The Burnout Epidemic


I'm often struck by the irony that we have better wealth, education, access to food etc, yet health issues such as obesity and diabetes continue to soar.  However a much wider problem continues to increase, without much understanding. In my clinic I see a lot of clients who live the 'busy, busy, busy' lifestyle, balancing out a mix of good and bad health behaviours and constantly feeling tired and low in energy.  It's my belief that we need a strong foundation of health to be able to support all other aspects of our life.  For too many people, health is something that is only sought when sufficient symptoms crop up that force one to slow down.  Tiredness is a complex symptom, that needn't necessarily point to pathology such as thyroid issues or diabetes.  It can be a common symptom of burnout.

Burnout is a term that is much bandied about, similar to the overuse of the word stress.  However burnout is not easily defined, nor managed. It is sometimes described by psychologists, but many people suffering with burnout won't be under the care of a psychologist.  Regular testing with the GP might not even show up any issues.  But feeling out of sorts physically and emotionally can point towards burnout. One of the things I value most in my work as an osteopath is that I have time with clients.  As they lie on the couch to be treated, they often open up about the myriad of things that are going on in their lives.  I think burnout is rife amongst my typical clients.  Sadly many are going so fast on the wheel, that they just can't hear the symptoms nor let themselves stop.  I see my role as a health provider, to tell it like it is and name what I see- the reality that if you don't stop, your symptoms are likely to increase until you have no choice.

“Burnout is nature's way of telling you, you've been going through the motions your soul has departed; you're a zombie, a member of the walking dead, a sleepwalker. False optimism is like administrating stimulants to an exhausted nervous system.” ― Sam KeenFire in the Belly: On Being a Man

Symptoms of burnout


Lack of enthusiasm or feelings of indifference

Less interest in socialising or spending time with loved ones

Waning on health habits such as eating well and sleeping well

Feeling unrefreshed despite having 'enough' hours of sleep

Not switching off from work

Extreme emotions

What are the causes of burnout?

They aren't always obvious but if you reflect on the past 4-24 months, and mark any life events, long periods of stress, prolonged illness etc, you can start to see a pattern.  I don't always think that burnout is something to 'get over' , but rather information that something isn't currently working- whether it be in relationships or at work or in general purpose. Be brave and uncover what's truly going on- when you are physically, emotionally and spiritually at your best, you are of most value.  Burnout may be giving a clue that you need to change direction in your work, or find a better work/life balance.

How to address burnout

Start to relax- whether it be by a bedtime routine, or learning mediation, or taking up yoga nidra

Go away - a holiday does wonders for getting perspective and sparking new interest in the world again.

Take time each day to do something that matters to you, even reading a book or taking a walk

Switch off- only check emails a few times a day, avoid looking at devices after 9pm and even leave your phone behind on days off!

Feel your emotions- rather than mentally bypassing them, or ignoring them.  Feelings are a true barometer of what's going on.

Retreat- my friend Danielle Marchant runs a beautiful event called 'The Pause', which was created after her own experience of burnout, and allows people to reconnect with a calmer mind , expanded heart and rested body.

Receive bodywork - relaxing treatments stimulate the parasympathetic system, which is the calmer part of the nervous system and essential for rest and repair. Well-being hormones are also released in abundance, and treatments can help to improve breathing, (which can be chronically restricted) and loosen muscles that become tight with stress. I also recommending adrenal function testing, and working with a health coach to help to strategise your life around your health.

From  personal experience I have definitely experienced burnout. Triggers in the past have been bereavement, working long hours and periods of worry about money.  Thankfully I have strong boundaries around my health, which means my symptoms have never rendered me incapacitated.  However I know for myself how I need to measure activity with rest.  A meditation and yoga practice, juicing and smoothies and permission to opt out of excess social interaction help to keep me balanced.  I am a strong introvert, who loves the one-to-one connection of my work, but who has learnt that I need to guard my quiet time as sacred.

For more reading on burnout, click on these links;

I'd love to hear of your experiences around burnout - have you experienced it, and what's helped to manage it? Do you think it's a bigger problem in the Western world than is currently being addressed?