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Signs of burnout and how to avoid, signs of burnout and how to overcome

Signs That You Are Burnt Out, And What To Do About It

Burnout is a risk we all face. Here is how to know if we are approaching burnout and ways to deal with it.
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You have probably heard of burnout, and might associate it with Michael Douglas’ character is Falling Down (1993). But burnout doesn’t have to end in a crime spree to play havoc on our lives. It can leave us mentally drained, emotionally unstable, and physically exhausted, which can affect our health, happiness, and success.

But how do you know if you are approaching burnout, and what can you do to prevent it? This is exactly what we are going to talk about in today’s post.

What is Burnout?

According to Psychology Today, burnout is:

...a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged and repeated stress.”

We often associate burnout with work, with high flying executives that burn the candle at both ends, take on too much, and then find themselves unable to cope.

But in reality, burnout can happen to anyone, and can be associated with parts of your life other than work. It can result from the pressure of looking after kids, of trying to balance domestic duties, or of working towards a goal, such as building muscle or losing weight.

Physical Burnout

Imagine a person who has decided to start lifting weights with a certain strength goal in mind. They are advised to:

  • increase the weight that they are lifting gradually in order not to damage the muscle by giving it something it is not prepared for;
  • stretch regularly to give the muscles some love and care to compensate for the heavyweight exertion;
  • have rest days, to give the muscles a chance to recuperate from the heavy work.

It is pretty well accepted and understood that when a person fails to do this at the gym, they can damage their muscles. So, instead of gaining ground more rapidly, they can begin to regress, or do enough damage that they won’t be able to go to the gym at all for a period of time. In this case, their muscles are completely “burnt out”.

Mental and Emotional Burnout

Mental or emotional burnout works in exactly the same way. If we ask our brains to take on too much, too quickly, and without adequate preparation, and we don’t give them a chance to recover from periods of intense stress, our mental performance can slide, or worse, we can hit a brick wall where we just can’t do anymore.

And that’s burnout.

It happens when we take on too much, when we refuse to ask for help when it is needed, and when we don’t give ourselves sufficient breaks from the stressors that are bearing down on us.

mental burnout, signs of burnout, job burnout
Burnout is when we take on too much, and our mental performance hit a brick wall | Illustration

Signs That You Are Burnt Out

The most troublesome thing about burnout is that it could hit you like a brick wall. 

Yes, you didn’t see it coming. 

So, rather than gradually feeling a weight on your shoulders, it just hits you all at once. Like that Achilles tendon that snaps and sends you to the ER, you get to a point where you just can’t take whatever it is anymore.

Fortunately, there are still ways to know that you are at risk and approaching burnout.

There are a lot of telltale signs, but on the most basic level, you won’t feel like yourself. You will notice feelings and personality traits emerging that just don’t seem normal for you.

Here are some of the most common ways that this manifests:

  • Exhaustion - have you noticed your caffeine intake increasing, and are you just too tired to do some of the things that you enjoy the most?
  • Lack of Motivation - is it harder to get out of bed in the morning, or to find the energy to go to the gym or meet up with friends?
  • Negative Emotions - are you feeling generally more pessimistic about things, or are you finding yourself getting angry for no reason and otherwise unable to keep your emotions in check?
  • Difficulty Focusing - are you seeing your attention wandering easily and having increased difficulty staying on task?
  • Declining Performance - you are putting in the same amount of effort, but the work you are producing just does not seem to be of the same quality?
  • Health Problems - are you gaining weight, craving sugar, having trouble sleeping, having skin issues?

These are all signs that you are well and truly on your way to burnout. But they are not the only signs, as everybody is different. If you are feeling unlike yourself in any way, and also unable to control yourself, for example, your motivation and emotions, it could be that you are approaching burnout.


Signs of burnout, signs of depression, job burnout, career burnout
Everyone is different when approaching burnout, but in general, you won’t feel like yourself | Illustration

How To Avoid Burnout

The key to avoiding physical burnout is not to take on too much, to care for yourself, and to give yourself breaks. The same is true for other types of burnout.

1. Don’t Take On Too Much

No one is saying that you shouldn’t dream big and take on big challenges. This is very good for us as human beings and how we grow and develop. But we must remember that we have limited resources, and therefore need to prioritize them.

When you are given something new to do, how often do you just say yes, and try to do it on top of everything that you are already doing? How often do you say yes, but I will need to deprioritize x, y, and z in order to free up capacity?

The fact of the matter is that you can do anything, but you can’t do everything.

Be honest about how much you can take on, and be brave about telling people what is going to have to slide to make space for something new. A lot of people will respect you for it

2. Take Care Of Yourself

If you want your body and your brain to support you and do its best work for you when you need it, you need to look after it for the rest of the time.

Again, this is something that is well accepted when it comes to the physical body. There are few people who would dispute the value to your overall wellbeing, and your performance at work and everything else, of eating well and exercising regularly.

Even sleep has moved into the popular psyche as something incredibly important to our health, and more and more people are prioritizing getting a good night’s sleep.

But there is more that you can do to look after your brain. Here are 2 proven ways for you to take good care of yourself.

2.1. Meditate

First and foremost, meditate. Mediation is not just about helping you feel calm and relaxed, it physically changes your brain for the better. It has an anti-depressant effect, it improves memory and the ability to learn, it improves concentration, and can even fight aging. Meditation is a great and relatively quick way to give your brain some care and attention, just 20 minutes a day can make an enormous difference.

Get tips on starting a meditation practice with Improve Concentration in Meditation with Habitify.


improve lives with meditation, meditation, meditation for work life balance meditation for calm
Meditation has an anti-depressant effect, and 20 minutes a day can make enormous difference

2.2. Find a Hobby

Second, take up a hobby. In practice, this can mean a lot of different things depending on what you enjoy. But on a deeper level, it means taking your brain out of its stress zone and letting it do something else that it enjoys to rejuvenate it. 

But as well as being something that you enjoy, it should be something that you do regularly, so your brain is comfortable with the activity, and does not feel stressed by constant newness. But it should be something that enables you to push yourself and grow, but does not have the same kind of external pressures that you might find in other aspects of your life.

While your work might be your weightlifting, your hobby should be your yoga.

It is also a well-known fact, that when you spend too much time on one thing, you get tunnel vision and you stop being able to see the possibilities. A hobby exercises your brain, but in a completely different realm, which may result in some surprising inspiration elsewhere in your life.

Find out the power of hobbies here: How Hobbies Can Drastically Improve Your Productivity.

3. Schedule Rest

Just like your muscles at the gym, you can’t expect your work head, your mum head, or whichever head you are using, to function at peak performance all the time. It needs breaks to recharge in order to give that peak performance.

This means regular breaks on a daily basis, and intermittent longer breaks.

On the day-to-day front, this means taking time for yourself. If work is your main stressor, this is relatively straightforward. You can commit to not working (or checking emails) after a certain hour and not working on weekends, or whatever arrangement works best for your type of job. 

This is much more difficult is the stressor is something that does not have an acceptable “off button”, such as parenting. But here too, it is necessary to find time outside of that responsibility to recuperate. That can mean getting in a babysitter once or twice a week to give you time off, or having a “quiet time” when the kids stay in their rooms so that you can spend time on your own. Granted, this is more easily said than done, but it is essential to carve out that time.

Find out how to manage your time better here: Three Scheduling Tips For Achieving Work-Life Balance.

schedule regular rest to avoid burnout, take care of yourself
Schedule both regular breaks on a daily basis and long-term intermittent longer breaks | Illustration by Tim Herrera

This regularly rest is complemented by more extended periods of rest that allow for deeper recuperation. It is the difference between having two rest days from the gym every week, and taking a few weeks off at the end of the professional basketball season for a more thorough recuperation.

But longer breaks are something that, for some reason, Americans are not on board with. You may have heard the statistic that around half of Americans do not take all their vacation days, and the average American only gets 10 working days of holiday each year. That is in stark contrast to Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, where 20-30 days is the norm.

Vacation time is not wasted time, it is essential recharge time. And the majority of people perform better when they return.

Conclusion

We often seem to believe that we are superhuman, or that we should be, and that there is no limit to the amount that we can take on and how hard we can work. But while this might see us accelerating forward for a short period of time, in the long run, this can be a recipe for poor performance and burnout.

If we want to make the most of ourselves, and be able to give our best performance when needed, just as professional athletes need to prepare their muscles and give them time to rest and recuperate, we need to prepare ourselves, and give ourselves the recuperation that we need so that we can feel and perform our best. Start working on your wellbeing today. 

Written by Jessica Suess for Habitify