Burnt out? Here’s how to feel better

Tuesday 03 August 2021
It’s okay not to feel okay. These tips and techniques really could help to address work stress and beat burn out
Woman lying down with her head on her desk

You may have thought life was stressful before Covid-19. Add a pandemic to the mix, and it’s no surprise if you’re feeling burnt out right now.

We’ve all been dealing with massive amounts of change, as we adapt to working in different ways, being isolated from friends and family, worrying about the people we love getting sick, and being anxious about money and employment. And let's not forget the pressures of juggling the possibility of being pinged by the Track and Trace app, forced isolation and the risk of redundancy - as well as caring responsibilities while working from home.

Here we take a look at stress, how stress can become burnout, and explore a few practical ways to feel better.

You’re not alone

If you’re feeling stressed at the moment, you’re not alone. In a recent Kooth survey:

  • 41% of adults said they felt nervous or anxious every day compared to 35% in 2019 (a 19% increase).
  • 38% of adults said that they could not stop or control worrying nearly every day – an increase of 25% compared with 2019.

What is stress?

Stress is a feeling of mental pressure and tension. It can come from an external source such as work overload or may be caused by our own internal perceptions, such as feelings of inadequacy or frustration.

How does stress affect you?

Physically, stress can have a variety of symptoms, including headaches, insomnia, chest pain, an upset stomach, and a lack of sex drive. Emotionally, you might find that you’re easily overwhelmed and more prone to feelings of anxiety and low self-worth.

As worrying thoughts take over, you may find it harder to think clearly and be less able to concentrate, solve problems, and make decisions.

When does stress become burnout?

Some stress is inevitable in life and, most of the time, we can cope with it. Although the pandemic has been stressful, in the short term, many of us have been able to adapt to the restrictions that have become a part of everyday life in lockdown.

In contrast, burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental debilitation or exhaustion caused by extreme or prolonged stress. Over the long term, the uncertainties and stress of the pandemic have led some people to feel depressed, isolated, or anxious. In other words, burnt out.

Manage your stress to prevent burnout

The good news is that you can become more resilient and help prevent burnout by actively managing your stress levels.

Start by:

  • Finding gentle ways to move your body to release stress. For example, by holding a stretch for 15 seconds, you can help your body to let go of tension.
  • Drinking plenty of water, which helps your mind and body to function better, and eating a balance of different food groups
  • Making time for activities that give you a sense of fun and achievement, whether that’s tending to a houseplant, trying a new craft, painting or drawing, or sharing photos with others online.
  • Getting enough sleep. An extra hour in bed will make you feel so much better than watching “just one more episode” of television.
  • Keeping a gratitude journal. Writing down what you’re grateful for has been proven to help reduce stress and increase happiness.

Talk to someone

Don’t keep your feelings bottled up – finding someone sympathetic and trustworthy to confide in is one of the quickest ways to release some of the pressure when you’re feeling burnt out.

If you’re worried about a work problem, can you talk about it with one of your colleagues or a line manager? Does your organisation have a wellbeing officer or a mental health first aider?

Don’t be put off by that name, by the way. Mental health first aiders aren’t only there to give support in emergency situations; they’ll also be happy to listen and provide support if you’re struggling and just need someone to talk to.

If you’d rather talk to a friend, reach out to people and ask if they have time for a chat.

Be kind to yourself

Notice if you’re talking to yourself in a critical way, saying things like, “This is never going to get any better,” “I knew this was going to go wrong,” or “I can’t see a way forward.”

See if you can reframe your thoughts in a more compassionate and supportive way. For example, tell yourself, “I’m doing my best. I will get through this.” Also, ask yourself, “What’s one small thing I can do to feel better right now?” and “Who might be able to help me?”

Get some green therapy

If you have some woods near you, you could try the Japanese practice of “forest bathing”, where you boost your health and wellbeing by being calm and quiet among trees. Switch off the stress by turning your phone off, taking deep breaths, and observing what you can see, smell, touch, and hear around you.

Other ways to get closer to nature include having a picnic outside, observing nature from your window, growing herbs and flowers on a windowsill, stargazing at night, or listening to recordings of birdsong, ocean waves, or rain falling.

Relax your muscles

Another way to help yourself relax is to try progressive muscle relaxation, where you tighten and relax different muscle groups in turn. This releases tension and helps manage stress.

The NHS has a progressive muscle relaxation handout that explains how to spend 15-20 minutes calmly tightening and relaxing your muscles, from your forehead, eyes, jaw, and neck and shoulders, through to your hands and fists, tummy, thighs, calves, and feet.

Calm your mind with meditation

Many of our worries are focused on the past or the future. However, the only thing we can really experience is right now. Meditation can help us focus on the present and, for some people, it is a wonderful way to calm worrying thoughts.

As the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh puts it: “Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.”

CMI’s Better Managers Roadmap, including a whole section on employee wellbeing, is designed to equip you, as managers and leaders, with the skills, tools and knowledge you’ll need as we move to a world of hybrid and flexible working, backed by our findings from our research, and the global CMI Community. 

CMI has partnered with Kooth, the UK”s leading online mental health platform, to provide our members with a free, safe and anonymous space for online support and counselling. You can find out more here or watch this great ‘It’s okay not to be okay’ webinar for team leaders and managers.

For more articles on this and lots more, head to Qwell where we also offer other tools such as an online journal and mood tracker – and access to our team of experienced mental health and wellbeing practitioners. The service is anonymous and free.

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