Burnout: How to Understand and Tackle it
Burnout? What is that?
Burnout sucks. It is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and extended stress. It happens when you’re feeling overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.
Burnout reduces your productivity and zaps your energy, which can leave you feeling helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Tasks that you once felt you could easily tackle become extremely daunting. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.
These negative effects spill over into different areas of your life —including your home, work, and social life.
Don’t get me wrong, feeling the occasional stress is a normal part of life. Most of us have days when we feel helpless, overloaded, or unappreciated, BUT if you feel like this most of the time, you may be burned out.
It doesn’t happen instantaneously. Burnout is a gradual process. It creeps up on you. The signs and symptoms are subtle at first, but worsen as time goes on. Think of the early symptoms as red flags that something is wrong that needs to be addressed. If you pay attention and actively reduce your stress, you can prevent a major breakdown. If you ignore them, you’ll hit your wall and eventually burn out.
What are the common signs of burnout?
People affected by burnout may experience mental burnout, and present with some or all of the following psychological symptoms:
- Reduced performance and productivity
- Feeling listless
- Low mood
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lack of creativity
- Negative attitudes towards one’s coworkers or job
- Loss of purpose
- Quickness to anger
- Emotional numbness
Physical symptoms of burnout may include:
- Generalized aches
- Gastrointestinal disorders
- Difficulty sleeping and/or a disrupted sleep cycle
- Increased susceptibility to colds and flu
- Muscle tension
If you think you or someone you know might be experiencing burnout, don’t ignore it because it will not go away by itself. It can also cause long-term changes to your body that make you more vulnerable to illnesses and other health issues. Because of its many consequences, it’s important to deal with it ASAP.
To regain yourself, it’s imperative to understand that burnout is basically a state of depletion. In simpler terms — think of trying to drive home in a car without any gas. It doesn’t matter how much you’d like to get home, you won’t make it there without any fuel in your tank. Same goes for burnout. You can’t just magically overcome it by deciding to “get it together.” You need to replenish your resources and avoid further depletion. Many resources are essential for our performance and well-being, so it’s important to ensure you don’t completely drain them.
Try these steps to combat burnout:
Seek Support from Your Network
Even though you may be feeling things are bleak, reaching out to those in your support system can make all the difference.
Social contact is nature’s cure to stress and speaking with a good friend can prove to be one of the fastest ways to calm your nervous system and relieve stress. The person you talk to doesn’t have to be able to “fix” your problems; they just have to be a good listener. Pick someone who’ll listen without becoming distracted or make you feel worse. Sometimes, talking it out and getting some things off your chest is therapeutic.
Reach out to your nearest and dearest. Occasionally opening up won’t make you a burden to others. Most friends and loved ones will be flattered that you trust them enough to confide in them, and it will only strengthen your friendship.
Connect with a cause or a community group that is personally meaningful to you. Joining a religious, social, or support group can give you a place to talk to like-minded people about how to deal with daily stress—and to make new friends.
Look for new friends. If you don’t feel that you have anyone to turn to, it’s never too late to build new friendships and expand your social network.
See a therapist. If it’s within your means and/or you feel you prefer to discuss your issues with a professional, then go for it.
Reframe The Way You Look at Work
Have a job that leaves you feeling like you’re constantly buried under a never-ending pile of work or one that is monotonous and unfulfilling? The most effective way to fight job burnout is to quit and find something you love instead. Of course, this may not be a viable option. For many of us, changing jobs or careers isn’t a practical solution. Especially when you need something to pay those bills. Whatever your situation, though, there are still steps you can take to improve your state of mind.
Can’t quit? Try to find some value in your work. Make some lemonade out of those lemons! Even in some mundane jobs, you can often focus on how your role helps others. Do you provide a much-needed product or service? Focus on aspects of the job that you do enjoy, even if it’s just chatting with your coworkers at lunch. Changing your attitude towards your job can help you regain a sense of purpose and control.
Find some balance. If you hate your job, look for meaning and satisfaction elsewhere in your life: think your family, friends, hobbies, exercise, or volunteer work. Focus on the parts of your life that bring you happiness.
Be more social at work. Try developing friendships with the people you work with. Who can better relate than those in the trenches with you? For example, when you take a break, instead of immediately pulling out your phone, try connecting your colleagues. Having strong ties in the workplace can help reduce monotony and counter the effects of burnout. Having friends to chat and joke with during the day can help relieve stress from an unfulfilling or demanding job, improve your job performance, or simply get you through a rough day.
Take time off. If burnout seems inevitable, try to take a complete break from work. Go on vacation, use up your sick days, ask for a temporary leave-of-absence, anything to remove yourself from the situation. Use the time away to recharge your batteries and pursue other methods of recovery.
Reevaluate Your Priorities
Burnout is an undeniable sign that something important in your life is not working. Take time to think about your hopes, goals, and dreams. Are you neglecting something that is truly important to you? This can be a great opportunity to rediscover what really makes you happy and to slow down and give yourself time to rest, reflect, and heal.
Set boundaries. Don’t overextend yourself. Learn how to say “no” to things that drain you. If you find this difficult, remind yourself that saying “no” is taking care of yourself and will give you time and allow you to say “yes” to the commitments you want to make.
Limit your contact with negative people. Hanging out with negative-minded people who do nothing but complain will only drag down your mood and outlook. If you have to work with a negative person, try to limit the amount of time you spend together.
Take technology timeouts. Set a time each day when you completely disconnect. Put your phone down, step away from your computer, and stop checking email or social media.
Feed your creativity. Creativity is a powerful antidote to burnout. Try something new, start a fun project, or make time for that favorite hobby. Choose activities that have nothing to do with work or whatever is causing your stress. Do something that brings you joy.
Set aside time to relax. Do you like to exercise? Go for it! Need a massage? Book one. Your body will thank you. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing activate the body’s relaxation response, a state of restfulness that is the opposite of the stress response.
Get more sleep. Feeling tired and lack of rest can intensify burnout by causing you to think irrationally. Keep your cool in stressful situations by getting a good night’s rest.
Make Time for Exercise
Even though it may be the last thing you feel like doing when you’re burned out, exercise is great for stress and burnout. You already know that exercise is good for your body. But did you know it can also boost your mood, improve your sleep, and help you deal with depression, anxiety, stress, and more?
Aim to exercise for 30 minutes or more per day or break that up into short, 10-minute bursts of activity. Even taking a 10-minute walk can improve your mood for two hours.
Rhythmic exercise, where you move both your arms and legs, is a hugely effective way to lift your mood, increase energy, sharpen focus, and relax both the mind and body. Try walking, running, weight training, swimming, martial arts, or even dancing. Put your favorite jams on and shake that body.
To maximize stress relief, instead of continuing to focus on your thoughts, focus on your body and how it feels as you move: the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, for example, or the wind on your skin.
Want your exercise to be more productive? Get those chores done! Move in and around your home. Clean the house, wash the car, tend to the yard and garden, mow the lawn with a push mower, sweep the sidewalk or patio with a broom.
Need someone to help push you? Enlist the help of a personal trainer.
You don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits. Research indicates that modest amounts of exercise can make a real difference. No matter your age or fitness level, you can learn to use exercise as a powerful tool to deal with mental health problems, improve your energy and outlook, and get more out of life.
Improve Your Mood and Energy Levels with a Healthier Diet
What you fuel your body with can have a huge impact on your mood and energy levels throughout the day.
Minimize sugar and refined carbs. You may crave sugary snacks or comfort foods like mac and cheese or fries, but those fatty high-carbohydrate foods can quickly lead to a crash in mood and energy. Try reaching for more whole, unprocessed foods. They’ll even keep you feeling full longer and provide you with a more consistent level of energy.
Reduce your high intake of foods that can adversely affect your mood, such as caffeine, unhealthy fats, and foods with chemical preservatives or hormones.
Eat more Omega-3 fatty acids to give your mood a boost. The best sources are fatty fish (salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines), seaweed, flaxseed, and walnuts.
Avoid nicotine. Smoking when you’re feeling stressed may seem calming, but nicotine is a powerful stimulant, leading to higher, not lower, levels of anxiety.
Don’t be such a lush. Drink alcohol in moderation. Alcohol temporarily reduces worry, but too much can cause anxiety as it wears off. Also, I doubt a hangover would help your mood.
Remember, you must prioritize self-care. When you prioritize yourself — all parts of your life run better.