Elena couldn’t remember when it all started. The exhaustion, lack of motivation, irritability and general disregard for what she used to find important in life.
When at work, Elena noticed she couldn’t concentrate and felt very scattered. She had very little interest in the work that previously mattered to her. While at home, her irritability and cynical attitude were affecting her relationship with friends and loved ones.
In the back of her mind, Elena thought she may be experiencing depression, but what she didn’t realize was her depression was a symptom of burnout caused by high levels of chronic stress.
Signs of Burnout
Burnout is the mental, physical and emotional exhaustion that can occur because of an extended period of excessive stress. With stress, you are often aware you have a lot of stress, but if you experience burnout, you are not always aware of when it occurs.
Signs of burnout include:
- Mental and/or physical exhaustion
- Muscle pain
- Feeling helpless or trapped
- Loss of motivation
- Reduced sense of satisfaction or accomplishment
- Detachment or feeling numb
- Negative or cynical attitude
- Withdrawing from people and responsibilities
- Using food, drugs or alcohol to cope
- Increased irritability
- Self-doubt or feelings of failure
- Sleep and appetite changes
- Calling in sick or leaving work early
- Don’t care about things you used to care about
It is important to recognize the warning signs. Burnout from chronic stress is avoidable and reversible. The following steps can help:
- Fix work/life balance issues. Spend time identifying issues with your work/life balance. If you find yourself working long hours, coming in on the weekends or feeling overwhelmed regularly, you may need to establish or revise your work boundaries. By speaking to your boss, you can communicate about your work challenges as well as determine which tasks are truly a priority and which can be done at a later time.
- Improve nutrition. Your body is like a high performance racecar. What goes in directly affects how you perform. Improving your nutrition won’t just help improve your physical health, but also your mental health as well.
- Get active. Studies have shown that exercise improves mood. Moving your body decreases levels of stress, anxiety and depression. Getting active doesn’t require you run a half marathon. A short walk or housecleaning will help you gain the mood benefits.
- Make time to rest and relax. Relaxation is just as important as hard work. In today’s too busy culture, it is increasingly hard to find time to rest and relax. However, without rest and relaxation, you won’t be able to live a well-rounded life.
- Laugh and have fun. If you are suffering from burnout, odds are you are not spending much time, if any, having fun and laughing. It is important you find ways to have fun. There’s no doubt that life is serious, but living without fun and laughter makes life very unpleasant.
- Volunteer. Helping others turns the focus from you onto others and makes you feel good. When you volunteer you are not only helping others, you are helping lift your mood in the process.
- Avoid negative people. The old adage misery loves company applies to burnout. Toxic friends, family and coworkers won’t help you improve your situation. Commiserating with these people may feel better in the moment, but the negative effects will make you feel worse in the end. It is better to avoid the lure of going down the negative path knowing each time you do you get closer to improving your burnout.
- Work on healthy friendships. Spending time with people that make you feel good is important when you are dealing with burnout. Positive social connections lift mood.
- Speak to someone. Whether it is a good friend, spouse, partner, therapist or coworker, it can be a relief to verbalize how you are feeling. Just speaking to someone about how you feel can help you better understand what is going on with your situation.
- Reframe. It is easy to get stuck in a negative mindset about a situation. However, there are multiple ways to look at a situation. By reframing your situation, you are changing the context of your thoughts to work better for you. One in which you don’t feel so stuck or discouraged but empowered and capable.
- Set boundaries. Healthy boundaries are essential in life. By developing or modifying boundaries at work and in your personal life, you are helping others know how to treat you and where your limits exist.
- Enjoy creative pursuits. Relaxation can also come from creative pursuits. When you spend time working and focusing on enjoyable creative activities, you come away with a positive experience and improved mood.
- Get enough sleep. Sleep is important. Several studies have shown the ill effects of reduced sleep, including poor mood. Sleep is restoring and by getting enough, you can help improve not only your health but well-being.