Burnout is the feeling of being overworked, overwhelmed and undervalued, leading to severe stress, illness and sometimes, if it’s not caught in time, an emotional breakdown. It is not a mental health condition, according to WHO, but has been a serious issue particularly with those in the caring professions since the term was coined in the 1970s. Now, of course, it’s even more acute and distressingly present for frontline workers.
For the rest of us, the pandemic and working from home brings up similar anxieties and symptoms. As Ann Helen Peterson, author of Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation, observed, we no longer have time to decompress between work and home. Some of us are still answering work emails at night in front of the TV or first thing in the morning as soon as we awake. A lot of us have no work space at home and have to make do with bedroom offices (below). Many are jugging the impossible, home schooling or childcare as well as work and household chores.
The problem is that most people don't know they might be burnt out, and are more likely to power through, believing their inability to cope is a fault of their own. Or they may assume they can’t possibly take any time off. I can’t… is a common refrain: fear of letting other people down and being unable to put your needs first. Or simply saying nothing at all.
Another difficulty is many of us have lost the art of relaxing, of doing something for pure joy rather than succumbing ot the pressure to be productive. Our sense of self-worth is increasingly tied up in work, perfectionism and how we appear, rather than what we feel or sense.
What are the signs?
Exhaustion: The simplest thing feels like wading through treacle…
Errand paralysis: The piles of washing and mess and lists of chores are growing, and growing and you just can’t…
Feeling alienated: Loss of empathy is one of the key symptoms of burnout. You may feel numb, empty, cynical. You may lose the ability to engage with people or the work you used to enjoy.
Physical symptoms: Usually stomach or bowel related – you know what we mean. Headaches, prone to catching illnesses as your immune system is under stress. Shoulders up around your ears.
Escapist fantasies: Desire to run away, move, drop out of society altogether. Some may dream of having an accident and going to hospital to be taken care of, or have suicidal fantasies, even if they don’t intend to do anything.
Escapist behaviour: Drinking more or using food, sex, TV – anything to avoid thinking.
Irritability: You’ve heard of the fight or flight survival responses – flight is escapism, irritability or anger is fight. It’s a sign that you feel trapped in a situation from which there is no actual escape; you may lash out at people who seem to be making it worse, whether they are or not. And it’s still not going to solve anything.
Fixating: Obsessing over problems or obstacles and seeing no way around them.
Self-doubt: Thinking you’re a failure rather than someone dealing with a lot of stress.
Lack of self-care: Not looking after yourself AT ALL.
What can you do?
First, you have to recognise you are burnt out, and if you don’t take time off, you’re at risk of developing chronic burnout and/or illness.
Second, it’s okay and essential to take time off. It is not a weakness. It’s the only way to be strong enough to carry on. It’s good for others to know they can cope without you. It’s also good for you to remember that you are not a machine.
And no, the world will not end just because you decided to take a breather. If you really think you have no time to spare for yourself, start with little steps. As spa experts we would advocate for products or exercises that give you pause and allow you to ground yourself.
Insta-boosts at home
Roll-ons are the ultimate in insta-spa. We love these OTO roll-ons as they contain CBD oil, a natural relaxant, and are anti-inflammatory, a nasty byproduct of stress giving you all kinds of unpleasant ailments. The Discovery Pack (£109) gives you a chance to experiment with different oils depending on your mood: Focus, Amplify and Balance. Combining high quality CBD with Ayurverdic essential oils, Focus is designed to help you concentrate, Amplify to help you 'socialise' and Balance to help you find calm. Dab your wrists and inhale the scents deeply – a big belly-breath - and breathe out slowly for at least five counts: this switches on your calming parasympathetic nervous system which calms the fight or flight sympathetic nervous system. Do it three times and see if you feel better.
A classic sign of burnout is feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope: a classic coping mechanism is alcohol. Heavy drinking has become an issue in lockdown, but so have the effects including hangxiety, a weakened immune system, insomnia… basically anything to magnify your burnout symptoms. Dry January is big this year of these very reasons. Why not treat yourself with a bottle of healthy bubbly from Wild Life Botanicals (below). Packed with vitamins, minerals and active botanicals, it’s the nicest not-wine (only 0.5%) we’ve ever had.
There’s nothing more reinforcing than looking in the mirror and seeing dark circles around your eyes when stressed. While signifying that you really need to get some sleep, it can also feel disheartening and amplify feelings of not being able to cope. How would you feel if your eyes were brighter? Try Natura Bisse’s Cocoon Sheer Eye (£147), designed to combat the ageing effects of pollution and yes, stress. Trust us, it’s magic.
Finally, just take time to think. Switch off the phone. Sit and stare at your garden, the view from your window or a candle flame, and think – what do I love to do that isn’t about making money or self-improvement? What did I enjoy as a child? What brought me joy? What matters most to me? Maybe write this down, start to get to know yourself, beyond the person who is trying to make everyone else happy or impressed.
Four great spas to restore mental health
Taking a day for yourself at a spa would be ideal, and perhaps sometime to look forward to in the future. It gives you enforced time off in a place that cares about your health and wellbeing. It’s the good kind of escapism you need, a space to breathe before you make any big decisions and look after number one (that’s you, by the way). For now, we can daydream or take time to plan a post-lockdown retreat.
PS. If you need to spa right now, read some of our spa at home features.
Winner of the 2020 Good Spa Awards for Best Wellness Spa, this luxury hotel spa in the Yorkshire Dales offers Ayurvedic treatments and wellness retreats. The holistic three-night Discovery Retreat focuses on physical and mental wellbeing including mindfulness and yoga workshops, Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) and cryotherapy massage.
This Grade II country house hotel and spa offers Equine Connect Therapy and retreats with Dawn Cameron, who has been in charge of their beautiful livery stables for 20 years. Equine therapy involves communicating and bonding with horses and is said to help with mental health issues and confidence.
This warm and welcoming destination spa makes you feel looked after from the moment you arrive. It offers a host of wellbeing breaks, including their new Thai Chi two day retreat as well as yoga, mindful Pilates, dancing and the five night Wellness Experience.
This legendary clinic, attended by real high-fliers, has a burnout retreat. Their cure, it seems, is hiking, cycling and walking in the beautiful Tyrolean alpine landscape, lots of spa treatments, a balanced diet and therapy.