With more access than ever to the world, we have a tendency to feel the need to always be on, always doing something, learning something, talking to someone, posting about our lives, checking our notifications, ordering things, and so on. It’s hard to ever feel like we can fully turn off without risking missing out. It has all but become bragging rights to tell people how busy we are and how much we have to do or have done. Unfortunately, this way of living influences our chances of experiencing burnout.
Burnout can be challenging to identify. Many of us may think burnout is just another term for overwork or mental exhaustion. But burnout is more than feeling stressed; it's an actual psychological condition that affects one's outlook on life and work, often leading to depression and apathy. If left unaddressed, this cycle can make your day-to-day responsibilities feel devastating, making it difficult to function in every aspect.
If you want to avoid burnout -- and why wouldn’t you? -- then read on for my top tips.
Here are eight common signs of burnout to look out for:
- Feeling easily irritated, frustrated, and overwhelmed. You may feel like what you're doing doesn't matter as much or you may feel more pessimistic than usual.
- You have little to no motivation. Burnout makes what you do less enjoyable. When you feel you have little internal motivation to work on your tasks, you're likely experiencing burnout.
- You can’t sleep. You may wake up feeling tired as if you haven't slept at all. A feeling of heaviness is common; it's hard to feel enthusiastic about anything, and it takes real effort just to put one foot in front of the other.
- Emotional fatigue. Burnout can be caused by work, school, relationships or several other things that require effort and involve emotional investment. You may feel more pessimistic, cynical, emotionally drained, or that your work doesn't matter anymore. While everybody encounters negative thoughts and difficult emotions from time to time, it's essential to recognize when these are becoming unusual for you.
- Compassion fatigue. People who help people are most likely to suffer from burnout, both professionally and within the family framework. The depletion of empathy, caring and compassion are all signs of burnout.
- Physical exhaustion. A chronic amount of stress can manifest as physical symptoms in our bodies, such as headaches, stomach aches and weaker immune functioning.
- Trouble concentrating or paying attention. Our bodies are designed to handle stress only in short bursts. When stress becomes chronic, this narrow focus continues, making it challenging to focus on anything else. Stress also weakens our problem-solving abilities, making us more absent-minded or indecisive.
- Neglecting your own needs. You may have noticed turning towards unhealthy coping strategies like drinking at the end of the day, eating junk food or avoiding exercise. Self-medicating becomes an endless, torturous cycle.
So you're burned out. What now?
There is no shame in prioritizing your needs. Here are a few things you can do to start the healing process:
- Get active. Exercise is the first line of defense against burnout. Go for a run, dance, do a few laps around your neighborhood. Whatever it takes. In doing so, you're sending a message to your body that everything is O.K. This ultimately resets the stress response, a crucial factor in burnout. Moving your body will increase your immune system and overall health, but it will also help to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Exercise gives us endorphins, which helps us to be in a better mood. It also improves our sleep quality. Find something you enjoy and stick to it, whether it’s getting outside for hikes, lifting weights, swimming or doing yoga. When you find something you like, you’re much more likely to stick to it
- Say no. If you consider yourself a people pleaser, you probably take on too much to avoid disappointing anyone. Saying no if you're already running out of time in your day assures more stress in your life. Assess your current commitments and reconsider the nonessential ones. The immediate relief this brings may surprise you.
- Connect. Talking about burnout with loved ones can be a great source of support. Your friends, family members and coworkers can help you see that burnout is a process, not a personal failure.
- Cultivate a rich non-work life. It's important to leave work at work and find extracurricular activities that you enjoy, whether it's a hobby, playing a sport or volunteering. Find something that is rewarding to you.
- Get enough sleep. Sleep is one of the most beneficial things you can do for yourself. If you have trouble getting to bed at a reasonable time or consider yourself a night owl, try some of the following strategies:
- Keep your room as cool as possible. Studies show that 67 degrees are optimal for a quality night of rest. Your body needs to cool down 2 degrees before falling asleep, so the cooler, the better.
- Try a meditation app. If you're having trouble sleeping or winding down at the end of the day, try a guided meditation app. These are great ways to calm your body and mind.
- Be consistent. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Your body will quickly adapt to your schedule and going to bed won't be a conscious effort anymore.
- Disconnect. Whether it’s a break, the end of your workday, the weekend or a vacation, it’s important to take time to fully disconnect. I implore you to do this on a daily basis. If you’re working and take a break, don’t look at emails, don’t work on projects, don’t reply to work messages. Fully take a break. Get away from your screen, go for a walk or catch up with a friend. This will allow you to actually feel refreshed and to come back to your work renewed.
- Schedule a therapy session. It's not a sign of failure to need other people. Therapy can help you identify the causes of burnout and find coping methods. Expressing your feelings and being validated is a great way to lessen the burden of burnout.
- Eat right. Food is fuel. We need to take care of ourselves from the inside out. When we eat junk, we tend to not feel our best. When we eat clean and healthy foods, our immune systems, moods and energy levels elevate. The next time to shop for groceries, look for the following:
- Get plenty of leafy greens: broccoli, kale, spinach
- Replace refined sugar treats with fruits and dark chocolate
- Get plenty of lean protein: eggs, chicken, turkey, plant-based options
- Limit caffeine to one cup a day, drink more herbal tea
- Drink plenty of water each day
- Practice self-compassion. After you've been working hard for a long time, it's easy to feel like you've lost your purpose or feel like a failure. Turn toward those uncomfortable thoughts and feelings with kindness and compassion. Consider what you’d say to a friend in your situation. You'd probably offer kind words, rather than criticize them. Do the same for yourself.
- Do less. Prioritize what you need to do and save the rest for when you have the energy. Your energy levels will not be the same every day and it’s important to account for that and adjust accordingly. Some days you will conquer a lot, others you will do very little. It’s important to forgive yourself and be kind to yourself. Know that you are doing your best and be patient when you are not feeling great.
- Meditate. Meditation is an excellent way to increase your mindfulness skills. By taking the time each day to meditate, you get in tune with your thought and behavioral patterns and can recognize emotions as they come on. When you hone this ability, you will be better able to control emotions rather than having them control you. If you are feeling stressed or close to burnout, take a break and meditate. It will help you get clear on what you want and bring you back to baseline.
- Go to a quiet room where you will not be disturbed
- Shut your eyes or wear an eye cover
- Play soft music or white noise
- Use a meditation app to help guide you as needed
- Take time off. One of the best things you can do for yourself in order to prevent burnout is to take time off. Protect your time off. Have a few designated hours a day you are unplugged. Take off weekends and take vacations when you can. Time away from work will help you to enjoy your life and improve your work/life balance. When you do this you will be more likely to come back fresh, ready and happy to work again. We all need breaks from time to time. Not taking breaks or vacations is a fast route to burnout. Utilize your time wisely.
If you're feeling burnt out, consider these tips in order to make sure that your success is never compromised by the pressures of work or life. You can find peace in the chaos and still feel energized when it’s time to get back on track. Remember that we are all human beings with emotions, so take care of them.
For more information and to hear more from Dr. Michaela head to www.myeasytherapy.com