Show Notes

In this episode, I want to talk about what burnout is, we’re going to walk through the signs of burnout. In business owners and in workers will look at whether you’re burnt out or if in fact you need to change direction in business or in your career.

This episode is the first in a four-part series on burnout. In the following episodes, I’ll dive into the causes of burnout, how we recover from burnout, and also how we prevent it from showing up in the first place.

But in this episode, we’re looking at the signs of burnout.

To start with, I want to shout out Nicko, who left a review after listening to the podcast. 

Nicko says:

“Wow great podcast, super easy listening and great lessons that have helped with my anxiety, one of my favourite car podcasts for sure.”

Thank you so much Nicko!

Happy to be along for a car ride with you. 

Now, I want to start this series on burnout by saying if you’re feeling burnt out right now, and want you to go gently with this episode and the follow up episodes in the burnout series.

As we talk about burnout, in my experience, it can go either way, you could breathe a sigh of relief at feeling recognised and acknowledged. Or you may feel tense and overwhelmed.

Because you’d really love an answer to it all right now. I know that feeling, the feeling of wanting to fix it, to conquer it, to simply have it gone and be able to have your pre burnout, energy and productivity available again.

But the thing is, burnout doesn’t arrive overnight. And recovery doesn’t happen overnight, either.

I promise we’ll get to all your answers over the course of these four episodes. But the reason I’m dividing it into four episodes is that so that all of this information is not even more overwhelming than wherever you’re at right now.

To start our episode on the signs and symptoms of burnout, let me explain my experience with such as told in the first chapter of my book, The Art of self kindness.

It was a Thursday when I posed the question to john, I don’t remember the weather, or the headlines, or if my dog and I walked that morning.

But I do remember that I already knew the answer, and had probably known that for half a decade at this point. But people who don’t listen to themselves with respectful and kind ease, tend to ignore the messages their deepest selves are trying to communicate.

Even if those messages have been trying to gain attention in one way or another for years. Know, people who listened to themselves through filters of perfection and expectation and rigid obligation, hear different versions of only one thing. You’re not enough.

That’s exactly how burnout made me feel that I wasn’t and couldn’t be enough.

I wish that this kind of damaging internal dialogue could only continue for so long before an automatic kill switch was activated to silences. And maybe some people have such a switch. But in my case, after decades of it, I can’t say that I had any switch like it.

One of the perks of being a psychologist is that my Friendship Circle is blessed with professional therapists.

One of the drawbacks of being a psychologist is that friends don’t offer friends therapy, because our board of ethics doesn’t love that sort of boundary entanglement and rightly so.

But we are each in the business of professional listening, a skill that becomes so instinctive that you take it with you between life roles.

It was with an empathic er that john received me as I quietly de compensated in the cafe that afternoon. I was asking him because it was January.

 If December is the month of endings. January is the month of beginnings, and I couldn’t bring myself to start another year, that would inevitably be a repeat if the year before or the five before that.

It’s not that I didn’t have a good life. I did. Outwardly, but inwardly, the self destruction was at breakpoint.

I was working myself into the ground, while pummelling myself for not being more than I was, I saw myself as inherently lacking.

In what specifically I’m not sure, it was just a feeling. And one that was so uncomfortable that I had perfected a puppet like dance of working harder, earning more, acquiring more hobbies, wearing nicer clothes, exercising more often, and donning more masks over my authentic self, in the hope that I measured up and finally gave myself a break.

The thing is, burnout is often misinterpreted, as do more by the one being burned, which was me.

Here I was burning out, while at the same time asking myself to do more to try and fix it.

I asked john, what will happen if I stop?

And what I was asking him was, what would happen if I stopped working in my practice?

What would happen if I didn’t see my clients anymore?

What would happen if I didn’t have an income?

Who would I be without all of this?

He said, “Nothing will happen Beck. Your clients will see other helpers and life will go on. Your options are to continue pushing yourself beyond what’s healthy and acceptable, or to start being kind to yourself, your choice.”

I already knew this. But coming from the mouth of a friend, mentor and fellow professional, it sounded louder, the words short of themselves than if they made a guest appearance in my head only.

John continued, “nothing will change while you keep doing the same thing you’ve always done.”

But what will I do? I said, in quite hysterics, mind you that translated to I can’t possibly stop this performance, can I?

He said, “Sometimes, we need to create an empty space before we can create what will fill it.”

Please know I never take for granted how wise my friends are. This sentence rolled out of John’s mouth into the space between us as casually as if he was asking me if I’d gotten around to washing my car yet.

Note that the answers to car washing is always No.

It’s been inscribed on the walls of my mind since and the hope it offered was my life raft.

Neural pathways a wired through habit. And the habit of seeking worthiness outside myself in the form of more was so ingrained that I had misinterpreted the signs of burnout, as fallibility I needed to discipline and master.

We do what we’ve always done even when it’s not working, unless we consciously stop the cycle.

Unless we consciously choose something different for ourselves, and then practice it repeatedly to reform the previously unworkable habits and habits of thinking of the most automatic and therefore the most resistant to change.

And it’s in the shadows of our minds, where the most destruction takes place. It’s the hardest place to shine the light.

But once we do, change is possible.

Here’s the thing. The people who are hardest on themselves are often the kindest, you’ll find that they save their reserve tank of softness and compassion. For others, even though their own was empty long ago.

There comes a point after which old giving tanks of vulnerable to exhaustion, mine would dry and rusting, which is not great considering my line of work required a considerable degree of giving.

A human that doesn’t give to themselves will eventually have nothing left for anyone else.

John’s response to my pain was both permission to give myself a break, and a kick in the backside for letting myself get to this point.

Two weeks later, my practice was closed. My clients were referred on to trusted colleagues.

My website was deactivated, my schedule was empty, and the future was blank. Oh, how I loath blankness.

Despite the urge to plan out some kind of certainty, I knew I had to sit in this space until I could move forward of my own volition minus the dance designed to garner applause and confirm my worthiness.

It was here that I learned to go gently.

This is the end of the chapter in my book, but it’s not the end of the story. Obviously, burnout builds over a long period of time, and recovery takes time as well.

I’m going to talk about all aspects of my burnout experience in upcoming episodes. But for now, I think it’s important that we get real about the signs and symptoms of burnout so that you understand that even psychologists are not immune to the reality.

Life altering exhaustion.

My burnout looked something like this. I had Sunday night blues before work on Monday. And those Sunday night blues eventually became every night before work blues.

I didn’t want to talk about work outside of work. I didn’t have anything left over emotionally for those people close to me.

So when I would go home at night, after seeing eight, nine, ten people that day, I would get home and have absolutely nothing left for my partner.

I became irritable at small things like interruptions at work. I remember pushing myself so hard and being so keen to leave the office that I absolutely used up every minute in my day, so that if my last client finished at 5pm, or 6pm, I was walking out of the office at five past five or five past six.

And that meant that if someone had text me or someone had tried to call me in the 10 minutes I had in between clients, I became really irritable about those interruptions, because I felt like that was going to delay me getting out of the office.

And that desire to get out of the office was all about some desire to relieve the pressure. It wasn’t about getting away from my clients, it was about getting away from the perceived pressure that burnout was placing on me.

I started to scramble to fix it. So I took holidays. So don’t get me wrong, I did take holidays or be it, there was sometimes a big gap in between those holidays. But I did take holidays.

But the thing is, when I got back, initially, I would feel a lot better. And it would give me kind of an injection to be able to keep going. But eventually, once the burnout took hold, I’d only feel mildly better when I returned.

And then once feeling mildly, but I actually would feel much worse than before I left in the first place.

I tried to fix it by cutting back on work hours. And what happened was, I just felt like I continued to emotionally bleed out.

So yes, working less hours was definitely better than working the hours I was initially but I left it too late to cut my hours down.

And what that meant was, I still didn’t get the stop gap that I wanted by cutting my hours down.

I ended up having no bandwidth to cope when a regular but stressful things showed up.

So sometimes I would treat clients who are aggressive or very irritable and easily upset by small things.

Sometimes my notes would be suppressed subpoenaed for a court case.

Sometimes I would have people who would just difficult to connect with in therapy and then would project their discomfort onto me and blame me for their lack of progress.

That’s just part of the job, all these things are part of the job. And when you’re not burnt out, we have strategies to be able to deal with those things.

But I’d got to the point where if those things showed up, I didn’t have any extra resources to be able to bring to managing those situations. So they exhausted me even further.

I became extremely anxious about tasks that could hold demands for more emotional bandwidth that I didn’t have.

So things like checking emails and answering the phone, I ended up becoming really quite anxious about my inbox.

And I actually totally support everyone doing this. I had two phones. One was my personal mobile, and the other was my work mobile.

And I would actually leave the work mobile at work over the weekend with an answering machine on it, of course.

But the thing is, once it came to checking that phone, when I got back into the office or checking my emails in my inbox on a Monday morning, I would become incredibly anxious about that, because I was anxious about what I’d find and what it would demand of me that I didn’t have available.

And I definitely lost connection with gratitude. And I stopped being able to see the forest for the trees and be grateful for everything that I had.

I started to become fearful that I couldn’t do my job anymore. And that showed up as a kind of overthinking that I was not doing a good job.

And yet the thing is, the weird thing is that when I actually sat down with clients in sessions, I was absolutely fine.

So once the door was shut and I was there in the space with my client, I have enough what we might call unconscious competence, to be able to do my job without having to you know, overthink that process.

It was that that was when the art of therapy really showed up for me and I was able to do my job fine. But outside of work, I questioned everything.

 I questioned whether I was good enough anymore, whether I was getting the results for my clients that I really wanted to get for them, whether I could even do my job in the first place.And ultimately, I started feeling anxious and depressed. And that’s when I stopped, I stopped. Because if I didn’t, my body would have forced me to in one way or another, I stopped because I had to.

And I stopped because I knew enough about anxiety and depression, that there’s no way that I wanted to sit there and work with my clients on their own anxiety and depression when I was feeling that way, but not addressing it in myself.

And so I stopped to actually take the steps I needed to treat the burnout at that point.

The thing is many of these signs I put down two other things, other stressors at the time. And many of them, I honestly thought would resolve if I simply worked less.

But I think I made the decision too late. And by then I was too far gone. too exhausted, had no emotional bandwidth left.

If I hadn’t paid attention to the signs and symptoms of my burnout, I would have stopped at least three years before I actually did.

But I didn’t. I ignored it.

In the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases, that’s the ICD 11. It’s a diagnostic manual burnout is defined as an occupational phenomenon. It’s not classified as a medical condition.

In the ICD 11. It’s defined as follows. Burnout is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

It’s characterised by three dimensions, feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativity or cynicism related to one’s job, and reduced professional efficiency.

I want to break this definition down into a list of common signs that you might notice, whether you work for yourself in business or you have a job that has been wearing you out. Burnout often initially happens outside of our awareness.

And so these signs might be noticed by others before you’re aware of them yourself.

And I’m actually sure that’s what happened to me. I’m sure that my partner now wife, Nisa noticed that I was incredibly burnt out in my clinical practice long before I did.

But like many things, I think if she had have said, How are you doing? Are you a bit burnt out, I probably would have ignored that as well.

And I want you to understand that these signs often take a long time to develop. And that complicates the picture a little bit.

We spend a long time rationalising them before we see them as symptoms of something that must be addressed.

So instead, we put them down to other things, or we just assume that they’ll get better by themselves or that there’s something about us that needs to harden up so that we can actually cope better.

There are physical signs:

  1.  Low energy
  2. Feeling tired
  3. Easily fatigued much of the time
  4. Frequent illness
  5. Frequent headaches
  6. Muscle aches
  7. Pains
  8. Changes in appetites
  9. Changes sleep habits.

The most common that I would see and I also experienced myself was insomnia, or difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep.

The emotional signs:

  1. Loss of positive feelings towards clients
  2. Loss of positive feelings towards customers
  3. Loss of positive feelings towards your business in general.
  4. Loss of interest in future goals for the business
  5. Loss of interest in future goals for future goals for your career.
  6. Anger
  7. Resentment
  8. Guilt
  9. Blame
  10. Discouragement
  11. Indifference
  12. Negativity is a high resistance to going to work each day
  13. Chronic feelings of self doubt
  14. A sense of failure
  15. Loss of motivation
  16. Decreased satisfaction of feeling defeated and alone in the world
  17. Feeling cynical and bitter about life
  18. Rigidity and thinking and resistance to change
  19. Poor concentration and feeling immobilised and being preoccupied with work.

The behavioural signs:

  1. Substance abuse or dependency
  2. Being irritable around others
  3. Isolating yourself from others
  4. Withdrawing from your responsibilities
  5. Putting off getting things done
  6. High absenteeism, marital and family conflict
  7. Avoidance of overwhelming tasks
  8. Clock watching, That means that if you’re sitting at work, you’re looking at the clock every five minutes waiting until it’s the end of the workday, and you can leave.
  9. That can be in your business as well. By the way, postponing client contracts, resisting client phone calls and emails, and avoiding discussion of work with others.

Now, you don’t have to have all of these signs or symptoms in order to be burnt out.

And you might notice that a lot of these signs and symptoms crossover with things like anxiety and depression, and in my experience, burnout generally comes first.

If you don’t listen to the burnout, then it can evolve into anxiety and depression.

So I wonder which of those signs you can relate to, or perhaps have related to if burnout showed up for you in the past,

It’s important that we distinguish between stress and burnout because they can look similar, but there’s actually some key differences.

 And stress is really common as well, especially in the workplace.

And especially in business, if you’re a stressed business owner, I see you.

I just want to say right off the bat, that the thing that has helped me most in business, to not burn out has been asking for help and not trying to do all the things that’s completely and utterly transformed my experience and my business.

So stress is characterised by over engagement. That means that you’re very wrapped up in the work that you’re doing. burnout is characterised by disengagement.

That means that you withdraw from the work that you’re doing.

Stress is characterised by overactive emotions. burnout is characterised by blunted emotions, so you kind of feel cut off or shut down.

Stress produces a sense of urgency and hyperactivity, burnout produces a sense of helplessness and hopelessness.

Stress means that your physical energy is exhausted, while burnout means that your motivation and your drive and your ideals and hope are exhausted.

Stress leads to anxiety disorders, burnout leads to paranoia, detachment and depression. burnout can also lead to anxiety though.

Stress leads to kind of like a psychological disintegration whereas burnout makes you feel demoralised.

And stress leads to physical symptoms and physical damage. And burnout leads to emotional damage, although there is a physical component to burnout as well, particularly with that exhaustion.

And the typical response from people who are burnt out is something along the lines of the work has always been stressful.

So why am I having trouble now? So people assume that the job can’t be the reason.

So they assume it must be something about them. That’s the problem. The same for business owners, you can think well, you know, have been in business for a long time now.

 And it’s not even as stressful as it used to be when it first started. So why am I not coping now? You assume it’s about you, rather than the environment itself.

People most often blame themselves for not coping in cases of burnout. And they also believe that they’re the only one who can’t handle it. But that’s not true.

You’re not alone. But it can feel that way.

 And in Western society that is so fixated on productivity, being akin to wordiness. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that if you’re burnt out, then you’re weak. This is also not true.

But it does make acknowledging this insidious condition, all the more difficult.

And I just want to stop and ask you for a moment lovely ones to reflect on this. Have you noticed any of these signs or symptoms within yourself?

If so, you might be asking yourself if it’s burnouts, or simply a change of direction or Korea that you need? And that’s a fair question, but also a tough and complex question.

The answer is always going to be it depends. It depends on a lot of things. But here are the factors that stand out for me.

Firstly, what are the reasons that you started your business or got into this line of work in the first place?

 Is it because you genuinely love this area? Or this service? Or this product? Or this way of packaging your knowledge?

Or was it because you fell into it? And it was only ever meant to be an interim way of making money?

Or was it because someone else wanted you to go down this path.

I’ve always loved psychology, always.

But I stopped loving the way I was working. Not the area, not the people, not my clients, not the work itself.

But the way the work drained me was what I stopped loving.

The task that arose from my burnout was to find a different way to practice psychology. I didn’t actually want to leave it although

Many times I was confused and had conversations with Nyssa, about whether or not I should go and work on a farm with cows.

Cows in my spirit animal, and certainly in my date periods of burnout, I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

And I didn’t actually know whether I wanted to continue with Psychology at all. That’s how strong the burnout was for me. And there were times when

I honestly thought, what would I do with my life if I wasn’t working as a psychologist, and all I could think of was, maybe someone might hire me as an apprentice on a farm so that I could pack cows all day.

That still sounds really idyllic to me.

Oh, but things we do. When our emotions get the better of us.

What I want you to do is to consider whether it’s the line of work or your business market and audience that’s burning you out, or whether you just need a different way of working in that same arena.

It’s important to have ownership over this.

So if you’re doing something because someone else wants you to, you can expect that this will likely burn you out because you’re not where you want to be. So it’s really important to be making that decision for yourself.

I know many professionals, lawyers, doctors, finances, people incorporate advertising, who were burnt out because they pursued what their parents wanted them to pursue, rather than what they really wanted to do, or because they just went and got a safe job or what they thought was a good career.

 But ultimately, it was not whether heart light is

The thing I also want to take with you or sorry, the thing I also want you to take with you around this is that we’re no longer expected to stay in a job or business for 40 years or more.

We have many more choices than the generations before us.

 But sometimes we stay in a situation that is causing burnout because it’s safe.

Because it’s better the Devil You know, because it’s a guaranteed income. And we stay because the burnout seems easier to deal with than the uncertainty of seeking change.

So I want you to consider whether this is actually a fear of change issue rather than burnout.

And then I also want you to consider your past patterns. In previous jobs and business ventures have the same patterns showing up for you that have been exhausting, and made you feel disengaged and cynical.

Things like perfectionism, having high expectations for yourself and others having an ineffective work life balance, becoming overloaded with work either through poor boundaries or choosing high stress roles, or both.

And by compromising your values.

We’re going to talk a lot more about these things in the coming episodes in the series. But if these patterns consistently show up for you, they could be signs of internal shifts that need to be made, rather than external shifts between careers or business opportunities.

Lovely ones, we have covered a lot of ground in this episode.

I hope it’s been helpful to guide you in articulating for yourself the signs and symptoms of burnout, and whether or not you need to change direction or stay where you are.

There are no perfect answers, and I strongly encourage you to talk with your doctor, or mental health professional if you see symptoms of burnout within yourself.

In the coming episodes in this series, we’re going to talk about the causes of burnout, how to recover from burnout and how to prevent burnout.

So please tune into those episodes for the full picture of the burnout continuum.

And if this is the topic you need more of in a couple of weeks, I’m hosting a live webinar all about burnout and how to move through it.

You can register by going to Rebecca ray.com.au/free.

And don’t worry if you can’t attend live that’s no problem. You’ll be sent a replay as long as you sign up and register.

I will catch you for our next episode in this burnout series Brighton early next Tuesday morning.

Lovely ones. Thank you so much for listening to Hello, Rebecca Ray. If you’ve got something meaningful from this episode, and the most meaningful thing you can do is jump on over to wherever you listen to your podcast episodes and leave a review. Because it’s those reviews that help this podcast stay here.

Make sure to subscribe. And if you are generous enough to share this episode, thank you so much. I love seeing your shares on social media. So please tag me catch you next time.