Modern life can be exceptionally fast paced. Work, family, personal relationships, everyday responsibilities — managing everything all the time can feel a lot like running at a speed your body and mind are not equipped to handle. When you hit a point in your job or life when everything feels too cumbersome and overwhelming, and you feel overly stressed or easily frustrated, you may be dealing with burnout.
Unfortunately, many people don’t recognize signs of burnout until they’re completely drained, finding it difficult to function and possibly facing threats to their mental health and well-being. Take a closer look at burnout, signs to watch for and how to navigate burnout below.
What Exactly Is Burnout?
Burnout is not a diagnosable condition, but it is very real, with a clear definition. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), burnout is a state of emotional and physical exhaustion that is often accompanied by a reduction in motivation, reduced quality of performance and even negative outlooks toward others or oneself.
Signs Burnout Is Coming
Most people don’t recognize burnout until they’ve crossed an invisible line. If you tend to stay busy all the time with work or otherwise, a sneak attack can slip in, but there are typically signs that can signal burnout ahead, such as:
- You feel exhausted more often than not.
- You feel underappreciated or undervalued.
- Most days feel like bad days.
- Most tasks that fill your time every day feel overwhelming or dull.
- You find yourself feeling increasingly cynical or helpless.
Signs and Symptoms of Burnout
The symptoms of burnout can start out subtly, but when overlooked, they can become more intense and harder to overcome. The symptoms can be emotional, physical or behavioral, and they don’t often dissipate or go away without conscious effort to rectify what may be causing the problem.
Emotional Burnout Symptoms
- Feelings of self-doubt or an overall sense of failure
- Feeling defeated or helpless
- Experiencing a severe loss of motivation
- Having a growing negative outlook
- Feeling alone or detached from others
- Experiencing a decrease in satisfaction
- Feeling like your efforts are in vain, or you’re not accomplishing anything
Physical Burnout Symptoms
- Recurrent headaches, muscle tension or physical pain
- Prolonged changes in sleep habits
- Drastic changes in appetite
- Getting sick more often
- Feeling drained and fatigued most days
Behavioral Burnout Symptoms
- Isolating yourself from other people
- Neglecting your usual responsibilities
- Acting out in frustration or anger
- Procrastinating to a severe degree
- Calling in or skipping work
- Using substances like alcohol or drugs to cope
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What Causes Burnout?
Burnout is often pinned on work stress or carrying too much for one person. However, any person who deals with prolonged pressure in any aspect of life can become overwhelmed and burned out. Certain personality traits can even contribute to burnout. For example, an individual with a generally pessimistic view or tendency to be a perfectionist may face a higher risk of burnout. Further, both work-related and lifestyle habits can contribute.
Work-Associated Burnout Causes
- Overly demanding expectations
- Working in an especially high-pressure environment
- Everyday work that feels unchallenging or monotonous
- Not being recognized or incentivized for good work
- Little control over your work or work-life balance
Lifestyle-Related Burnout Causes
- Lack of social support systems
- Not taking enough time for yourself to relax or enjoy downtime
- Not following a healthy sleep regimen
- Working too many hours or not having enough help at home
How to Overcome Burnout and Rediscover Your Balance
If you recognize signs of burnout, take a pause, evaluate your situation and factors that could be at play, and take action. Here are a few ways to regain some balance and help you overcome burnout:
- Evaluate Your Boundaries
Learn how to turn down extra hours at work, say no when friends or loved ones ask for your time and set boundaries. Sometimes, burnout comes from being far too overextended for one person.
- Tweak Your Social Support System
Bridge connections with other people, including coworkers, family members, friends or even support groups. Open up to people about how you’re feeling and how you may need support. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional at a mental health facility to discuss one-on-one counseling or group therapy if your personal support network is lacking.
- Be Mindful and Aware of Thought Processes
Sometimes, changes like switching jobs or getting rid of some responsibilities at home are not so straightforward or even possible. In these situations, practicing a more positive, more mindful approach to thought processes may help. For example, if you hate the responsibilities of your job, look for something that you can enjoy at work, such as spending time with coworkers.
- Take Care of Your Physical Health
Adjust your diet. Brush up on your sleep hygiene to make sure you’re getting enough rest. Also, make sure you have some time to yourself for exercise. These changes can positively influence energy levels and mood, which can make a huge difference in your everyday life.
- Spend Time Doing Something You Like
If you feel like work is dragging you down, it’s fine to be a little selfish and find time to do something you actually like. If you have a hobby you enjoy, set aside time to enjoy that hobby when you can.
Overcoming Burnout Means Taking Care of Your Mental Well-Being
Burnout may seem harmless, but it can also be a catalyst that puts your mental health at risk. If you are noticing a few red flags, it may be time to step back, evaluate and do what is necessary to address your emotional well-being. This may mean taking some time off, making lifestyle adjustments or even asking for help.