Monkey Puzzle Blog

Struggling with Burnout

The denial phase of burnout that no-one talks about

Although this is a blog about burnout, the Coronavirus COVID-19 is currently dominating all our lives, putting many of us under huge pressure at home and at work - a line that is increasingly blurred. Inevitably this additional stress may lead to higher levels of burnout, which makes this content especially relevant.

Burnout is often more apparent to others than it is to ourselves. What’s more, we are prone to denying we are experiencing it - which only adds to the problem. The good news is that, for those who are prepared to accept they may be experiencing burnout, help is at hand.


The denial phase of burnout

A friend once said to me ‘I’m kinda smug that you are a psychologist and didn’t even know I was burning out’. We both laughed at her comment but this speaks to a denial phase of burnout that is both dangerous and stops people from taking action before burnout gets really serious.

At the onset of burnout, people commonly enter a phase of denial. They believe:

  • It will pass ‘if I just get through this phase/ get this done/ once this is over’
  • If I just keep my head down and get to our next holiday/ Christmas etc. Everything will be fine.
  • There is nothing wrong.
  • People will think badly of me if I show I can’t cope.

This is a perfectionist strategy of not wanting to show that they haven’t got it all covered. It covers the shame they are feeling of not being perfect and sadly, sometimes, a real and understandable perception that it will damage their career.

Here’s the truth, people do notice.

I didn’t notice my friend’s burnout because I wasn’t at work with her. However, her team, boss and peers had all noticed a change in her behaviour, ability to deliver and mood changes. Arguably this is more damaging to your career because it changes other’s perceptions of you over a long period of time - so they start to believe this is what you’re like normally.

Because burnout creeps up on people, it is very often a long time, sometimes years, before the person reaches the point of total exhaustion from which it takes many years to fully recover.


Burnout - spotting the signs

You know it’s time to pay attention when:

  • You no longer return from weekends or holidays feeling refreshed
  • You feel compelled to work a lot, even if the things you are working on are not urgent or critical
  • There are elements of your work that you used to enjoy that are no longer fulfilling you
  • You are generally more grumpy or snappy with loved ones and close work colleagues - pay attention if they tell you this
  • You don’t ‘feel’ a sense of achievement, even if logically you know you are achieving or making progress


Assessing your burnout

If this resonates with you, start by taking this adapted version of the Maslach Burnout Inventory, which is the standard assessment for burnout. If you score moderate burnout or higher, it’s time to talk to someone about getting support. At first, this may not be your manager.

Start by talking to people you trust who won’t judge you or try to tell you what to do. If you have a coach, therapist or counsellor sound it out with them, the helping professions are well versed in burnout and can point you to appropriate support. People often report that once they hear themselves express it out loud they get a new perspective which helps them to turn the tide before it’s too late.


In conclusion

The denial phase of burnout is normal but also very dangerous. If unchecked, burnout can completely alter how other people see you, to the extent that they think your altered behaviour is how you are. If people can interrupt the slow onset of burnout and take action early it will prevent them having to endure sometimes years of recovery from emotional exhaustion.


For further information

If you’d like to find out more about burnout these books will help:

Rise and Shine: Recover from burnout and get back to your best by Leanne Spencer
Burnout: The secret to solving the stress cycle by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski


We’ve also covered burnout on the Monkey Puzzle blog in these past articles:

3 Life hacks to keep your energy up and avoid burnout
Genuinely busy or disorganised? Which are you?

And, if you feel that taking back control of your time could help alleviate your burnout, you might find our https://www.monkeypuzzletraining.co.uk/what-we-do/time-mastery of help. It’s about understanding your time challenges and taking back control by making simple changes to your day to day activity.


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