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Are you in danger of burning out?

By Dr Pam Spurr
Image: Thinkstock
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There's a stress epidemic out there and sadly men find they've reached burnout when it's almost too late to sort out. Behavioural expert Dr Pam Spurr examines the symptoms of burnout and reveals what men can do to combat them.

Stress is a mood state
It's important to understand that stress is a natural mood state.

An optimum level of medium-to-low stress keeps you on your toes and ensures you do your best. However as stress levels increase, coping and performance decrease.

A hyper-stressed mood state - with all its symptoms - has a purpose: the purpose is to signal to you that you need to take action and/or respond to what's going on in your life.

Then you need to plan to do things differently. Instead, too many men feel overwhelmed and out of control - if that continues for too long you risk burnout.

Symptoms of burnout
Take a look at this symptoms checklist to see if you're at risk:

  • You're finding it hard to sleep - you are either awake for long periods or sleeping in short fits and bursts
  • You feel like you're constantly running on adrenaline
  • You're more dependent on caffeine to keep you going
  • You're fidgety and restless even when you have a chance to sit down/relax
  • You've noticed it's hard to concentrate - you have to re-read pages in a book or you lose track of the plot in a film
  • You're short tempered particularly with your nearest and dearest
  • You wouldn't admit it but at times you feel tearful
  • You find yourself feeling 'panicky' even once you've met a deadline
  • You're experiencing physical symptoms of panic, eg heart palpitations, sweaty palms
  • Your appetite has changed - either it's disappeared or you're comfort eating
  • You feel you're more reliant on alcohol to get a good night's sleep
  • If you're a smoker it's greatly increased
  • You have no desire to do anything [e.g. the sports you normally enjoy] when you have free time
  • Finally, you feel numb inside, you've got nothing left to give

Burnout: how to take action
If a number of these symptoms resonate with you it's time to change the way you respond to demands and pressures. Making changes and taking action can save you from complete burnout.

Make the following strategies a part of your daily life:

  • Start saying "no" to any requests that erode having time to relax
  • Stop using caffeine to pick you up and alcohol to relax you - both should be used in moderation
  • Don't sweep things under the carpet so that they pile up - deal with any problems/issues when they crop up
  • Learn to turn off anxiety by challenging irrational thoughts like "everything is going to go pear-shaped" or "your whole world will crumble" etc. It won't!
  • Turn that little 'devil' on your shoulder criticising you at this time into a softer, gentler voice.
  • Depending on your work circumstances discuss with your manager lessening your load for a limited time
  • Make 'self-care' a priority - this means ensuring you eat proper meals (limit the takeaways), drink plenty of fluids, get some exercise, try to get enough sleep and don't let work take up all of your time
  • If you're in a relationship let your partner know that life feels like a juggling act right now. Don't feel embarrassed, instead ask for their support.
  • Make physical affection a priority with your partner - sex is a fantastic stress-buster and produces a number of feel-good hormones within your system
  • Definitely get yourself out for things like comedy evenings, films etc - anything that takes your mind off stress
  • Use music to soothe you and load your iPod with plenty of your favourite tunes - include a track that's uplifting and can be your personal anthem
  • If you find it helpful keep a journal of your inner thoughts and feelings - some find this to be an effective way of releasing emotion

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