#271: English Conversations on Burnout

Apr 12, 2023 | Advanced Vocabulary, English Conversation

April is National Stress Awareness Month. The aim is to raise awareness of the negative impact of stress.

There is no single definition for stress, but the most common explanation is physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension. And when unchecked, stress can lead to burnout.

If you’ve ever had an English conversation on feeling stressed, then you’ve likely heard the term burnout.

You may have even felt burnout from time to time — at work or in your personal life — due to overwhelming commitments and lack of time.

We all have. And when we’re experiencing burnout, it’s important to have opportunities to talk it through with others we trust. 

But what exactly is burnout? What are the signs of burnout, how can you distinguish it from overall stress, and how should you address it?  

Most importantly, what English vocabulary do you need for robust conversations on the topic of burnout? 

This is exactly what you’ll learn in today’s Confident English lesson.

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WATCH THE LESSON

Vocabulary for English Conversations on Burnout

If you’ve ever thought: 

  • Why am I so tired all the time?
  • Why can’t I seem to keep up with everything?
  • Am I doing something wrong?
  • What’s the point of this?
  • Why do I feel like I can’t say “no” to anything?
  • Should I quit my job? 
  • Do I actually care anymore? 

Then, you may be experiencing burnout.

 

What is “burnout?” 

Burnout is a form of mental and physical exhaustion. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet demands or expectations. 

Most importantly, burnout occurs when force ourselves to keep going, even after reaching the point of exhaustion. 

 

Burnout vs. Stress?

Like stress, burnout is a negative physical and emotional reaction that arises from difficult or negative experiences. 

However, you feel burnout when you’ve exhausted all your internal resources and, yet, force yourself to keep moving forward. 

  • Def: tools or strategies for the body and mind, used to create a sense of inner calm and balance (i.e. yoga, breathwork, positive self-talk, etc.)

As a result, it can lead to feelings of depression and worthlessness as many people don’t recognize burnout until it’s too late. 

What Are Common Signs of Burnout?

  • Feeling listless and overwhelmed
    • Def: lacking energy and enthusiasm
  • Devoid of creativity and motivation
  • Perceived lack of control
  • Physical and emotional exhaustion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low self-confidence
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Isolation and detachment
    • Def: the state of being separate or disconnected

Who Experiences Burnout?

Honestly, anyone. Parents, freelancers, Uber drivers, CEOs, millennials, neighbors, sales reps, etc.

Anyone can experience burnout if they don’t have the right tools and knowledge to help manage stress. 

How Do You Know If You’re on the Way to Burnout?

  • Constantly working long hours
  • Lacking healthy boundaries
  • Feeling exhausted all the time
  • Withdrawing from responsibilities or commitments
  • Having an increasingly negative outlook on life
  • Taking longer to get tasks done
  • Feeling like one is drowning in responsibilities and/or expectations
    • Def: to have more of something than one is capable of handling
  • Taking on a heavier mental load 
    • Def: the mental weight on a person who takes on the responsibilities of an entire household, including overall family health, maintaining and fixing relationships, finances, chores, etc.

Strategies to Deal with Burnout:

#1 Don’t: Dismiss the Signs

Ignoring the early warning signs of burnout to push through can lead to serious emotional and physical consequences.

  • Def: to pressure or urge insistently

It’s crucial to acknowledge the signs, even if you’ve already reached a breaking point. 

  • Def: to arrive at a stage at which one’s control over oneself or a situation is lost.

Burnout is not a symptom or a temporary illness, it can be chronic.

  • Def: lasting for a long period of time, especially diseases

 

Do: Recognize & Acknowledge the Signs

To combat a chronic problem, it’s necessary to understand the root cause.

Consider doing a daily check-in. 

Ask yourself these 7 questions: 

  • How am I feeling today? 
  • Am I feeling stressed? If yes, is it temporary? 
  • Has my appetite or sleep pattern changed recently?
  • How motivated do I feel today? 
  • How am I treating and/or responding to the people around me? 
  • Do I need to set any boundaries to avoid exhaustion and/or overwhelm?
  • What can I control in this moment?

Then, reflect on your answers to determine if you need to make any necessary changes. 

Scenario #1: Imagine a coworker is on vacation and you’ve taken on her tasks. With the additional tasks you may feel like you’re in over your head

  • Def: to be involved in something beyond one’s capacity to deal with

After your daily check-in, you may realize that the root cause of your stress is longer working hours and neglecting your health. Then, you might decide to take steps to address these fundamental issues.

#2 Don’t: Withdraw & Isolate

Isolating yourself from others to balance your responsibilities can accelerate the road to burnout. 

  • Def: to separate or disconnect oneself from others; to be alone

Moreover, the lack of interaction and help could cause you to lag behind further. 

  • Def: to progress slowly and fall behind; to achieve less than someone or something

Eventually, when the exhaustion kicks in, you may take refuge in avoiding those responsibilities altogether.

  • Def: to go to a place for shelter or protection from danger or trouble

 

 

Do: Seek Support to Manage Stress

While experiencing burnout, hopelessness and helplessness are natural feelings. 

To minimize burnout, seek support and/or guidance from someone you trust. 

Here are two ways to do this:

1) Consider confiding in a trusted friend or family member who has shown strong listening skills in the past. 

Let them know upfront that you don’t expect them to solve your problem. 

  • Ex. To make this need clear, you may say, “I’m feeling stressed and was wondering if you have time to talk. I’m not looking for advice; just someone to lend an ear.
    • Def: to listen to someone carefully and empathetically 

2) On the other hand, if you need a coworker or family member to understand your workload and assist, be transparent. 

  • Def: free from pretense or deceit; readily understood. 

In other words, be honest about how you feel and what can help you manage your stress and/or responsibilities. 

Here are some useful phrases:

  • I would appreciate it if you could do X because of Y. 
  • I’m feeling swamped and need help with X. 
    • Def: to feel overwhelmed and flooded with work
  • I need more time to complete X because…
  • I’m finding it difficult to X because…


Scenario #2: Let’s go back to the first scenario.

This time, imagine your coworker extending their vacation and your boss asking you to continue taking on their tasks.

To communicate that you need help, you may say, “I’m finding it difficult to keep up with the current workload. Could you help me understand which tasks I should prioritize?”

Scenario #3: Similarly, imagine you’re a new mother easing back into the workforce. You’re also struggling to strike a work-life balance with the new changes.

To express this, you may say to your partner, “I’m feeling swamped right now. I would appreciate it if you could take on more responsibilities at home until I find my balance again.

#3 Don’t: Ignore Your Well-being

Avoid putting your well-being on the back burner. 

When this is not a priority, you run the risk of weakening your resilience and minimizing your internal resources for managing stress. 

  • Def: to expose oneself to the possibility of something bad happening

 

Do: Take Care of Your Physical & Emotional Health

To avoid or treat burnout follow the three Rs:

  • Reframe
  • Re-evaluate
  • Rest

Let’s talk about each of those in depth. How can you practically apply these strategies and what is the language we use to discuss them?

 

Reframe

  • Def: to change the way something is considered or viewed

Scenario #4: Imagine your friend comes to you for advice. She is stressed out due to an important, looming deadline at work.

In an effort to keep up, she has internalized the idea that she should work as long as it takes to get the project done in time. Sound familiar? 

  • Def: to take in and make an integral part of one’s attitudes and beliefs

Rather than overwhelming ourselves, we can direct our energy into shifting our attitudes and perspectives.

To help you reframe ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the bigger picture of my work or responsibilities?
  • How does my work benefit myself and those around me?
  • What aspects of my work do I find enjoyable and/or fulfilling?
  • How can I approach my work or responsibilities in a way that aligns with my intrinsic values?
    • Def: inherent and core characteristic of something or someone

 

Re-evaluate:

  • Def: to assess something again, especially with regard to changes or new information

To help us reframe, it may also be necessary to re-evaluate our priorities and determine whether our responsibilities align with our values. 

  • Ex. Think back to the previous scenario. Perhaps, you find out that your friend is now on the verge of burnout because she has neglected sleep and diet. 

Burnout is a strong sign that your current approach to work/responsibilities aren’t aligned with your priorities and values. In other words, something is out of balance.

To find re-evaluate and find balance, prioritize high-value tasks. However, be careful in determining which tasks are high-value. 

  • Ex. For instance, while reviewing a report may be your day’s high-value task at work, exercising for 20 minutes could be your high-value task in your personal life. Both should be prioritized.

Committing to more before figuring this out will only strain your schedule and workload further.  

Most importantly, to prioritize your well-being you must be ready to communicate and reinforce your boundaries, when necessary.

If you have difficulty saying “no” to others, start with low-pressure requests and work your way up until your feel comfortable denying larger requests.

Phrases like the following are helpful for communicating boundaries:

  • I’ve reached my bandwidth and can’t take on more. 
  • I appreciate you thinking of me. My schedule is packed for the week. I’d love to help another time. 
  • I’m so sorry, but I have a full plate and won’t have time to do X. 

Scenario #5: Imagine a relative asks and expects you to help them move. Meanwhile, it’s been a busy week at work and at home for you.

To reinforce your time boundary, you might say, “I’m so sorry, but I have a full plate this week and won’t have time to help you move.

 

Rest:

Research shows a paradigm shift in the way self-care practices are considered. Self-care practices should supplement other steps you’ve taken to combat burnout and not be the sole focus.

  • Def: when the usual way of thinking about or doing something is replaced by a new and different way

To combat burnout engage in activities that support your mental and physical well-being. This includes diet, exercise, and taking breaks!

When stress seems inevitable, take a step back from work. 

  • Def: To withdraw oneself from something to consider it from a broader perspective.

This could look like a 20-minute walk, time spent listening to your favorite music, a short meditation, unplugging to enjoy your weekend without technology, or taking time off until you recover.

 

Time to Practice

After watching this lesson, share your answers to these questions and try to use new vocabulary:

  1. How do you manage stress to avoid burnout?  
  2. Which of the strategies from today’s lesson will help you discuss and address burnout? Why?

You can share your answers — as well as your questions — with me in the comments below.

~ Annemarie

 

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