What would you say if I told you I am driving across New York to California without stopping? You most likely will say that there is no way that is possible because the car will eventually run out of gas, and I will never reach my destination. I may end up stranded, and what plans and goals I had to do in California when I arrive will be pushed back.
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This analogy can be applied to us as humans because in society today, most of us have this mindset that we have to keep going and pushing non-stop to reach our goals, accomplish what we want, or appear as though our lives are not wasting away. But if we keep going, eventually we run out of ‘gas,’ and in the end, it does more harm than good to our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. When you have reached this breaking point, it is known as Burnout.
What does it mean to be burnout?
Being burned out means “feeling empty and mentally exhausted, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring. It is characterized as “physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance, and negative attitudes toward oneself and others. It results from performing at a high level until stress and tension, especially from extreme and prolonged physical or mental exertion or an overburdening workload, take their toll.”
Reaching the point of being burnt out means that you have been pushing yourself too hard for too long, that your body and brain can no longer keep up. It is a dreaded feeling that, unfortunately, many of us know all too well. There have been times in my life that I have experienced being burnout. It either stems from work, working on goals, or sometimes just simply overthinking. I think too much!
Being burnout is undoubtedly not a great feeling, and in some cases, you cannot avoid it. But how do you know that you are on the verge of being burnt out? How do you know that your body needs ‘gas’? Well, your body is a powerful tool, and when life gets too busy and stressful, your body will send you signs that you have reached the point of burn out and that you need to slow down and pause for the moment.
Warning signs of burnout
There are days when you will feel low, helpless, overloaded, or underappreciated. These experiences will happen from time to time in your life, but when you feel like this most of the time, you may be experiencing burnout.
But here’s the tricky part, however. Burnout is a gradual process, it does not happen overnight, and it creeps up on you. The signs are very subtle at first, and sometimes you may ignore them or think it is related to something else. Here are some six signs to look out for:
This is usually the first giveaway that your body has been going a mile a minute, and it is time to slow down. Exhaustion can be emotional, physical, or mental:
- You are feeling drained most of the time
- Your immune system has decreased (frequent illness)
- Changes in sleep routine and eating pattern
- Frequent headaches and muscle pain
- Lack of motivation
This is a gradual process; you will notice that your motivation levels start to decrease, and you are simply not in the mood to do anything from going to work, completing tasks, tending to your children, or being creative. When you are no longer enthusiastic about anything anymore, that motivation to get up and get going becomes difficult as time progresses on.
- Negative thoughts and emotions
This is usually one of my early signs when I am on the verge of approaching burnout. I become moody and irritable, and those negative thoughts start rushing in more than usual. When you feel that what you are doing doesn’t matter that much anymore, your thoughts and emotions can get the best of you. You may start to notice the following:
- Racing negative thoughts about self-doubt and failure
- Having a negative outlook on life
- Feelings of helplessness or being defeated
- Cognitive problems
Have you noticed yourself being in a brain fog? Difficulty concentrating and focusing? Memory problems? If this sounds like you, and it has been going on for some time, it may be burnout. Our bodies can handle being under pressure in short bursts, but your ability to focus and concentrate becomes difficult when you are burnt out. You may also experience difficulty in problem-solving and remembering things.
If you are experiencing the first four signs above, you are more than likely to neglect your self-care. When you are experiencing burn out, sometimes you may engage in unhealthy coping strategies such as overeating junk food, being sedentary, not sleeping enough, or smoking/drinking too much.
- Depression and isolation
As mentioned before, being burnt out is a gradual process, and not something that happens overnight. Therefore if you are overloaded, you will notice that your mood will start to change frequently. Eventually, you will begin to go through long periods of feeling depressed because of the negative thoughts and emotions you have within yourself.
Being burnout also puts you in a place where you start to withdraw yourself from being around others because of how you feel: lacking motivation, feeling overwhelmed and overload, and having cognitive problems. With all of that going on in your body, in most cases, you will want to keep to yourself because there is no emotional and physical energy for anyone else.
Is too much stress the same as being burnout?
Burnout may stem from prolonged stress, but they are not precisely the same. Stress involves being under pressure by doing too much. There is a strong demand to do too much physically and mentally. Burnout, on the other hand, is feeling as though you are not doing enough. It brings about feelings of emptiness, mental exhaustion, lack of motivation, and lack of empathy.
Possible causes of burnout
Anyone who feels overworked and undervalued can become at risk of experiencing burnout. It can be from working hard at work, juggling being a stay at home parent or working simultaneously, to trying to balance work and school. Many factors contribute to burnout apart from stressful work, including your personality and lifestyle. Here are some possible causes:
- Feeling like you have lost control over your life
- Lack of social support in your relationship with others
- Not getting enough sleep
- Lack of recognition/appreciation for the work that you do
- Taking on too many responsibilities without help from others
- Always thinking that what you do is not good enough
- The need to always be in control and wanting to do everything on your own
- Working in a high-pressure environment
Are there others you can think of? Let me know in the comments section below.
Recovering from a burnout
Whether you recognize the warning signs of burnout or you have already past your breaking point, if you continue to push past the exhaustion and continue as though nothing is wrong, your physical and emotional well-being becomes at risk for more damage. Now is the time to pause, reflect, and change things up so you can overcome burnout and start to feel whole again:
I’ll be honest; sometimes, it is hard for me to let people in when I am burnt out because I like to work through my emotions on my own. But reaching out to those around you that you trust and confide in can help boost how you feel, plus put you in a positive mood and take your mind off of anything negative, even if it’s for a while.
Get enough sleep
I am sure I am not the only one who does not get enough sleep from time to time, right? I mean, what is sleep? Is that even a thing? Yes! It is! Sleep is so important because it affects everything – your mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Therefore make sure to establish a healthy sleep-wake routine so you can function well.
Communicative technology has come a long way over the years, and it helps to promote productivity. But from time to time, it is important to disconnect and unplug from social media platforms because it can creep in and take away time from things and people important to you. Set aside time to disconnect as a way to keep stress levels low and manageable.
Limit your exposure to negativity
If you are always surrounded by negative or constantly complaining people, it can put a damper on your mood and possibly change your outlook on life. Believe it or not, this can become draining and eventually bring about exhaustion. Protect your energy and be mindful and limit your time around those who are always negative.
Nourish your creativity
As humans, we are all creative beings. When we are caught up with work and life, it can leave little room for creativity. Creativity, however, is one of the best things to help your burnout. Switch things up by getting creative and doing things that have nothing to do with work/life. Do something fun to help alleviate some of your stress.
Relaxation is key
Having your brain always on the go is not healthy. Be consistent in setting time apart to detox your mind and engage in relaxation techniques to give your mind and body the rest it needs to perform at the best level. Such activities can be: meditation, listening to music, going for walks, visiting family/friends, or doing yoga. Be intentional about what you will do to relax and enjoy every moment of it.
Find work-life balance
Maintaining a work-life balance is essential because it helps to reduce stress and prevents becoming burnout. Prioritize your time, have set work hours, and try to stick to them, manage your time, know your strengths, set realistic expectations, and take time out for yourself.
Setting boundaries is hard because it seems harsh, but it is important to do for your mental health. Don’t overextend yourself and remember that there is no harm in saying “no.” Yes, it will be challenging from time to time, but remind yourself that saying no is allowing you to make time to do things for yourself that are important to you.
At some point in our lives, we will all experience burnout in our lives. Some of us may be more prone to experiencing burnout more frequently than others because of our personality traits and current life situations. With that in mind, it is important to understand that when it comes to recovering from burnout, having a level of self-awareness, not ignoring warning signs, and being open and diligent about your recovery process is the first step to take.
It won’t be easy, but knowing who you are, knowing your values, knowing what you will and will not tolerate, and keeping an eye out for warning signs will help you to prevent or overcome burnout from happening too frequently.
If anything 2020 has taught, is that life is undoubtedly precious and things can change drastically within seconds. For the year 2021, be more intentional and take time out to pause and fuel your body so you can function.
- American Psychological Association (2020). Burnout definition. https://dictionary.apa.org/burnout