Episode 54 – Burnout, Signs, Symptoms and What to do


In this episode, Sarah explores burnout – The signs, symptoms, what it is and how you can avoid it.

Hear a definition of burnout at 2:40, a list of possible symptoms at 5:22 and at around 13:30, Sarah suggests some things you can do to avoid burnout.

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Blog posts

A Guide to Burnout for Therapists

How to Prevent and Recover from Burnout in work

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Therapist Corner

This episode was written and presented by Sarah Rees. It was edited by Big Tent Media and Produced by Emily Crosby Media.


Automated Transcript


burnout, work, journaling, bit, feel, notice, signs, life, colleagues, therapist, health professionals, people, environments, overwhelmed, breaks, episode, resilience, regular scheduled, emotional exhaustion, therapists


Sarah Rees


Welcome to Ask the Therapist, a monthly podcast for everyone who’s interested in how our minds work building resilience through journaling, and all things therapy. I’m your host, Sarah Rees, a mental health nurse and CBT therapist with over 20 years of experience in the field of mental health.


Hello, in this episode, I’m talking about burnout. I recently did an email that goes out to therapists, because alongside my clinical work, I also support therapists setting up in private practice. And I collaborate on a website builder for therapists as part of that. If you want to know more, you can just head over to pocketsite.co.uk. And you can subscribe on the homepage there to get the weekly emails we send out on all things business websites, social media, things like that. Anyway, the email was slightly different from our usual topics, in that I did one on burnout. And it’s won the award for the most opened email of the year, congratulations burnout. But slightly worrying, isn’t it? I had no idea it would be this popular. So then I did a blog post around burnout. And that too, has won the award for the most viewed blog this year. So a thought time for a podcast episode. 



Do you remember not so long ago, when we were in lockdown, some of us were baking banana bread – feels like a long time ago now, doesn’t it? We thought life had changed forever. And we were never going to go back to that busy, go go go live where we’re commuting, and everything was nonstop. But unfortunately, I think many of us are back there now. But there’s a difference now, we have had a taste of what it could be like, we know how life should be. And while I’m always talking about awareness, having awareness of mind and how useful awareness is, sometimes we if we have awareness, it can make us feel a little bit stuck. And it can become problematic, because we can use it as a stick to hit ourselves with. We know how we should be we know what we should be doing. But we’re not. And that can keep us stuck. Our nature is to progress always to be striving, moving forward being busy being productive. And these are highly rewarded attributes. So there’s a rewarding factor that keeps us striving and doing and thriving and pushing ourselves forward. We live in a world that’s always awake, and there’s just no off button anymore. 



So what I’m trying to say is that it’s understandable given the environments that we live in, that it’s difficult to boundary ourselves to, unless the world shuts down, we don’t know how to switch ourselves off. So rather than beat yourself up, let’s take a closer look at what burnout is and what you can do. So what is burnout? Burnout is the state that comes from long-term unresolved stress. Often it’s the end stage of being overwhelmed for a really long period of time, without adequate resources or lack of support. When you’ve given everything you’re all and then some. Burnout then begins to negatively affect your work and your life in general. It manifests primarily as emotional exhaustion, tiredness, emotional fatigue, or emotional overload, low energy and like I say, low motivation. We’ll talk a little bit more in depth about what burnout is a little later on. But I did a little research while I’ve been thinking about this podcast episode about some of the jobs that are the most stressful, and let’s see if you are in these categories. So the number one most stressful job was welfare professionals, so professionals that are looking after other people’s welfare like nurses, health professionals, probably therapists are there too, social workers, then customer services. That’s tricky, especially as prices are going high and customers are probably not as happy as they have been in the past. Legal professionals and I would totally agree with that. Legal professionals are one of the top professions that come for therapy with me, as our teachers that’s next on the list. Teachers are so stressed out. Librarians, how is that stressful? You wouldn’t have thought that but that’s on the list, recruitment consultants, GP and other health professionals. The least stressful jobs include hair stylists, dental technicians, doulas, systems software designers, landscapers, I think that would be a very nice enjoyable job, bloggers. Well, if I just wrote my blogs, I’m sure it’d be a lot more relaxed and HR managers. And this is according to the research conducted by Westfield Health in 2022, who also claimed that close to half of the UK workers are close to burnout, but 46% in their research, that’s half of us are almost a burnout. That’s shocking statistics. 



When I look at those lists, you can say that there is less pressure in the least stressful jobs. And there’s also an ability to be creative or be with nature, these things are really nurturing for our well-being. And there’s lots of opportunity to be collaborative with others and social like hairdressers, you know, and dental technicians they’re are having really nice interactions with their customers and clients. Now, let’s take a deeper look into what burnout is. There are some physical and emotional components of burnout, everybody experiences burnout very differently, but some of the common experiences are emotional exhaustion, which is feeling worn out and emotionally drained, a sense of feeling overwhelmed constantly. Sometimes people experience low mood because they just feel drained of energy, or real flatness, it’s when you don’t enjoy activities that you would normally be enjoying. People often notice an increase of self-doubt. So they find it harder to make decisions. They might be more self-critical. Feeling defeated can be part of this, a bit hopeless. One of the common signs also is that Sunday evening feel when you start really dreading going to work. You know, I mean, do I always enjoy going to work on a Monday morning, maybe not. But I kind of don’t give it much thought most of the times. And sometimes I’m excited about my week ahead. But I think I’d really start to take notice if I was starting to drag my Sundays. I’d be wanting to change the week ahead and do things differently. So if you’re noticing dreading going to work anxiety creeping up on Sunday afternoons, that might be a sign that you’re kind of heading towards burnout, and also procrastination, you start putting things off because of low energy, you can’t be bothered, there’s a lack of motivation. And you just want things to be easier because you’ve been overwhelmed for such a long time, then procrastination can kick in. If you’re in one of the health professions, you might notice a reduction of empathy and caring responses not being as collaborative with colleagues and peers. When you do achieve things, and you get things ticked off your list, you might not feel a sense of accomplishment or award that you normally ward. So they’re more of the components that we notice when we start to feel burnt out.



Each of these components falls along a term continuum. So you may experience varying amounts of these at different times during your working life. And some of them we, you know, we’ll notice more than others. While there isn’t a specific agreed upon point where somebody can be classified as burnt out, it’s really vital that we are reflective and really self aware so that we can monitor ourselves for signs of burnout. Our workplaces do have a responsibility to support us and monitors and provide us with environments where we can flourish and be at our best. So if in your workplace, you do think that these environments are not being met. You know, I think we all have a responsibility to go to our team leaders and managers and say that things need to change and point out problems so that you can get health professionals in or educational supporters in to help improve the mental well being of your workplace. Burnout can affect anybody, it’s not about being weak, it’s not about being less than. Anybody under sustained periods of stress for long periods of time will eventually feel burnt out. And this can happen at any time in our life. Of course, we’ve all recently been through a pandemic which has placed us under huge strain. And we’ve had significant life changes many of us we change the way we work, our lifestyles have changed. We’ve been through lots of transitions. And unfortunately, many of us only begin to understand burnout when it begins to impact us. And this might be what’s drawing you to this episode. And I suppose it’s important to know that you’re not alone. It’s clear from the blog posts and the emails that I’ve done that this is affecting lots of us. 



I’ve gone through some of the symptoms of burnout. Now I want you to think about some of the signs to look out for and you can look out for this in yourself and colleagues and people you love and care about as well, because sometimes when we’re heading towards burnout because we’re overwhelmed, you’re so busy, you’re just on that roller coaster of life, it can be really difficult to see it for yourself. And sometimes when things are tough, you know, it’s easier to crack on with work and get a little bit avoidant, so that we’re, we’re not that in touch with ourselves as we normally would be. So while these are signs that you might notice for yourself, bear in mind, the people that are around you, and are any other people around you experiencing this. So some of the common signs are wanting to withdraw yourself from family, friends and colleagues. So maybe you’ve got a work colleague that you’d see in the office all the time, and they’re working from home, more and more and more. And that’s sometimes because they just can’t be bothered getting out into the office. But for many people being in the office, being with their colleagues, is a place where they get a lot of the social engagement as well. And we flourish and enjoy and get a lot of real social connection from being in the office. So it can really add to our well-being. Also failing to take regular scheduled breaks. So maybe you’re starting work a bit later, because you’re having more of a lie-in and then you miss your morning break and your lunch break goes into the afternoon. So you end up not taking the regular scheduled breaks, breaks are hugely important. Maybe you’re just enjoying work less, maybe feeling bored, disinterested, or maybe becoming a little bit more irritable?



If on top of having a busy life, you’ve also had a life experiences, life stressors, such as illness, personal loss, relationship difficulties, or financial problems. These will all compound the effects of burnout. Things that you might find easy day to day and work like meetings, meetings with certain clients or certain tasks that you normally do very easily, they you become absolutely exhausted with them and drained after those things. So a real kind of dip in energy. If you notice yourself thinking of being anywhere else, but working so a real kind of disdain for your working life. Maybe starting to self-medicate by drinking a bit more or overlooking your personal needs or your health. So not taking good care of yourself. Some people notice experiencing more headaches and aches and pains or other physical complaints. Our immune system is impacted when we get stressed, so we get more colds and flu or have more time off work. Some people notice staring into space for hours feeling a bit detached or unable to concentrate on work. And poor sleep. Sleep is the absolute foundation of our mental and physical health. So if we’re not sleeping that well, that’s a real sign that things are spiralling downhill a little bit. So really focusing on prioritising our sleep is important. These are all early warning signs that you need to start to make changes. So it’s really important that you start to take a break now before you really have to, because Prevention is always better than cure. It’s important to keep your mind healthy in the same way that we invest in other areas of our life. Like we’re constantly updating our computers, having our cars MOT’d going to the gym. But often we’re not looking after our minds in the same way that we do our bodies. 



One thing that you can do from this episode, if you haven’t already is head over to my website and you can download your free copy of the six steps to resilience guide, where I go through the six areas that I cover most with clients in therapy to help them build resilience. We always need to be focusing on building resilience even when things are going well. It’s such an important investment for your well being and really protects you against burnout, stress and anxiety. So you know what burnout is now and you know what the signs are to look out for. So here are some of the things I would really encourage you to prioritise. The things you can do to protect yourself against burnout minimise the impact of burnout and overwhelm and chronic stress. I want you to really prioritise taking regular scheduled breaks throughout your working day, and encourage everybody else to as well. Some people work in an environment where taking breaks is uncool and untrendy and that’s really creating environments that are not sustainable. We are all responsible for helping our environments support our own mental health and those of our colleagues. So when you take regular breaks when you look after yourself, you’re also giving permission for other people to do the same as well. Try taking regular time off. And when you do, don’t take your work with you. Shut your emails down. Have a think about where you get an emotional checkup from, do you have a friend, a coach, a therapist, maybe a business coach, peer support or colleague that you check in with now, and again? If you don’t try putting in place a system for checking in with yourself, maybe a reflective practice, such as journaling, or regularly doing mood checks, some way of having emotional check ins, to check in with your psychological well being. Try and notice if you’re ever withdrawing yourself, and switch this up to push yourself to spend time with friends and colleagues or engaging in hobbies and interests that are completely unrelated to work. Regular exercise and eating a nourishing diet is hugely important, because our bodies how we treat our bodies impacts our mind and vice versa. Limit your working hours. There’s such poor boundaries, or were around how we work now because we have access 24 hours to our emails and all sorts of things that we have to put the boundaries in ourself. So maybe have a goal for yourself that at six o’clock. That’s it, you don’t look at your laptop. Again, I know this can be tough, especially for people working globally. But again, it’s it’s taking responsibility for building healthy cultures. 



I think we’re really good at scheduling in meetings what we need to do. But I want you to also prioritise scheduling in some downtime,. Allow yourself to have unproductive periods to be bored at times, instead of always doing we also need to be in the just being mode. This is where the restoration happens when we get more creative, we have to be good at both the doing and the being. And often being and slowing down is when we’re refuelling our batteries. But that’s the area that needs toning up, we need to work out more. And also I’ll just mention again, prioritising sleep, it’s the foundation of our health. 



So I hope you found that all helpful. And what I want you to take from today is that we all need to be a bit more reflective and engaged with how we are feeling both inside and outside of work and for ourselves and also keeping an eye on our colleagues and the people around us. And prevention is always the best. When signs of burnout start to develop, it’s vital that we take a step back, reassess our current situation and start to make changes to help us get back on track. The quicker you take action and make some positive changes, the quicker you’re going to be back to feeling like you’re on top of things, you’re back in control, and you’ve got some resilience back. I hope you found this episode helpful. And if there’s somebody out there that you think could do with listening to this, do feel free to share it. 



I’m going to end today’s episode with a question that I have been asked. So this podcast is called Ask the Therapist. And recently, I’ve been putting out on Instagram a link where you can ask me a question. And I’ve had a question. So I’m going to start answering them at the end of my podcast episodes. So this question is from Sheena Ridings. CBT therapist who actually works with me in Wilmslow, and her question for the podcast is, Sarah, you talk a lot about journaling on your social media. I wonder whether this is something you do yourself. And if so what benefits do you find it helps for you? So yes, Sheena I do a lot of journaling. I have done an awful lot in the past, I probably now I do journaling, when I’m on holiday I journal more so when I have more time for myself. And if I start to notice I’m getting overwhelmed and stressed. And I started journaling when I was in my 40s and had some health concerns. And I really wanted to get a better understanding of what was going on for myself because I was I was just a bit lost in how I was feeling. And I was going to my GPs and other health professionals saying I want to feel better and feel better. And they struggled to help me until I got a really, really good handle on what I was going through. So I needed to create awareness of mind. And you know, when I was going through that time, I really sat down and spent a lot of time thinking right, what do I need? How can I apply what I know as a CBT therapist, to myself now, and journaling is where I started. So I used to journal kind of every single day, I do it for about 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night and I really applied myself for quite, I’d say a good year I used to do that for and what was really helpful for me was noticing that when I kind of did things that I knew would be helpful for me but I could see the benefits, it really kept me motivated to continue with those good things like going to the gym eating healthily, you know, I could notice that my mood improved for a few days, I just feel completely better. And I think it gave me a lot of good evidence to carry on with some of the changes that I’ve made. So it helps the benefits that I found from journaling is that it gives me a clarity, it really helps me get stuff out of my head and down on paper. And that reduces stress. And, you know, we know that journaling does reduce stress, because our minds are busy places there’s stuff going around all the time, when we get it out down on paper, we get a bit more objective about it, you get a bit of distance from your thoughts, it helps increase awareness and clarity. And with awareness, you then have choice over some of the decisions you make. And it also really helped me work with my inner voice, you know, your mind is chatting to itself all the time. And when you get more aware of that voice, you can soften it to be more helpful for you. So that was another real key benefit from that I found from journaling. Journaling is one of the steps that is in the resilience guide, because it definitely adds to resilience. You know, lots of people are talking about it all over social media. It’s part of if you’ve ever read anything about having a miracle morning where you get up meditate, do a bit of journaling, and yoga. You know, journaling is a key feature of that and for very good reason. So people who were really trying to be the best versions that they can be, are prioritising, working with tools that helps them understand themselves more. So thank you for your question, Sheena. And if you would like to ask me a question, you can email me at inquiries@Sarahdrees.co.uk. Send me a DM over on Instagram, or I’m also on Facebook as well. I’d love to know what your questions are. And I will start working my way through them with each episode. 



This is the last episode for 2022 I can’t believe it. It this year has gone so fast. So I’ll be back in January. And I’ve got a really exciting motivating episode for you in January with a fitness coach because I personally am going to need some motivating and help with keeping consistency and prioritising myself as I set myself my goals for 2023. And I thought that I would bring you along on that journey and hopefully, you’ll get some good tips and insights and a burst of motivation. So I’ll see you back here in January 2023.



Thank you for listening to Ask the Therapist. For more information about the CBT journal, visit my website at Sarahdrees.co.uk. You can also sign up to download your free guide to building emotional resilience delivered straight to your inbox. You will then also receive regular newsletters where I share my blog posts, podcasts and tips and strategies for better mental health and psychological resilience. Don’t forget to review and subscribe to the podcast and you can also share episodes on social media using the hashtag ask the therapist. This episode was written and presented by me Sarah Rees and edited by Big Tent Media and produced by Emily Crosby Media.




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