Bouncing Back from Burnout: A Comprehensive Guide
How often do you make offhand comments about being burned out from, well…life in general?
If stress seems never-ending and you’re compounded by feelings of boredom, chances are you’re experiencing burn out. Burnout is a stress condition that zaps all your energy, affects everyday tasks, can hurt otherwise healthy sleep habits, and make you feel like you have little or no control in your day to day life.
Burnout can lead to anxiety disorders, trouble with family members, and lead to extreme exhaustion, whether physical, mental, and emotional. Let’s explore more about the effect it has on your body, mind, and soul, and how you can bounce back from the “burn.”
What is burnout?
According to Psychology Today, burnout is “a state of physical, mental, and often emotional exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress. Though it’s most often caused by problems at work, it can also appear in other areas of life, such as parenting, caretaking, or romantic relationships.”
It’s a real emotion triggered by stress, and it’s pretty common, so know you’re not alone if you feel like you just want to walk away from a situation that feels unbearable.
It’s also something you can fight off mentally when the world feels like it’s closing in on you. Stress relief is possible.
Physical symptoms: How to know if you have burnout
If constant stress and a poor work life balance leaves you feeling helpless, disillusioned and completely exhausted you may be on the road to burnout. So, check in with your emotions.
HelpGuide says: “Burnout reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.”
When you have burnout, everything feels so overwhelming you stop caring and feel unappreciated. It’s scary and upsetting to feel this way. For your own sense of well being, it pays huge dividends to incorporate some self care practices into your lift to help overcome it.
Burnout spills over into every area of life and can affect your relationships and day-to-day function. Not to mention, since it’s a stress, it can affect your health and make you susceptible to illness that you can’t fight off easily because stress levels have weakened your immunity. It may even cause you to turn to junk foods and sugar to keep you “motivated.” Giving up on a healthy diet is not the best idea, as it can lead to a snowball effect that keeps you down.
But is it burnout?
Of course, we’re human. Most of us have days when we feel completely unappreciated, have too many responsibilities to handle, or feel exhausted and unmotivated simultaneously—but if you feel this way almost every single day, chances are, it’s burnout.
HelpGuide sheds some light on why burnout is a gradual process: “It doesn’t happen overnight, but it can creep up on you when you least express it. The signs and symptoms are subtle at first, but become worse as time goes on.” Sometimes it rears its head as a series of frequent illnesses, trouble in family life, frequent headaches – the list goes on. But you owe it to yourself to counter burnout any way you can. No one should feel overwhelmed all the time.
When you spot the early signs of burnout in advance, pay attention to them and work on reducing your stress levels immediately to prevent a major breakdown and clear your mind.
How to move past burnout and improve mental health
You truly can fight off depression and burnout—stay positive! And if you’re not sure where to start, it’s always possible to speak to an appropriate health care professional. They provide medical advice on a wide range of subjects, and burnout-related mental health issues definitely fall into the list.
Change your work vibe
If work is so stressful you dread it every single day, discuss with your boss ways you can reorganize tasks to make everything more manageable for you.
Work can be a huge component of burnout, but it’s entirely possible understanding co-workers can make it easier for you. Or, honestly, seek employment elsewhere. Maybe this burnout is a sign that it’s just time to move on, job-wise. Speak up at work and explain you’re feeling overwhelmed—or start job-hunting for something new and more fulfilling.
The power of “no”
Learn to say no. For some, saying NO is impossible because your instinct is to want to be kind and helpful. It may be one of the personality traits that you’re most proud of! Well, when stress levels consume your life, NO will be your new power word—embrace it.
Can you cover my shift tomorrow? “No, sorry.” Can you drive me to the airport at 6am? “NO, sorry.” You need your sleep after weeks of mental burnout – take care of yourself first. It’s the same concept as being in the airplane, and they instruct you (in the event of a crash) to put on your own oxygen mask first, then your child.
When your emotional immune system is feeling stronger, and when you’re feeling more like yourself, THEN you can start saying ‘yes’ again. But remember, prioritize yourself. Keep the word “no” in your back pocket – and use it frequently, until the stressful situations are more under control. It will help your underlying health conditions, and may even help prevent burnout.
Set boundaries and breaks (and stick to them) to avoid chronic stress
When the going gets tough…give yourself a break—literally. For example, devote a solid hour to do actual work, set a timer, and as soon as 60 minutes is up go for a brisk walk outside for 20 minutes before returning to your work environment. Chances are, you’ll feel rejuvenated, and some of your happier personality characteristics will start to re-emerge.
Or, if you work in a major city, schedule your lunch break around 3pm—a time when most people feel really sluggish—and commit to that ‘off’ time to browse shops for an hour or grab lunch at a local café. Really committing to breaks on zany days can provide pockets of happiness that help push you through when you’re experiencing burnout.
Ugh, how often do we try to do 12 different things in an hour? Too often! Multi-taking is a major stress and burnout trigger. Listen, let’s be real—you’re not a superhero. (Sorry…) When it comes to work, family, friends, bills, there’s only so many hours in the day. If you can’t get it all done in 12 hours…oh, well! There’s always tomorrow or the next day.
Congrats, you’re human, and it doesn’t mean you have a pessimistic outlook to acknowledge that you can’t do it all. Focus on tasks that take priority and sprinkle out everything else you need to tackle over the week. Watch your burnout level decrease once you delegate tasks to others, or remind yourself you can’t do it all in one day.
Nourish your relationships
Life is short. You never want to live with regrets. Think about those you cherish—spouse, kids, friends. These people have your heart, and they should take priority. Reminder yourself no matter how burned out you are, you love others, they love you back, and it’s a beautiful thing.
Instead of working overtime and stressing yourself out, focus on cultivating the real-life relationships you have. These special people make life worth living and enjoying—and remind you shouldn’t sweat the “small stuff.”
Adapt self-care routines
As you crawl out of your burnout hole by changing your schedule and frame of mind, don’t neglect yourself en route. Throw yourself back into hobbies that used to bring you joy, such as golfing, running, or even reading romance novels.
Perhaps treat yourself to a massage or facial or book a mini-vacation with a friend to restore some calm and peace within yourself and de-stress. Once you tap back into things that used to fulfill your life, everything else won’t seem so emotionally daunting. Also look into yoga or local fitness classes to get the body moving.
Consider changing your work location
If walking into an office is stressing you out, consider working remotely for a change of pace. Or, if it’s hard to work remotely because your family is constantly “in the way” and distracting you, consider returning to the office so you can focus better on work tasks.
If traffic is a huge morning stressor for you, consider carpooling with a co-worker to work instead of taking the bus or subway to work instead to “change things up.” These minor changes can mean so much for your psyche. Some New Yorkers even exit at a subway station NOT close to their office building so they can enjoy a 15-minute morning walk to their office, which gives them time to clear their minds, stress their legs, and get some sunlight before heading into work. These “little things” mean a lot in terms of handling burnout.
So many people experience burnout. It’s very common. Life throws us so many curveballs, especially at work, but you can push through the depression, exhaustion, and feelings of hopelessness by changing your schedule and attitude and being aware of your emotions. And if some of the tips and tricks above didn’t do the trick, never shy away from seeking professional medical advice from someone you trust.