Supporting the Mental Health of South African NPO's


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What is burnout?

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.

Burnout reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.

The negative effects of burnout spill over into every area of life—including your home, work, and social life. Burnout can also cause long-term changes to your body that make you vulnerable to illnesses like colds and flu. Because of its many consequences, it’s important to deal with burnout right away.

Are you on the road to burnout?  

You may be on the road to burnout if:

  • Every day is a bad day.
  • Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy.
  • You’re exhausted all the time.
  • The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
  • You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.

Signs and symptoms of burnout:

Physical signs:

  • Feeling tired and drained most of the time.
  • Lowered immunity, frequent illnesses (Frequent headaches or muscle pain)
  • Change in appetite or sleep habits.

Emotional signs:

  • Sense of failure and self-doubt.
  • Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated.
  • Detachment, feeling alone in the world.
  • Loss of motivation.
  • Increasingly cynical and negative outlook.
  • Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment.

Behavioral signs:

  • Withdrawing from responsibilities.
  • Isolating yourself from others.
  • Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done.
  • Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope.
  • Taking out your frustrations on others.
  • Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early.

The difference between stress and burnout

Burnout may be the result of unrelenting stress, but it isn’t the same as too much stress. Stress involves too much: too many pressures that demand too much of you physically and mentally. However, stressed people can still imagine that if they can just get everything under control, they’ll feel better. Burnout, on the other hand, is about not enough. Being burned out means feeling empty and mentally exhausted, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring. People experiencing burnout often don’t see any hope of positive change in their situations. If excessive stress feels like you’re drowning in responsibilities, burnout is a sense of being all dried up. And while you’re usually aware of being under a lot of stress, you don’t always notice burnout when it happens.

Causes of burnout:

Burnout often stems from your job. But anyone who feels overworked and undervalued is at risk for burnout, from the hardworking office worker who hasn’t had a vacation in years, to the frazzled stay-at-home mom tending to kids, housework, and an aging parent. But burnout is not caused solely by stressful work or too many responsibilities. Other factors contribute to burnout, including your lifestyle and personality traits. In fact, what you do in your downtime and how you look at the world can play just as big of a role in causing overwhelming stress as work or home demands.

Work-related causes of burnout:

  • Feeling like you have little or no control over your work.
  • Lack of recognition or reward for good work.
  • Unclear or overly demanding job expectations.
  • Doing work that’s monotonous or unchallenging.
  • Working in a chaotic or high-pressure environment.

Dealing with burnout - The “Three R” approach:

  • Recognize: Watch for the warning signs of burnout
  • Reverse: Undo the damage by seeking support and managing stress.
  • Resilience: Build your resilience to stress by taking care of your physical and emotional health.

These tips can help you cope with symptoms and regain your energy, focus, and sense of well-being.

Dealing with burnout tip 1: Turn to other people

Social contact is nature’s antidote to stress and talking face to face with a good listener is one of the fastest ways to calm your nervous system and relieve stress. The person you talk to doesn’t have to be able to “fix” your stressors; they just have to be a good listener, someone who’ll listen attentively without becoming distracted or expressing judgment.

  • Reach out to those closest to you: your partner, family, and friends.
  • Be more sociable with your coworkers: Developing friendships with colleagues can help buffer job burnout.
  • Limit your contact with negative people

Tip 2: Reframe the way you look at work

Whether you have a job that leaves you rushed off your feet or one that is monotonous and unfulfilling, the most effective way to combat job burnout is to quit and find a job you love instead. Of course, for many of us changing job or career is far from being a practical solution, we’re grateful just to have work that pays the bills. Whatever your situation, though, there are still steps you can take to improve your state of mind.

  • Try to find some value in your work: Focus on how your role helps others
  • Find balance in your life: Look for meaning/satisfaction elsewhere in your life like in your family, friends or hobbies
  • Take time off: Try to take a complete break from work.

Tip 3: Reevaluate your priorities

Burnout is an undeniable sign that something important in your life is not working. Take time to think about your hopes, goals, and dreams. Are you neglecting something that is truly important to you? This can be an opportunity to rediscover what really makes you happy and to slow down and give yourself time to rest, reflect, and heal.

  • Set boundaries: Learn how to say “no” to requests on your time.
  • Take a daily break from technology: Set a time each day when you completely disconnect.
  • Set aside relaxation time: Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing activate the body’s relaxation response.
  • Get plenty of sleep: Feeling tired can exacerbate burnout by causing you to think irrationally.

Self-help tips for managing Burnout

Burnout happens when you are under excessive and prolonged stress. It happens when you feel overwhelmed and unable to keep up with the demands of life. Burnout drains your energy and can result in feeling helpless, hopeless or resentful of the things you love. Make a self-care commitment to take care of yourself first.

Self-care plan: Tips for avoiding burnout

  1. Be proactive: Don’t assume you are exempt from burnout. Scan your life and your schedule and take note of how much time you are spending on work, versus how much time you are taking care of yourself. Make a decision to create balance between work and life. Be on the lookout for future imbalances.
  2. Schedule self-care: Plug-in self-care time into your diary, just as you would other obligations…and stick to it. Self-care can range widely from a healthy diet, to regular exercise or meditation.
  3. The little things count: If you don’t have long periods of time, you can still fit in moments of relaxation. Take just 2 minutes to close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, this can make a profound difference in the way you feel. These little things may help you stay in balance.
  4. Make your health top priority: Stay healthy - Get quality sleep, choose healthy foods and exercise daily even if it’s just a ten-minute walk. When you attend to your physical health, your mental and emotional health tend to be in balance.
  5. Check in: Actively check in with the messages your body is sending you. If you feeling run down, increase vegetable intake, slow down and rest. Are you feeling distracted? Try meditation. Your body’s sensations have valuable information linked to Mental Health.
  6. Learn to say no: You do not have to agree to do everything everyone asks you to do. And there are many polite ways to say “no.” For Example: ‘’I’m not going to be able to help you with that but perhaps you could ask Mary’’.
  7. Digital Detox: Turn off the TV, put phones and lap-tops away. Take a break. Go outside and look up at the sky. Listen to the birds. Go for a walk. Read a book. Do some yoga.
  8. Reach out for help. If you feel overwhelmed, and like you are experiencing burnout, counseling can make a big difference. When you have lost your balance, seeking support from a professional is the best way to feel better


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