Years ago, I was overloaded with work during an already heavy holiday season. Then I found out I was going to be a father and every ounce of my free time vanished into a fiery pit of stress and anxiety.
It was an exciting time but also a time where I pushed my body and mind to its breaking point on a daily basis. Eventually, I just burned out.
To this day I swear I had a panic attack. I had some recurring anxiety, and I know the symptoms and how it’s typically described, but I don’t know for sure if it was or not. Regardless of whether it was, I felt my mind, body, and heart do something that day that told me something was very, very wrong.
That was a clear sign that I had gone too far and needed to pull back a bit. I’m grateful because things could have gotten a lot worse before I realized they needed to get better.
It’s important that you don’t lie to yourself. If you lie to yourself, you end up with burnout.
– Patrick Pichette
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you or someone you know is also at risk of burning out and you’re starting to think that something is wrong. But how do you know for sure?
Fortunately, there are warning signs you can look for that can help you catch yourself before things get really bad.
Here are the most important to watch out for:
1. You’re severely exhausted
Being tired is normal. Sometimes, you don’t get a good night’s sleep. Others, an unexpected occurrence puts you under a little extra stress.
However, if your body is aching in places it never has, you feel really worn down as you go about your day, or you’re so exhausted that you crash every night without even realizing you fell asleep — then wake up feeling like you hadn’t slept a wink — that’s a dangerous sign that you’re about to burn out.
2. You anger easily
One of the easiest signs to look out for when it comes to burnout is your emotional state. When you’re close to burnout you’re emotionally in shambles. You’re quick to anger and snap at your loved ones even when they haven’t done anything wrong (because they tend to be easy targets), you get frustrated more easily while trying to perform certain tasks, and you complain more.
Keep an eye out for all of these symptoms because they’re a sign that you’re completely imbalanced and likely to tip over if you continue to push yourself so hard.
3. Your concentration goes haywire
Are you finding it almost impossible to concentrate on one thing for more than a few minutes at a time?
Short attention spans are more common now given the way we’ve conditioned ourselves with smart devices, however, an incredibly short and impulsive attention span, one that feels almost painfully fidgety, can be another sign of burning out.
4. There’s a drop in your performance
Sometimes, you don’t notice anything different about yourself, particularly if you haven’t developed much self-awareness.
It’s hard to notice small changes in ourselves. I didn’t notice anything different before I became burnt out and you might not either. Because of this, you should have some other way of gauging your well-being.
The best way to do this is to make sure that you’re tracking your performance each week. If you’re tracking your performance, you can see clearly when you start to slip. This will cause you to turn inward and think about what’s different, making you more aware of what’s going on within you.
5. Your relationships are suffering (only short, shallow interactions)
Another way to look outside of yourself to catch burnout is by looking at your relationships.
When was the last time you took your partner out on a date? What was the last time you took a weekend with your kids? How is communication with your family? What have you talked about lately, anything deep or only short, shallow conversations?
These are all things you can look out for that will serve as ancillary to the primary symptoms mentioned thus far.
What to do about burnout
So, you think you’re getting burned out. If you’ve noticed some of the above signs, what can you do to fix the problem before you fall off the edge?
Fortunately, that’s pretty simple. However, treating the symptoms and treating the illness are two different things.
Treating the symptoms — exhaustion, emotional instability, lack of focus — can be done with a variety of tools. Some of those include:
If you’re overworking yourself, you can continue with mostly the same work ethic while simply giving yourself a bit of time to relax here and there and get by okay. However, you’ll likely still run your mental and physical health into the ground eventually because you haven’t worked through the illness.
As touched on earlier, the illness is the belief that you don’t deserve to stop. You believe you haven’t accomplished enough, you’re not where you want to be, so you continue to push yourself unwilling to allow any rest.
More important than anything else, you need to get over this misconception. The most productive people on Earth have been that way for decades (Warren Buffett is a great example of this). They’re able to maintain such a high level of performance indefinitely because they maintain a kind of holistic balance.
You’ll find that if you take care of yourself a little better you can get far more out of yourself, not just in terms of time and physical exertion but also creativity, focus, and problem-solving ability as well. Adopt some new activities that allow you to recharge regularly but also pay attention to your mind and body to make necessary adjustments over time.
For me (and many others), burnout was a gift. It showed me the error of my ways and the whole thing was a big enough jolt to my being that it compelled me to make a change — a change that lasted.
It’s easy to tell someone to slow down and take care of themselves. However, when you’re full-throttle steeped in your work it’s usually because you’ve convinced yourself that it’s the only way — the only way to reach your career goals, keep your job, etc.
It’s for this reason that we so often burn out. We’ve literally convinced ourselves that it’s necessary to get where we want to go.
But it’s never necessary to kill yourself for productivity. In fact, working in this way makes you less productive not just now but over time as well (aside from lowering your life span and causing you to be less happy…).
The land of burnout is not a place I ever want to go back to.
If you’ve felt burnt out at work lately, no matter how severe it’s gotten, there’s a lot you can do to bring balance at work and recenter yourself, so you can not only recover but establish healthier habits moving forward.
Take a leave – now
Stop working — what an ingenious solution (half-joke). Sarcasm aside, real burnout is serious and requires an extraordinary period of rest so you can reset yourself.
This isn’t treating the problem long-term but it’s all about doing what you need to handle the issue now. You need to respect yourself enough to know when it’s time for a break and be able to bring yourself to stop.
For most of you, you’ll have to make a case to your employer to get some time off (unless, of course, you’ve never used your sick days). Make a list of the ways that your performance has suffered and how it’s affecting your ability to do your job now and make a case for how a few days off will allow you to reset and come back stronger than before.
Establish a system for recharging
You’ll hear all kinds of tips out there: meditate, walk, run, do some other sort of exercise, some you enjoy, read a good book, get a massage, etc. These are all great things to do now to help the issue, however, if you don’t make any of these “releases” a regular part of your routine and prioritize them then you’ll just end up right back where you started.
There are the obvious points: get enough sleep, stick to a set sleeping pattern, eat better, etc. However, you should also have a set block of time which you devote to recharging yourself regularly.
Test a few things out and find the activity that really clicks with you. There are several different types of meditation so don’t think it doesn’t work for you until you’ve tried a few different methods: Vipassana meditation, Zen, TM (transcendental meditation), etc.
The same goes for exercise. Don’t just go running to your local 24-Hour Fitness, get bored, and call it a night. There are a lot of different ways to exercise that you might find enjoyable such as swimming, martial arts, or running in nature (the setting plays a big part when running, a treadmill is pretty boring).
Find something that really works for you and actually schedule it in. Make it a part of your week or each day and stick to it. If you start to get bored, switch it up and find something else. Never just let this block of time go, keep it up over time, whether it’s one activity or another.
Step back and reassess your workload
I consider myself a pretty ambitious person, so if you cringe at the thought of this, I understand how you probably felt when you read this point.
Just because you burnt out doesn’t mean you have to take on less responsibility or pull back long-term, but it might.
If you’re like me, the best way to look at this is that it’s temporary. Sometimes, we try to take on too much too quickly and kill ourselves figuratively in the process. It’s not that you can’t take it, you just might have taken on too much responsibility too soon.
If you’re a business owner, you might have the inclination to do everything yourself. Your problem is different. You can do everything yourself but you really should be hiring out and delegating tasks. You need to bring yourself to be okay with doing this.
Whatever the case is for you, you might need more than just a few days leave time. Consider taking a step back for now or getting help and work your way back up to where you want to be when you feel you can handle it.
And open up to others about what you’re going through
People often overlook the power of connecting with another human being. We think that what we’re going through is unique and entirely unknown to others. It’s the complete opposite.
Whatever you’re going through, there are millions of people all around the world experiencing exactly what you are. But you don’t need those millions of people, you just need one.
Chances are, a friend, family member, or colleague is or has gone through what you’re going through (or something like it, enough to understand) or there’s a local group you can attend to connect with others.
It really doesn’t matter who it is as long as they have compassion for what you’re going through. If they understand, they’ll be able to comfort you — knowing that you’re not alone is powerful — and give you enough clarity to see where you need to go from there.
- 4 Sacrifices Successful People Make to Achieve Greatness
- How Hardworking Entrepreneurs Fight Burnout and Depression – and How You Can Too
- How to Avoid the Perils of Caregiver Burnout (and Why You Must)