Burnout is more common than you might think, and it’s not just the emergency services and healthcare workers that suffer from it. If you have a friend that’s permanently exhausted and lacking enthusiasm, they may be suffering from burnout. In this article, find out how to help someone with burnout and get them back on their feet.
No one likes to see someone they care about suffer and burnout can be very serious if left unchecked. But it’s hard to know how to help and what to do. Here, you’re going to learn what burnout is, how to spot it, and how you can help.
What is burnout?
From Bio-Psycho-Socio-Spirito-Cultural Factors of Burnout: A Systematic Narrative Review of the Literature, burnout is described as:
“…a widespread, multifactorial, and mainly psychological phenomenon.”
They define it as:
“One of the most common psychological symptoms that increasingly affect people is burnout, which is commonly described as a consequence of chronic work-related stress. A key aspect of burnout is exhaustion which manifests as feelings of being overextended.”
If you’ve ever felt stressed and overwhelmed for long periods of time at work, you’ll recognize this.
People with symptoms of burnout are permanently exhausted and stressed. They may have headaches, physical tension, and physical pain. They may also lack focus and concentration.
Burnout is not to be taken lightly. It can be a very serious condition that results in a breakdown.
How to spot if someone is suffering from burnout
If your friend or family member can’t stop talking about work and how much they have on their to-do list, pay attention. While work is a big part of our lives and it’s not uncommon to talk about it, it may be a problem if that’s all they can talk about.
It can be comforting to share what’s going on at work and simply to vent and let it out. Where it becomes a problem is if that’s always the main topic of conversation. Even worse, if your friend never seems to switch off from work at all.
Keep an eye out for constant headaches, tension and stress, and irritability. You know your loved ones the best and you know when they aren’t themselves. If someone you know is constantly exhausted, worn down, and unable to detach from work, they could have burnout.
Celebrities and well-known people also suffer from burnout and if some of these quotes sound familiar, it could be time to intervene:
“Exhaustion is real” – Rita Ora
“One morning I woke up and started crying so hard,” – Rihanna
Arianna Huffington actually collapsed at her desk in 2007 due to burnout and she has since gone on to recommend, “meditation, mindfulness, unplugging, and giving back as the antidotes to the all-too-prevalent stress and burnout we experience in modern life.”
How to help someone with burnout
We’re so used to feeling stressed that your friend might not even realize that they are in danger of burning out. But if they’re feeling exhausted, ineffective, and overwhelmed, there’s every chance that they are.
If you know someone who is suffering from burnout, you really can help. Here are ten ways to make a difference:
1) Be there for them
If you’ve noticed something is wrong, the best thing you can do is talk to your loved one and ask if you can help. Be tactful and think about what you’re going to say before you approach them. People who are stressed can be irritable and impatient, but remember it’s not about you.
Bring up the possibility of burnout with them and see how they react. Burnout is such an insidious thing. It creeps up on you slowly and it can be difficult for people to realize that’s what is happening.
Be prepared for your friend to shake off what you’re saying and not be ready to talk. If they’re feeling overwhelmed, they may simply not be able to process what you’re saying immediately.
However, what you’ve done is let them know that you care and that they can talk to you if they want to.
Listening can be one of the hardest things to do when you care about someone. You have your own opinions and thoughts and you want them to feel better. But if you can listen without judging what they’re saying, you have more chance of them opening up to you.
Let them vent, let them get it all out. Ask questions and be open to what they’re saying, but don’t pass judgment and don’t tell them what to do.
Sometimes, just being there to let them vent will help and take a load off their mind. It can be a good first step on its own, especially if you can get them to admit they have a problem. It can also help them to feel less alone.
3) Make them feel heard and understood.
There’s nothing worse than telling someone you have a problem only for them to make you feel like you’re imagining it.
Going along with listening without judgment, show your friend that you understand what they’re saying. Don’t interrupt them and let them tell you how they feel and what’s happening to them.
Acknowledge what they’ve said and perhaps repeat it back to them to show you’re with them and you’re listening.
Don’t dismiss what they’re saying or try to put your own feelings on how they feel.
4) Be patient
Your friend may need to talk about the same things over and over again. It’s not easy to stop overthinking and stressing when you’re suffering from burnout.
One other symptom of burnout can be memory loss, so you may have to repeat things you’ve told them already and understand when they forget things.
Understand that they probably feel like a browser that’s got too many tabs open. They feel overwhelmed, unable to focus, and perhaps like they’re losing control.
This can be frightening, especially if they’re used to being in control of themselves.
Don’t rush them and let them be and do what they need to do at their own pace.
5) Offer to help
For most of us, going to the store and buying essentials isn’t a big deal. When you’re overwhelmed and unfocused, it really can be.
Even if you don’t think it’s a big task, offer to help. You might just make all the difference to their day.
Ask how you can help. Don’t just assume. What you think might help really might not and you don’t want to make your friend feel worse.
6) Spoil them a little
You know how you feel when you aren’t well. A card or a message from a friend can cheer you up and make you smile. What can you do to perk up your friend’s day? Is there a book they’ve been dying to read? Do they like flowers?
These small things can help your loved ones feel like they’re not alone and can really help in the battle against burnout.
7) Don’t push your advice at them
It’s natural to want to put everything right for your friend and to tell them what works for you. It’s because you care and it’s coming from a place of love, but it might not help.
What works for you may not work for them and may leave them feeling more inadequate because it didn’t. They really do have to find their own way through this.
Being there to listen and support them is the best way to help.
Though, of course, it’s fine to offer advice if they actually ask for it, especially if you’ve suffered from burnout and recovered from it.
8) Help them help themselves
Not everyone finds it easy to say they need help or to put themselves first. If you’re suffering from burnout, however, you absolutely have to put yourself first in order to recover.
If your loved one is used to being the helper and never the one who puts themselves first, encourage them to listen to their body and discover what they need. Then let them know that it’s okay to be self-focused every once in a while and take care of themselves first.
That’s not being selfish, it’s doing what needs to be done for their own mental and physical health.
9) Point them to professional help, if needed
There is no shame in needing professional help. If the burnout is severe, your friend may need help from a counselor or a medical professional. If they’re reluctant to go, encourage them gently and offer to go with them if that’s what they need.
Encourage them to talk to their boss and get help. Be there to help them work out what they want to say and practice before they have their meeting.
Encourage them to take time off and take advantage of paid leave, if they can. Sometimes a literal break away from the workplace can make a big difference.
10) Be there for them
Really. No matter what. If your friend knows you’ve got their back, they’ll feel supported and cared for. They’ll have someone to talk to and know that someone cares.
That’s powerful stuff all on its own.
Think about what you can do together that isn’t stressful for them. What do they enjoy doing or want to try? When they’re ready, why not exercise together? Those endorphins really do help with burnout. Go to yoga with them, or tai chi for relaxation. Work out at home if they don’t have the energy to leave the house.
In Indeed’s survey of 1500 US workers, 52% of respondents experienced burnout in 2021. That’s a really high percentage, so your friend or loved one isn’t on their own.
If you can be there for them and let them talk, you really can make a difference to them. And with the practical steps above, you now have a plan for how to help someone with burnout.