Avoiding Work Burnout in Addiction Recovery
Different people describe work burnout in different ways.
Work burnout is common for people in addiction recovery. You may move from using drugs and alcohol as your main coping mechanism to using work.
So what is the difference between slight burn out and severe burn out? Slight burn out may just require some rest and recuperation, whereas severe work burn out needs a long time for recovery and may require additional medications, treatments and therapy to foster long-term change.
What is work burnout?
Simply put, work burnout is when you have worked too hard for too long. You have over-stretched the capacity of your body and mind, and as a result have depleted your energy levels. Once this happens, things can go seriously wrong in your body and mind.
Signs of work burn out include:
You have low energy
When you have work burnout, you will feel like you have little or no energy. Activities that may previously have been easy are now incredibly taxing. Your gym sessions go from stimulating to gruelling and you begin dreading the work days you used to find so compelling.
You have low sex drive
Your desire for sex is also likely to be affected. In the past you might have wanted to have sex a couple of times a week, now you only want to have sex once or twice a month. Your desire for sex might even have gone entirely out of the window.
Your body aches
When you have work burnout, you may have aches and pains throughout your body. Your joints and muscles both become sore, and it feels like there is little that you can do to reduce the pain. If you are in addiction recovery, resist the urge to use opioid-based painkillers, as these will only compound your problems.
Your hair is falling out
Work burnout can also cause your hair to fall out. Your hair may begin growing again once you have appropriately addressed the causes of your burnout and returned to health.
You find it difficult to connect
Having low energy means that you cannot take part in many of the activities you used to take part in. You may find it tiring socialising.
Even when you make the effort to go out and socialise, it may be difficult to get the same feelings of connection you would before your burnout.
Your mental health is suffering
Your mental health is likely to be poor when you have work burnout. You may have anxiety and depression, and might also be dealing with panic attacks, sleeplessness and paranoia.
As it is clear to the people around you that you are not doing well mentally, they may begin telling you that it is “all in your head”. Some of the people who say this might be well-intentioned, but what they still adds to the suffering of burnout.
How to avoid work burnout
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways that you can avoid work burnout. These are all simple things that can help
This is the obvious thing to do, but it is also the thing that many people who are facing work burnout struggle to do.
If you have burnout, you are likely to make many excuses to keep , but this will make you worse. At the least, ease up on work as much as you can and ask your work colleagues for help when needed.
People in addiction recovery don’t just have a tendency to work in excess, there is a propensity to overdo everything. This includes exercise. Working all day and then working out for two hours every night is a recipe for burnout.
When exercising, listen to your body. It will tell you when you are doing too much (or too little).
Making sure you have the proper nutrition can help you to stay out of burnout. Getting healthy fats, protein and carbs in every meal is an essential part of this. Plenty of fruits and vegetables are vital too.
Dieting can severely tax your body. If you feel like you are risking burnout, absolutely do not diet. You should also ensure that your blood sugar is kept stable by eating regularly and eating mainly carbs that are low glycemic index.
Two mainstays of recovery meetings are cigarettes and coffee. Many people in addiction recovery go through 5 or more cups of coffee a day and think nothing of it. You might be able to get away with this for a while, but the reality is if you are drinking caffeine excessively and working alot, you are overly taxing your system.
Stick to one or two coffees a day at most, and stop drinking all caffeine by 4pm. You can even consider switching to tea or simply switching to decaffeinated.
If you are already burnt out, caffeine may be one of the few ways that you can feel energized, but beware, as it is likely to make your burnout worse.
Stay away from energy-boosting herbs and supplements
Supplements are also popular for people near or in burnout to help them feel increased energy. Unfortunately, these are likely to have the same effects as caffeine: a lift in energy in the short-term, less energy in the long term.
There may be certain herbs and supplements that could help you, but these can be very potent, and should only be taken under the guidance of someone who is trained to administer them.
Maintain strong boundaries
If you are heading towards burnout, it is crucial to be clear with the people around you that you will need to be taking more time for yourself. When your partner has been expecting to do more than your share of the house work, you should let them know that you will not be doing this any more.
If a member of your family or a friend expects you to listen to their life woes for hours each week, you need to tell them that they will need to find someone else for this.
If your boss keeps getting you to work overtime or do extra work that is not in your contract, let them know that you will only be working the amount of time allocated in your contract in the future.
You also need to have boundaries for yourself. If you work for yourself, stick to working a certain number of amount of hours per week, and then no more.
If you have something on your mind that is bothering you, talking about it can make you feel better and reduce your risk of burnout. Try speaking with a friend in recovery or your sponsor about what is going on with you. They are likely to understand and have some sound advice to offer.
If you feel like you’d prefer to speak with a professional, ask around for the number of a counsellor who comes highly recommended.
Stress is a major contributor of work burnout. Keeping it to a minimum may stop you burning out. To reduce stress you can:
Notice when you are overthinking. Ruminating too much increases stress levels. Notice when you are engaged in patterns of repetitive thinking and make attempts to stop.
Practice gratitude. Constantly feeling like you are lacking something increases feelings of stress. Try thinking about what you are grateful for in your life throughout your day. You can even try writing a gratitude list at the beginning or end of each day.
Take a break
If you are a workaholic, you are likely to recoil in horror from this suggestion, but if you feel that work burnout is just around the corner, taking a break may ultimately be the only thing you can do to stop it.
Taking a break might mean simply stopping doing work for a couple of days, or it may involve leaving the country for a couple of weeks so you can sun yourself while forgetting all about work. You will know yourself which of these is more apt for you based on how your body and mind feel.
Look at your motivations for working
There are positive motivations for working: Making money to live with and enjoying working. There are also negative motivations for working: Feeling low self-esteem, avoiding interacting with people, distracting yourself from difficult feelings.
If your motivations for work are from this second group, you are at risk of burnout. The reason for this is that working will never “fix” the problem that you have. Instead of using work like this, it is better to get to to the root of the problem with a trained professional.
Why do people in addiction recovery work too much and get work burnout?
There are a few reasons why people in addiction recovery tend to work too hard. Of course, it is normal to go through short periods where you work more than normal. You might be saving up to buy something, completing work early so you can go on holiday or finishing a tight deadline for a client. When you do this occasionally, it can be healthy.
For some people, though, working most of the time becomes the norm for them. This is when work burnout can occur.
The feelings of control that come with work can distract from anxiety in the short-term. In the long-term, burnout due to working too much can cause significantly increased levels of anxiety.
People in addiction recovery often work compulsively as they use it to mask low self-esteem. Making lots of money and being seen as an important person can help them feel better about themselves. The problem is that once you stop working, the low self-esteem problem is still there. Doing esteemable actions like working for a charity can help you raise your self-esteem. A counsellor can help you get to the root of your self-esteem issues and work through them.
If you find it difficult to have close relationships, you may try to escape having them by working all the time. This might work, but the end result is that you never really know anyone.
Intimacy problems often stem from childhood. Seeking a mental health professional with experience helping people overcome issues from childhood is key.
Simply put, avoiding burnout involves maximizing metabolic deposits and minimizing metabolic withdrawals.
Work burnout and alternative healing modalities
While western medicine can prescribe pills that might help, some people with severe burnout soon seek alternative methods of healing. Here are a few of these alternative medicines, and how they can help for work burnout.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for work burnout
TCM is a complete medical system that has been around for thousands of years. It can be very effective in treating burnout. As the name suggests, it originates from China. TCM doctors prescribe herbs and lifestyle changes, and may give you acupuncture if necessary.
It has become more common for people to attend rehab for work burn out. Rehab provides the perfect setting for rest and recuperation whilst you work through the root causes of your problem. Work burn out can often be accompanied by drug and alcohol abuse as a way of coping. This too, will need to be addressed. Rehab provides a one stop shop for medical, therapeutic and respite intervention. You will also learn alternative coping strategies and relapse prevention. Many rehabs also offer a full holistic treatment programme
Ayurveda for work burnout
Ayurveda is another medical system that literally means the “Science of Life”. It originated in India around 5000 years ago. An Ayurvedic doctor may give people suffering from burnout a range of suggestions, including: lifestyle changes, using ayurvedic herbs, maintaining a specific diet, and an Ayurvedic cleanse.
The most powerful Ayurvedic cleanse is known as “panchakarma”, and is usually carried out at an Ayurvedic center over 21 days.
Naturopathy/Functional Medicine for work burnout
Naturopathy and functional medicine are far less ancient than TCM and Ayurveda. They operate using a host of different diagnostic tools. The specific tools used depend on the practitioner.
Naturopathic doctors only prescribe medicine that is natural, so expect to be given many different natural supplements and herbs if you go to a naturopathic doctor. Traditional medicine doctors do not always prescribe natural medicine, and you may be given synthetic supplements. A naturopathic doctor will look to foster long term change, achieved through a healthier lifestyle.
Finding alternative medicine for work burnout
If you would like to work with an alternative medicine, it is crucial to find on a practitioner with plenty of experience. The healing modalities above require that doctors complete between 1.5 years and 5 years of training to be qualified. Your chosen doctor should also have a minimum of several years of experience treating patients.
Alternative medicine can now be accessed in most cities and many larger towns. Try speaking with friends for a recommendation. If you do not have any good options for alternative medicine in your area, there are practitioners who treat patients online.
Work burnout - stay aware
Your body will often tell you when you are heading towards burnout. Aches and pains, days with extreme low energy and low sex drive are just a few of the ways that your body will let you know this.
It is much easier to stay out of burnout than it is to get back from it. Listen to these signs and make the necessary lifestyle changes. Don’t wait till it is too late.
Here at Recoverlution we try to offer as many natural remedies for stress, addiction and wellbeing as possible. Our Wellness Hub comprises of a team of dedicated professionals, offering classes and tips on breath work, nutrition, exercise, yoga, mindfulness and meditation. All of which are fantastic for helping to address the symptoms of work burn out and work well with any recovery programme.
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- Beating burnout: https://hbr.org/2016/11/beating-burnout
- Fear of intimacy: https://www.verywellmind.com/fear-of-intimacy-2671818
- 13 ways the busiest people avoid burnout: https://www.themuse.com/advice/13-ways-the-busiest-people-ever-avoid-burnout
- How to avoid burnout and stay productive:https://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2021/06/08/how-to-avoid-burnout-and-stay-productive-four-ways/?sh=5c8a700b4705
- Traditional Chinese medicine: https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/treatment/traditional-chinese-medicine
- Ayurveda, a brief introduction and guide: https://www.ayurveda.com/ayurveda-a-brief-introduction-and-guide/