myself in that position again, but, semantics), but I have had two other moments of complete burnout. From these rather bummer-y experiences I’ve learned that there are different types of burnout, and that they’re not different because of a specific set of stressors. That is, one kind of burnout is not linked to a certain stressor or certain kinds of stressors; rather, the burnout you experience is dependent on your current lifestyle and the varying levels of support around you.
“The burnout you experience is dependent on your current lifestyle and the varying levels of support around you.”
Fundamentally, though, burnout is exactly what’s described on the bottle: Ya buggered. You’re utterly exhausted, plain ’n’ simple. There’s no more gas in the tank. Done. Nada. Comprende? So what are the different kinds of burnout, and more importantly, how the F do you recover from it? Well, here’s..
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE
Fairly obviously, burnout is you, super-knackered, totally fried, and feeling pretty tender. Why? Because, at the end of the day, burnout is mental, physical, and/or emotional exhaustion. The most common form of burnout is occupational, which old mate Herbert Freudenberger documented in 1974. The inventor of the word, “burnout,” first characterized this state as being a contextual depression, whereby your surroundings and situation now make you feel:
– Almost always exhausted
– Easily distracted
– Apathetic towards or upset by your work
– Overwhelmed by your work’s responsibilities
– Short-fused and impatient
– In denial about how much your work is affecting you
– Hopeless about your work/life
– Reliance on food/alcohol/substances to give you pleasure
Work burnout is usually as a result of you being completely drained of your resources: yo’ job might be super-high pressure, high stakes, or it could absolutely bore you to tears and you’re exhausted from grinning ’n’ bearing it for so long. Caregiver burnout, however, is another common form of burnout, and is usually experienced by health professionals or carers whose emotionally taxing environments deplete them of their mental resources.
WHAT IT FEELS LIKE
So, because you’ve worked yourself up for such an intense period, or cumulatively, it’s been a long slog, your brain’s axons (the nerve cells that form the wiring of your brain) will have deployed a shit-ton of neurochemicals (the good shit that makes you the fabulous, peppy individual you normally are). This sustained stress response (i.e. “long term potentiation”) is what is causing your burnout because whatever stress/ors you’ve been dealing with has/have caused a depression-like neurological state. In other words, your brain’s rebuilding its stores; it’s busy re-uptaking those mood-defining, cognitive function-enhancing neurotransmitters.
Due to your low serotonin and high cortisol levels, you’re likely to feel:
– Hypersensitive: loud noises, aggressive people, or criticisms physically hurt, as if someone was scratching already red-raw skin
– Anxious: from jittery and highly strung, to apathetic, depressed, or full of dread
– Numb or detached: from your body and/or your emotions
– Hopeless or trapped and defeated
– Rife with self-doubt
Physically, you’ll probably be experiencing one or some of the following:
– Reduced memory and auditory and visual attention
– Vulnerability to sickness or allergy flare-ups: your immune system’s already working double-time
– High heart rate
– Periods of quickened breathing/shortness of breath
– Changes in appetite and/or sleep habits
Despite all of these rather shit burnout symptoms, there is an upside: You will eventually stop and take a break. Whether it’s because of family and friends telling you to slow down, or if you’re particularly stubborn like me, your body taking over and saying, “Enough, bitch,” you will get to a point where you won’t be able to ignore it anymore. The universe will make it so uncomfortable for you to continue your path to self-destruction, you’ll have to stop. It’ll probably happen at the most inopportune time, but something or someone will force you to stop. And this is where the magic begins.
WHAT IT TAKES TO RECOVER
After falling into a heap, revving your brain to the point of overdrive, and/or becoming a walking zombie, you, the empty shell of a person will start the process of regaining your strength. The most effective, efficient way of doing this? It’s pretty straightforward, kids. I’m sure you’ve already figured it out: It’s the ever-unfailing combo of friends + fam. (Ta daaaaa, what a revelation.)
This bottomless font of love and support is what will nurse you back to health. Socialising, man, it’s a life-saver. Even if you’ve not got your ultimate bezzies and blood rellies to hand, pin down the next best thing and go out, just get out. Do something, something fun. Meet up with a person—people!—and have a whale of a time. Give your mind a break. I don’t care if it’s the last thing you feel like doing, make yourself to socialize IRL. Humans heal each other just by their proximity. The closeness and connection when you’re burnt out will nourish your mind and minimize your body’s recovery time.
Burnout is gradual, so burnout recovery is also going to be gradual. My last piece of advice? Don’t rush it. Be kind to yourself. You will get there, and you’ll probably be stronger than ever because of it.