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May 6, 2022 • read
Don’t get burned out by burnout
Feeling burnt out? You’re not alone. Trying to manage daily stress, whether it’s related to work or your home life, can feel overwhelming, exhausting, and leave you drained. But feeling burnt out doesn’t mean you’re unable to deal with life’s challenges, it just means you’ve got too much on your plate at once and need to regroup. With the right coping mechanisms, you can take control of your life and overcome burnout.
What exactly is burnout?
Burnout is what happens when you’ve reached your limits mentally, emotionally, and physically. It may show up suddenly after a long week working long hours or finishing a sustained work sprint toward a big deadline. Most people aren’t strangers to stress and anxiety, but when these moments arise, you end up in new territories, unable to feel replenished or as if relief won’t come soon enough.
This is especially true if there’s a high level of stress over a prolonged period of time without respite or opportunities to recharge. Maybe you’ve been working on a big project that has taken up so much of your time other work responsibilities are piling up — not to mention everything else that needs your attention outside of work. On top of feeling stressed about this, your personal needs fall by the wayside. The reality is, you’re not a machine, nor should you be expected to be one. Sometimes, it can all become too much.
Simply put, burnout shows up when you’re exhausted due to excessive and prolonged stress. Some signs of burnout include feeling emotionally drained, cynical, empty, unmotivated, and unable to meet your daily demands. You may also feel an increase in irritability, notice increased conflict in your relationships, or feel like you want to crawl into your bed and never get out.
What can burnout do to your physical and mental health?
Constant burnout can make you more susceptible to physical illness, mental illness, or both. This means that persisting and pushing through while you’re experiencing burnout can cause more damage than you might think.
In fact, burnout increases your risk of cardiovascular disease as much as being overweight or smoking. Research shows that if you experience frequent work-related burnout, you’re at an increased risk of cortisol surges and dysfunction. This decrease in effective cortisol may lead to a disinhibited immune system, resulting in an increase of immune-inflammatory responses that can cause chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
Burnout can also put you at risk of getting sick more often — the last thing you need when you’re already having trouble staying on top of everything. Feeling mentally exhausted, not maintaining a proper diet, and not getting enough sleep can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to catching a cold or the flu.
When it comes to your mental health, burnout can make you feel emotionally exhausted, anxious, and depressed. However, there’s a fine line between depression and burnout. More often than not, burnout is work-related. Depression, on the other hand, involves negative thoughts and feelings about life, low self-esteem, or even suicidal thoughts.
And, to potentially complicate things even more, people with burnout don’t always have depression, but are at a higher risk of developing the mental health condition. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to avoid self-diagnosing, stay on top of your mental health, and speak with a mental health professional if you feel like you aren’t able to cope on your own.
How do you prevent burnout?
To make sure you’re at your best, take care of yourself with the following tips:
1. Know your limits – it’s normal to feel stressed or anxious on occasion. However, it’s not normal to feel constantly drained. Say “no” more often to avoid overextending or overcommitting yourself to more than what you’re able to do at the moment.
2. Pay attention to your body – what’s it saying to you? If you’re feeling exhausted, it’s important to check in and understand what’s going on. This could simply mean taking a day off and resting, or checking in with a doctor to make sure your health is in good order.
3. Sleep – for the average adult, that means between seven to nine solid hours of rest per night. This might sound like a tall order, but there are easily attainable things you can do to maintain good sleep hygiene.
4. Take satisfying timeouts – maybe you enjoy doing yoga or sitting and reading a book. Even if it’s as little as 30 minutes, take the time to do something that’s enjoyable and clear your head while you’re at it.
5. Spend time alone – this allows you to think clearly and focus on what’s really important to you. You’ll be able to make decisions without worrying about outside influences and really get to know yourself. And, if you’re going to spend some time alone, consider doing it in nature — studies have shown it can help improve cognitive flexibility and concentration.
6. Make time to socialize – connect with your family, friends, coworkers, or anyone else who brings positive energy into your life. While socializing might seem like one more thing on your to-do list, it’s a good mental break that can actually improve your overall health.
Burnout can affect anyone, which is why it’s so important to recognize the signs and take preventative measures. If you do feel that burnout is becoming too much for you to handle on your own, it may be time to speak with a mental health professional. Talk therapy with a mental health therapist gives you an outlet to relieve stress and can help you make positive changes.
Remember that you can’t do it all on your own and aren’t expected to. In the case of burnout, it’s okay to put yourself first— practicing self-care to avoid it might seem unusual at first, but you’ll likely notice how doing so can improve all other areas of your life.