We’re in a state of heightened stress. It’s natural to be worried, but when anxieties become all-consuming, you can quickly head to ‘worry burnout’. Here are the signs it’s happening to you.
We’re in a stressful moment right now. The cost of living crisis looms large. Climate change plays on our minds through extreme weather conditions. Political turmoil continues to rumble on. It was no surprise when ’permacrisis’ was named the word of the year for 2022, and it’s also no big shock that many of us are feeling increasingly anxious about all that’s going on.
It’s natural to be worried right now, but experts have raised concerns about what this level of sustained stress and anxiety is doing to our minds.
Martin Preston, an addiction specialist at private rehab clinic Delamere, has warned that many of us may be nearing ‘worry burnout’ – a state of emotional exhaustion where a person feels completely worn out and overwhelmed by worry.
Yep, as if we don’t have enough to worry about, the act of worrying might lead us to burnout. That’s why it’s so vital that we recognise the signs that we need support and seek it.
So, how do you know if you might be experiencing worry burnout? Martin lists some signs.
Signs of worry burnout
You’ve lost motivation
Noticed that you just can’t be bothered to do, well, anything? That’s a solid symptom of burnout.
“Whether the source of worrying is a personal issue or a global matter, people may often feel more socially withdrawn and find themselves disconnected from family and friends,” says Preston. “This could be recognised as not getting involved with social events or ignoring contact with others.”
You feel anxious even when you’re not in a stressful situation
“When worrying about everyday situations becomes excessive, it can lead to heightened feelings of anxiety and can even make you physically ill,” Preston notes. “We all feel anxious sometimes, but worry burnout is when excessive worries don’t go away in the absence of the stressor.”
What does that look like? Well, you might find yourself feeling restless, nauseous or shaky even when you’re not doing anything remotely stressful – such as when you’re just watching TV or reading a book. It’s easy to forget just how physical anxiety can be. If you’re dizzy, exhausted, feeling sick, achy, sweaty and your heart keeps racing, consider whether these symptoms might have a mental cause.
You’ve completely shut off from the news – or can’t stop consuming it
Preston says: “Those on the verge of worry burnout may find themselves avoiding the news. It’s not uncommon for people to feel overwhelmed with negative news that they can’t listen to, read or watch news programmes anymore.
“On the other hand, people may become obsessed with the news cycle, meaning it starts to play a big part in their daily lives.”
You’re tired all the time
No matter how much sleep you get, you still feel in desperate need of more. Getting through the day feels like wading through porridge, and by the weekend, all you want to do is sleep.
“People on the verge of burnout due to stress can begin to experience and display emotional and physical signs of exhaustion,” explains Preston. “They will often feel a lack of physical energy, but they also develop the feeling of being emotionally drained and depleted.
“A common sign of exhaustion is the lack of motivation to get out of bed in the morning, or day-to-day life becoming more challenging than normal.”
You’re getting irritated or upset by the tiniest things
Burnout can make you super sensitive – you’ll cry at the drop of a hat and feel immense rage at the tiniest inconvenience. Don’t beat yourself up for that. It’s a sign you need support.
“Aggressive behaviour is also a common indicator of worry burnout,” Preston notes. “Irritable individuals may experience a level of sensitivity and aggression towards their family, friends and colleagues.”
You’re more cynical and pessimistic
“While everybody experiences some negative emotions within their day-to-day lives, it’s vital to recognise when these feelings are becoming unusual,” Preston says. “People will often find themselves thinking more negatively, as they absorb darker emotions.”
How to recover from worry burnout
You’re nodding along to all the above signs. Now what? That’s a clear signal that you need to take steps to heal. Here’s how to proceed.
Explore meditation and mindfulness
“When worried and stressed, you need to activate your body’s natural relaxation response, which helps to slow your heart rate, lower blood pressure and balance your mind and body,” says Preston.
“Meditation has many health benefits and is a highly effective way to relieve stress, soften anxiety and improve your mental wellbeing. Taking time to relax the mind with meditation gives you the space to separate your energy, attention and emotions.”
Write it out
A common CBT technique that can come in use when you find yourself worrying to excess is to schedule in dedicated ‘worry time’. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a time slot in your day to worry, so when these anxious thoughts pop up outside of that time, you can mentally hit pause and delay them until later.
During that ‘worry time’, it’s a great idea to brain dump onto the page. It’s amazing just how much just writing out your thoughts with pen and paper helps to reduce the buzz in your mind.
It can also help to challenge yourself to write down some positive stuff each day. Perhaps you could write down three good things that happened that day, do some affirmations, or write one thing you’re grateful for.
“Writing can help to boost positive emotions and reduce worries and anxiety, according to research from the British Journal of Health Psychology,” Preston says. “Spending a total of 20 minutes per day writing about positive experiences can improve your physical and psychological health.
“The aim is to find the positive in worrying situations, to reduce stress, tension and built-up anger. Start by thinking of the thing that makes you feel worried and begin writing about the positives you can take from the experience.”
Move your body
“Physical activity can help lessen worrying and can have a massive influence on your physical and mental wellbeing,” says Preston. “Exercising regularly, even if that’s just 10 minutes a day, can help individuals suffering from worry burnout.
“When exercising, breathing deeper triggers the body’s relaxation response. A cardiovascular activity, like walking outside for 20-30 minutes several times per week, can improve sleep, increase energy and increase stress-busting endorphins. Other forms of physical activity that can help cope with worry burnout are gardening, circuit training, pilates, yoga and tennis.”
You don’t need to hit the gym or do some intensive HIIT if that doesn’t feel appealing. Draw the curtains and have a dance party, stroll around your nearest park, or just stretch for a few minutes. Any movement is grand.
Talk about it
Social connection is key. Don’t keep all your anxiety bubbling away inside your head.
“Reaching out to family and friends for help and support is crucial when coping with worry burnout,” says Preston. “Socialisation increases a hormone within our bodies that can decrease levels of anxiety and make us feel more confident in our ability to deal with stress.
“Limited social support has been linked to increased levels of depression and loneliness, and has been proven to alter brain function and increase the risk of alcohol use, drug abuse, depression and suicide. Social interactions with family and friends play a crucial role in how you function on a daily basis.”
If you find yourself in the midst of worry burnout, it may be time to seek professional support in the form of a counsellor. They’ll not only be able to listen, but to offer guidance and equip you with tools to handle anxieties and tricky situations as they arise.
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