Do you feel overwhelmed with all that is going on in your life?
Do you feel worried and stressed about the uncertainty you are surrounded by?
You are not alone. Chronic stress is a condition most people with busy lives struggle with. For many, a clear mind and inner peace are a distant dream. The worst thing is that you get used to it. You start thinking that being stressed is normal, that this is how it should be. It is not. A busy life with many responsibilities should not necessarily make you suffer.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t know how to deal with stress effectively. It is perfectly possible to learn to handle the challenging situations life puts you through better – and to live a happier life, focused on the things that truly matter. With the recent unprecedented challenges after the pandemic, many of us worldwide feel additionally disturbed and unsettled.
This has to do with our survival instinct: when our brain detects a threat, which can just be a worrying thought, it releases the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, triggering a survival mechanism in our body. The digestive system gets put on hold, blood goes to the bigger muscles, pupils are dilated, hearing gets sharper – in short: we are in high alert and ready to run or fight.
This fight or flight mechanism is very useful when it comes to a life threatening situation, but unfortunately our brain cannot differentiate between a real life threat and a worry in our head. It will trigger the same mechanism for negative thoughts and worries.
If our attention rests a lot on worrying news, chances are high that we spend most of our time in this alert state, which is deteriorating for our body and mind. On a longer term, it can lead to burnout, depression or anxiety disorder.
Are you feeling stressed out and exhausted?
Prolonged feelings of stress can lead to burnout
Burnout is a stress-related condition. In itself, stress is not necessarily a bad thing. A bit of adrenalin can make you perform at your best when a deadline is in sight, or when something is expected of you. But when you remain under stress for a longer time, the same substances (like the adrenalin) that kept you sharp at first, can start wearing you out.
Stress is meant to be the exception, to help you survive in life-threatening situations. Nowadays, however, it has become rather the rule. The increasing digitalisation at work leads to less downtime, checking messages 24/7 and spending more hours in front of a screen. We face stressors almost constantly, like getting stuck in traffic on the way to work, worries about finances or relationship issues, as well as general anxiety and uncertainty about the events happening in the world around us. As a consequence, your stress system starts to become almost permanently activated. The more stressed you get, the more negatively you interpret what happens to you. This leads to more stress – the start of a vicious circle.
How to tell if you are experiencing burnout
This long-term, or chronic, stress has physical effects, like the loss of sleep or concentration problems, as well as psychological effects. The name burnout suggests what happens: the flame loses its flicker until it is completely extinguished.
Common symptoms of being "burnt out" are:
- Lack of interest and energy
- Feeling exhausted instead of challenged by change
- Feeling powerless
- Exhaustion, tiredness
- Insomnia and sleeping problems
- Low functioning immune system
- Concentration and memory problems
- Feelings of overwhelm, rapid crying, Irritation
- Panic attacks, anxiety, nervousness
- Depressed or low mood
- Inexplicable pain in the body
The burnout funnel
The trouble is that you can't really trust your own judgment when you're under too much stress. Your mind will tell you to focus on the urgent stuff, the to-do's. It will also tell you that there is no time to take some rest – no time to waste. So, you frantically try to stay on top of things, always running faster and skipping the things that actually relax and nourish you, because these seem optional. Seen from the "stressed perspective", what you are doing seems logical – you are trying to deal with the problem. But in reality, you are depleting your physical and mental resources, making you ever more tired. Soon, you may get irritable, lose your concentration, sleep less well, feel drained and eventually exhausted. This is what is called the "burnout funnel". The lower you sink into that funnel, the more difficult it becomes to get out of it again.
Misconceptions: burnout only happens to weak people
One of the biggest misunderstandings about burnout is that it happens to "weak" people. The opposite is true; the more motivated and hard-working you are, the more vulnerable you are to a burnout.
Burnouts tend to happen mostly to people who like their job and take it seriously, who are motivated to make the best of it. Because these are the people that will go "the extra mile", even more so if they have perfectionistic tendencies, until they collapse.
If you recognise yourself in this profile, it is crucial to learn to see these patterns, and to learn to step out of them. It is not easy to do that by yourself, because these patterns are a bit like lenses you look through – you are not always aware that you're looking through a specific lens, but assume that the way you see things is reality.
Unsure of whether you’re really experiencing burnout? Take this self-assessment and see how you score on the stress scale.
Reenergizing your mind and body
Brussels Mindfulness has several upcoming activities designed specifically for helping you navigate the difficult process of recovering from burnout or instilling healthy habits to prevent yourself from ending up there.
Work with the mind through…
Mindfulness: through mindfulness you can gain more insight into your own patterns, giving yourself the tools to approach work and life differently, better deal with stress and learn how to unwind and decompress. Get started with an 8-week mindfulness course.
Learning how to take in the good: through positive neuroplasticity you will build inner resources to help you amplify positive emotions and decrease negative thinking. Learn how to cultivate specific strengths that will help you deal with difficulties and increase your resilience. Get started with our 6-week positive neuroplasticity training programme.
Personalized energy coaching: create an individualized plan for creating healthier habits to help you better manage your energy in private coaching sessions. Discover more about our coaching offers here.