I recently met with a friend of mine who is a wife, a mother, a nurse, and consistently works out at 5 am almost every day. During our discussion, the thing she spoke of the most was how tired and sore she is all the time. She gives so much of herself to her husband, her family and her patients, but she is sacrificing the time she needs to help herself recuperate and regain the energy she needs to sustain herself. I hate to see this, but it is occurs often in good people who feel it is their duty to serve others. They tend to forget to serve themselves.
This is a challenge we face within the fire service as well. People who are fathers & mothers, husbands & wives, and firefighters & paramedics whose job it is to remain vigilant in their level of physical fitness are faced with a continual threat of being mentally and physically "burned out".
What exactly is "burn out"? Psychologist and author Sherrie Bourg Carter, Ph.D. explains it as, "a state of chronic stress that leads to: physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness."
The first step in preventing this "burn out" is to recognize the 5 warning signs of it sooner rather than later.
1. Chronic Fatigue (no energy)
Typically the first sign is an obvious lack of energy. You may think to yourself that it's "just a phase" or that "you'll push through it". The truth is, this lack of energy will compound the longer it's ignored. It will stack up and weigh you down to the point where you don't feel unmotivated to tackle the day. The lack of motivation can soon turn into a sense of dread.
2. Insomnia (inability to sleep properly)
One of the most ignored element to "burn out" is sleep. It is CRUCIAL for your brain and your body to reset on it's energy levels and return to a status of capable movement and thought processes. You need to make time for sleep! The Sleep Foundation recommendations for hours of sleep can be seen in the chart below:
3. Brain Fog
It can be nearly impossible to keep your mind focused on simple tasks let alone intricate tasks like performing medical assessments and procedures when your brain is exhausted. Sherrie Bourg Carter further explains that, "the lack of focus and mild forgetfulness...may get to the point where you can't get your work done and everything begins to pile up."
Loss of appetite, lack of sleep, and inability to stay focused on things you need to get done all contribute to things falling apart around you such as your personal relationships with loved ones as well as professional relationships.
5. Anger and Irritability
"At first, this may present as interpersonal tension and irritability." says Carter. If you continually wear yourself down with energy-depleting activity (such as exercising and lack of sleep) without allowing your body to recuperate, you'll never give your body and mind the time it needs to heal.
Carter further states, "In the latter stages, this may turn into angry outbursts and serious arguments at home and in the workplace." Please do yourself and those around you a favor and take a step back and recognize that you aren't acting like yourself, and give yourself the much-needed break that you need.
Be honest with yourself and make the changes in an active way. Block your time. Actively go to bed earlier and take time for yourself. Please take these warning signs seriously and keep in mind that if you aren't helping yourself to be at your best, then you aren't going to be able to provide the services to others required of your profession.