“Burnout” is a word that’s thrown around a lot, and it’s not taken as seriously as it should be.
I thought burnout was just a term people used when they had too much on their plate—especially when it comes to work—but it goes deeper than that. Psychology today defines “burnout” as:
A state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress. Though it’s most often caused by problems at work, it can also appear in other areas of life, such as parenting, caretaking, or romantic relationships.
Burnout creates a huge negative impact on your overall health and wellbeing, and it needs to be addressed ASAP.
Five signs of burnout
Before we talk about how to manage burnout (and even prevent it), it’s important to know if what you’re experiencing is actually burnout and not a deeper issue. This Health Essentials article explains it well, but I’ll go over the highlights.
There’s tired, then there’s I-physically-can’t-get-out-of-bed tired.
If you find yourself needing more sleep, dragging yourself out of bed each morning, or struggling to stay energized throughout the day, you might be experiencing burnout.
Lack of motivation
You may begin questioning things about your life that you typically enjoyed.
Why am I doing this job? Why am I bothering to go to the gym? What’s the point of making dinner every night? Do I really need to meet my friend for lunch tomorrow?
Headaches or stomach aches
Tension headaches—headaches that feel like you have a tight band around your head—can be a common sign of burnout. Especially when they’re ongoing.
Stomach aches are also a common sign of burnout. Keep an eye on what you’re eating and if that’s not causing your pain, it may be something deeper.
Change in habits
Are your sleeping or eating habits changing? Maybe you’re eating more (or less) or you find yourself gravitating toward the sweet stuff when that’s not typically for you.
You could also be struggling to fall or stay asleep, taking naps during the day, or even feeling like you don’t need as much sleep overall.
Sure, we all have those days when we simply can’t focus on work. We’re distracted by other responsibilities—or even just the sunshine we see out of our window.
But when you’re experiencing burnout, this is magnified. You procrastinate more—whether that’s by finding other tasks to do instead or avoiding any sort of work altogether—and nothing is drawing you in.
Remember: If any of these symptoms are causing a severe impact on your life, please reach out to a professional. Burnout or not, it’s something you may need help to get through.
What you can do to reduce burnout
First thing’s first, you need to figure out what is causing your burnout. A lot of the time, it can be related to your job, but burnout generally happens from overexerting yourself.
That means it can be caused by a variety of things, like relationships (romantic, friendships, family, you name it), parenting, a busy school schedule, caring for someone who is chronically ill, or just trying to do too much in general.
Once you land on what is causing your burnout, you can actively work to fix it.
First, decide on some immediate changes that you can make to reduce your overall stress. Maybe that’s asking your boss to reassign one of your projects, turning down a weekend activity with friends, sending your children to their grandparents for a day, or taking a day off everything and doing something you truly enjoy—alone.
But sometimes, a small break from whatever is causing your stress just doesn’t seem to cut it. The issue is deeper, which means you need to reach to other resources to provide some relief.
Talk to a friend or family member that you trust. Be open with them and really let out your stressors and frustrations.
If you’ve tried and tried to reduce your stress and burnout and nothing seems to be working, then talking to a counselor or therapist could be a good next step.
There’s no shame in seeking out help when you need it.
Preventing burnout in the future
Even though there are ways to help you overcome burnout, it’s better to avoid it from happening in the first place—but how?
No one else will look out for you better than yourself. You know what is best for you, and that includes knowing your limits.
To reinforce those limits, you have to set boundaries in all areas of your life. Promise yourself to get away from your desk for an hour each day, disconnect at the end of the work day and don’t check your email, limit your weekend activities to one or two outings.
Set those boundaries, and don’t be afraid to say “no.”
Getting enough sleep is the most underrated human need. Sleep is a time when your brain and body recuperate. You literally need it to survive.
So, when you consistently don’t prioritize your sleep, you are setting yourself up for failure.
Avoid caffeine later in the day, set a bedtime, have a cozy nighttime routine, put down your phone, and get that beauty rest.
Create time to decompress
I recently listened to this podcast (yes, I am an enthusiastic Daddy Gang member) that details ways you can prevent everyday stressors leading to burnout. The expert on the podcast explains everything perfectly—I highly encourage you listen—but to sum it up:
Stress is your body’s natural, evolutionary reaction to the craziness that surrounds us all, and stress itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s when we don’t relieve that stress that gets us into trouble.
So, the solution is to create a way to regularly release the stress from your body. Like:
- Any form of physical activity like exercise, a walk, or yoga.
- Connection with others. This can be a long—like, I’m talking 30 second—hug with someone you trust and love or a six second kiss. (Sounds odd, but again, the expert on the podcast explains it so well!)
- Creative self expression. This can be any creative activity you enjoy, like writing (hi, blogging!), coloring, painting, baking, or cooking.
- Breathing. A deep breath in and a long, slow exhale. Keep doing this until your breath is smooth coming in and smooth coming out.
Burnout happens to us all at some point, even if we do our best to prevent it. It’s your body’s not-so-nice way of telling you that you need to stop and recenter yourself. Listen to it, address it, and bring yourself back to a happy baseline.
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