Sandra Bullock and five other celebs who've been open about experiencing burnout
Sandra Bullock is the latest celeb to talk candidly about suffering from burnout – so much so that the world-famous actor is taking a break from work.
“I don’t want to be beholden to anyone’s schedule other than my own," the 57-year-old star of The Lost City told the Hollywood Reporter.
“I’m so burnt out. I’m so tired, and I’m so not capable of making healthy, smart decisions and I know it.”
Burnout, which was officially recognised as a medical condition in 2019, is a state of "physical and emotional exhaustion," explains the Mental Health UK website. "It can occur when you experience long-term stress in your job, or when you have worked in a physically or emotionally draining role for a long time."
Bullock added, “Work has always been steady for me, and I’ve been so lucky. I realised it possibly was becoming my crutch. It was like opening up a fridge all the time and looking for something that was never in the fridge. I said to myself, ‘Stop looking for it here because it doesn’t exist here. You already have it; establish it, find it and be OK not having work to validate you.’”
Read more: Are you at risk of burnout? Signs, symptoms and how to deal with it
And Sandra Bullock isn't the only celeb who's spotted these signs of burnout during her life and career. Many other celebs have also opened up about their own experiences of burnout and how, in some cases, it gave them the wake-up call they needed.
Rapper and singer Queen Latifah revealed she has reached the point of burnout a couple of times in her career.
“I’ve had to literally go away and recover from burnout,” Latifah told Parade in 2019. “Burnout is not just a word; you can be physically exhausted on a cellular level. Everything that you use to keep you out of a stressful place physically is getting used when you burn yourself out.
"You have to make sure you build back up from a physical level, and me, I’ve gone to places to help rebuild all that, but not everybody can go where I go, necessarily, but there are ways to rebuild that second wind yourself."
She added, "Checking in, seeing how you feel, emotionally, seeing how you feel, physically. These are the things that you can do to kind of catch up with that."
Read more: The Life Edit Podcast: Are you suffering from burnout?
Lady Gaga, who aside from her music and acting career, is known for being an advocate of mental health, explained how burnout had affected her during a speech at the SAG-AFTRA Foundation's third annual Patron of the Artists Awards in Beverly Hills in 2018.
"After years and years of saying yes to jobs, interviews, events — all opportunities of course that I am so humbled and grateful to have had because I know that there are so many who have not," she recalled.
"And after working as hard as I possibly could to achieve my dreams, slowly but surely the word 'yes,' 'yes,' 'sure,' became too automatic and my inner voice shut down which I have learned now is very unhealthy. I was not empowered to say no."
She added, "I’m telling you this because for me, it was too late. I needed help earlier. I needed mental healthcare. I needed someone to see not through me or see the star that I had become, but rather see the darkness inside that I was struggling with.
"I wish I had mental health resources because although what I have is treatable and can hopefully and will get better over time, if there was preventative mental health care accessible to me earlier, I believe it would not have gotten as bad as it did.
Read more: Harry Styles says having therapy for his mental health has made him feel more 'alive'
Earlier this year, in a live stream alongside tennis star Serena Williams hosted by BetterUp, a mental health company he has been part of since last year, Prince Harry admitted he "experienced burnout".
"And throughout that burnout, literally getting to the very end of everything that I had, any fuel or any steam in the engine, I was burning the candle at both ends," he said.
"Then it felt like 'Boom'. That is when you are forced to look inside yourself, because with everything else around you seemingly you feel as though it's working against you, the only way that you can really combat it, and build resilience for the outside world in your entire environment, is the inner work.
"Once you start to understand how and why you react to certain people and certain situations, then you can actually gain control of those situations. It doesn't mean they're not going to happen; it just means that your reaction to them is more in your control."
He said he now prioritises self-care every day (which includes meditating) in between work or when Archie, two, and Lilibet, one, who he shares with Meghan Markle, are at school or asleep.
“From an employer perspective, you can’t expect people will put in work on themselves if you don’t give them the time to do it," he added.
Read more: Duchess of Cambridge's brother shares mental health tips: 'I believe in the outdoors'
Beyoncé previously spoke on the importance of self-care and how women especially can ignore any symptoms.
"Many of us grew up seeing our parents act as if they were superheroes. Most women have been conditioned to ignore symptoms and just “tough it out” and focus on taking care of everyone else before themselves. I am no longer one of those people. After having a difficult pregnancy, I took a year to focus on my health," she told Elle magazine.
Though this wasn't before she 'toughed it out' in her life previously. "It was beginning to get fuzzy — I couldn’t even tell which day or which city I was at," she told the Sun in 2011.
“I would sit there at ceremonies and they would give me an award and I was just thinking about the next performance.
“My mother was very persistent and she kept saying that I had to take care of my mental health.”
She added, speaking on her 'gap year' then, “So I went to see museums, ballets, the Great Wall of China and everywhere I had been to but never got to see.”
But it seems her latest music has made the most impact in terms of addressing the 'burnout generation'. Opposite to Kim Kardashian's 'get up and work' advice, the lyrics of her new song Break My Soul read:
"Now, I just fell in love, and I just quit my job, I’m gonna find new drive, damn, they work me so damn hard, Work by nine, then off past five, And they work my nerves, that’s why I cannot sleep at night."
Read more: Joe Wicks says 'default is to shout' as he overcomes effects of 'chaotic' childhood
Joe Wicks, who rose to fame for helping the nation get through lockdown with his live streamed PE lessons, has spoken about how meditation helps him stay well.
‘It’s a habit I need to get into but I know it’s going to bring me a lot of peace and calm and that is something I need," he told Russel Brand on The Joe Wicks Podcast last summer.
"I’m very content, I’m very cool but I also burnout and I have weeks where I want to throw my phone in the sea and never look at it again. And I don’t want to be the Body Coach. I have a couple of days off and I come back and I’m ready to be that motivator, inspiring and helping people."
"I think the technology draws me in so much and the audience, the community, it gives me energy," he added.
But he has to be mindful that "it also drains me emotionally, so it’s trying to get that balance right."
Early signs of burnout
So how you can you tell if you're running on empty? "The irony of burnout is that unless you know what you're looking for, you only realise you've reached it when it's too late," says coach Alistair Williams, Founder of A Clear Path Ahead.
"It's important not to confuse burnout with stress. A certain amount of managed stress, at the right levels, for a short period of time is a hugely beneficial thing, as long as there's time to recoup and recover," he continues.
"Burnout occurs when high levels of stress persist over extended periods of time, and eventually become the norm. Chronic stress follows which, if left unchecked, becomes unsustainable. The brain and body simply start to rebel. And burnout kicks in."
Here are some key questions Williams advises asking yourself, if you're worried you may be heading for burnout:
Is stress the one thing that is powering my work?
Is my decision-making rational and clear?
How is my general behaviour to colleagues, friends and family? Has it changed?
When did I last have a proper break, where I switched off from work?
Have I still got interests outside of work?
Am I taking care of myself and my body?
How burnout can make you feel
"I use the example of driving a car with the rev counter constantly in the red zone. You feel like you're in momentum, you're moving forward but the reality is that you're making little progress and eventually the engine packs in," explains Williams.
"People experience it in different ways. Your body experiences ever increasing exhaustion despite little physical exertion. Your ability to make even the most simple decisions becomes laboured.
"Apathy reigns – you may miss deadlines, repeatedly show up late or find that procrastination is everywhere. Brain and body simply start to rebel, and then burnout kicks in."
"There will be a general sense of withdrawal and desire to hibernate, to take refuge and retreat from the world. The mental impact is apparent – a feeling of being dazed, foggy and everything muffled and slowing down. Physically you may notice severe headaches, issues with vision, gastrointestinal problems and general aches and pains."
Describing his own experience of burnout, he adds, "I remember feeling very embarrassed, there's a sense of failure for a while. Until I started talking about it and realised that so many professional and creative people like me had experienced exactly the same thing."
"Prevention is putting effort into building a life in balance – meaningful work, outside interests (we used to call them hobbies), time for family and friends, off-screen time, exercise, finding something that brings a bit of joy and fun, and the ability to say no to additional requests is the foundation of burnout avoidance," says Williams.
"And this needs to go hand in hand with clarity around what's important to you, both within work, and outside work. Being able to know 'what is enough' when it comes to work. And having the confidence that you've done a good job but don't need to go that extra mile too often."
So what should you do if you can feel burnout creeping in? "Talk to someone," he emphasises. "The biggest mistake is to attempt to work through it. It is so, so common, yet there's still an element of it being an unspoken suffering.
"You'll be surprised at how many people have experienced it, will experience it, and how empathetic and supportive people will be."
Burnout can be a positive
"While burnout at the time can seem frightening, I absolutely believe that there's a real positive outcome available. It's a sign that a realignment is necessary, that a pause needs to take place and a reprioritisation is needed," says Williams.
"Many of my clients are working through and out the other end of burnout. Typically we work on moving forward with a plan around what's important in work and life, restore a bit of joy, maybe call upon Ikigai principles [means 'a reason for being'], align this with their values, incorporate their talents and passions and build a plan for a meaningful, balanced and rewarding future. It really is the opportunity to design a better life," he says.
Simple self-care tips
"There are very simple immediate things you can do," says Williams. "Make sure you switch off – phones, notifications and from constant thoughts about work. Get outside, into nature if possible. Explain what's happening to a friend or loved one.
"Remember it's not failure. It's simply a sign of caring too much and working too hard as a result and not giving yourself the care and attention you need."
When you're in the middle of burnout, it can be hard to gain perspective but Williams has this important reminder: "One thing I know is that after burnout, people smile far more than in their previous life. And all those around them feel the benefit too."
Watch: Feeling exhausted? You may be a victim of burnout