Recovering from burnout: What you need to know to get back on track

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·Lifestyle Reporter
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Research has shown that 30 per cent of people are likely to experience burnout during their lifetime, with figures estimated to rise due to ongoing pandemic stress.

Certified life coach, and burnout sufferer, Niki Puls has revealed to her TikTok community just how long it can actually take to recover from the effects of the condition.

Certified life coach and burnout sufferer Niki Puls
Certified life coach Niki Puls reveals it can take years to recover from burnout due to its deep impact on the body. Source: Instagram/@niki.jo.puls

“It can take three to five years to recover from burnout,” says Niki, as she explains that chronic stress and ‘true burnout’ even changes the chemical levels in your body.

What is burnout?

According to Psychology Today Australia, burnout is “a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.”

Ongoing stressful situations at work are a common cause of burnout, yet burnout can also happen in other areas of our lives, including parenting, romantic relationships, and caretaking roles.

Reachout.com explains that burnout is often caused by a build up of stressful experiences, including:

Work-related causes

  • Working in a high-pressure or disorganised environment

  • Doing work that you don’t find exciting or challenging

  • Having unrealistic expectations placed on you

  • Not being recognised or rewarded for your good work

  • Feeling like you have little or no control over your work

Cartoon drawing of exhausted executive in middle of multiple tasks
High pressure, disorganised workplaces are one of the leading contributors to burnout. Source: Getty Images

Lifestyle-related causes

  • Taking on too many responsibilities, including carer responsibilities

  • Not getting enough sleep

  • Not having enough time to relax and recharge

  • Not having enough close, meaningful relationships

  • Not meeting your own unique needs (e.g. you’re spending too much time socialising when you really want more time alone).

Additionally, our individual personality traits and mindset can also contribute to burning out. These traits can include:

  • Perfectionist tendencies

  • A pessimistic view of the world and of yourself

  • Always wanting to be in control

  • Feeling unable to set boundaries and to say "no" to things you don’t want to do.

What are common signs of burnout?

Burnout can often show up as reduced empathy, emotional exhaustion that doesn’t seem to improve, and reduced engagement and/or performance at work and home.

Cartoon drawing of woman lying on couch, exhausted and burnt out. A dog lies asleep on the floor in front of her
People living with burnout often describe experiencing physical and emotional exhaustion that doesn't improve with rest. Source: Getty Images

According to the Black Dog Institute, some commonly experienced signs of burnout include:

  • Anxiety and stress

  • Depression and low mood (feeling uncharacteristically low)

  • Irritability and anger (having a shorter fuse than usual)

  • Difficulty getting to and/or staying asleep

  • Loss of motivation and passion for usual interests

  • Difficulty with concentration, memory, and experiencing brain fog

  • Withdrawal from others

  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea and low libido

  • Emotional exhaustion and overwhelm.

The impact of burnout on your body

As Niki explains, “once you have reached the stage of true burnout your body, chemically, is different. The chemicals in your body are very messed up. You’ve exhausted your resources. You’re burned out.”

Speaking about her own experience with burnout, she says: “When I had bloodwork done by my doctor, my cortisol levels, which are your stress hormones, were through the roof.

“So, I needed to focus on bringing that down and bringing everything else back up to have a nice equal balance. What this took for me was a lot of rest.”

“I didn’t have time to take care of myself”

Niki explains that her burnout experience started about three or four years ago when her life coaching business really took off.

“I turned my passion into profit, and it no longer became my passion. I really regret that,” she says.

“I was very unhealthy when I was running my business, because I didn’t have time to take care of myself. What is all that money worth if I’m not even healthy to enjoy it?”

Niki goes on to explain that running her own business became so stressful that she had to step away from it to get her health back.

Now, she works a remote job doing social media and marketing and this has allowed her to log off at the end of the day and step away from the stress.

“I have time with my family. I have brain space,” she says. “When you’re a business owner, you’re never not thinking about it. Every minute of the day, I was thinking about my business.

“I work privately with a handful of clients that I love,” she explains. “I’m still doing some stuff, but I’m not running a full-blown business for my sanity.”

Ways to heal from burnout

An advocate for "slow living", Niki encourages a slower and more present approach to life and explains that burnout recovery requires an intentional approach.

“You don’t just get to sit on your couch for three to five years,” she says. “You’re just going to have to do some inner work.

“When true burnout happens, you have exhausted and depleted everything in your body. You’re gonna have to rebuild it.”

And, she shares that the thing that burned you out is not likely to offer many opportunities for healing your burnout.

“If you burned out as a teacher, teaching a room full of kids, you’re probably not gonna want to work with kids anymore, which is the really sad part because it ruins a lot of things for a lot of people.

“Instead, you’re gonna have to fill your bucket with something else. You’re gonna have to find something new that you enjoy.”

Some ideas Niki suggests to start your ‘active recovery’, include:

  • Staying home

  • Daily walks

  • Reading a book

  • Doing breathwork

  • Simplifying your life

  • Decluttering your space

  • Seeking helpful resources and support to guide you through your recovery.

If you’re seeking support to heal from burnout, it can help to speak with a trusted medical professional who can provide you with options such as pathways into counselling and other support. You don’t have to face it alone.

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