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End of year burnout: how to spot it and take action

People exhibiting early signs of exhaustion due to pandemic

Fatigue can be physical, mental or both. Stock photo.
Fatigue can be physical, mental or both. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF


It is often said that the hardest part of every race is found very close to the finish line.

With less than three months left of what has been yet another challenging year, it is expected that even the most hard-working of us are physically and mentally exhausted.

“End of year burnout is fatigue that manifests itself towards the end of the year. It is as a direct result of being overworked and stressed," said counselling psychologist Dr Kgomotso Masokoane.

“Burnout is the result of physical, emotional and psychological exhaustion, and is often accompanied by feelings of helplessness, being unmotivated and hopeless in every area of life.” 

As a result of the pandemic, many people are finding themselves exhibiting signs of an impending burnout. 

Though there are many signs associated with feeling burnt out, Masokoane says fatigue is the most common.

“Fatigue is the feeling of constant tiredness or weakness. It can be physical, mental or both and it can affect anyone.”

According to Masokoane, experiencing a burnout has as much of a detrimental effect on our mental health as on our bodies.

“Burnout disrupts our sleep patterns; a person may find themselves irritable, having a low mood, lacking in concentration and withdrawing from loved ones.”

Physical symptoms associated with burnout are aches, headaches, nausea and low libido, she says.

Neurophysiologist Neera Bhikha believes that there is a strong connection between stress and feeling burnt out.

“Stress can be characterised by over-engagement, and when you are burnt out you don’t want to engage. A stressful situation produces urgency and hyper-activity whereas burnout is the end point – where one is left feeling helpless and without hope.”

Bhikha says burnout can also manifest itself through an unhealthy and negative attitude towards our work situation.

“Many people are working past their breaking point and are pushing through emotional and physical exhaustion with working from their home-based offices,” she said.

Exacerbated by the stress of navigating life in a pandemic and not having defined work and life boundaries, we have been burning both ends of the candle.

Bhikha says that since the pandemic, many of her patients have been hitting their burnout brick wall sooner than the expected December mark.

“We normally see the burnout syndrome in November and December but this year I have seen patients as early as July,” she said.

Though both Masokoane and Bhikha believe that the year-end burnout is inevitable, they also believe there are changes that we can make today that can minimise its impact by paying attention to our body’s needs and creating a healthy work space.

“We should get back to basics such as getting enough sleep and drinking plenty of water. To combat fatigue, consume plenty of iron-rich foods, eat breakfast and cut down on caffeinated drinks,” said Masokoane.

Bhikha believes that by re-examining our perspective of our work situation, we are reversing the effects of an impending burnout.

“Reframing the way we look at our work situation is the ideal way to combat job burnout. Wherever there are imbalances we are creating the environment for a burnout and it is an opportunity to re-evaluate our priorities.

“A burnout is a sign that something important in your life is not working. It acts as an opportunity for us to slow down, review our goals and to find out what it is that we are neglecting,” she said.

Ultimately, Masokoane advises that when we are mindful of our emotions and are in tune with our bodies, we will know when things are not OK.

“When we feel a sense of being alone, when we experience a decrease in the sense of accomplishment or even become short tempered, those are but a few internal warning bells that we should not ignore.”

Bhikha suggests that we put in place an internal coping system that will assist us in managing the stressful situation before we end up with troublesome thoughts.

“Before we hit that brick wall, slow down and change your rhythm. Check in with yourself throughout the day and stay in touch with your emotional status. Take the time to recharge your body and to charge your inner battery.” 

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