If constant stress is making you feel overwhelmed, disengaged, and completely exhausted, you may be on a path to burnout. It’s important to know the signs, so you can prepare yourself and potentially avoid burnout. If you’re already on the brink of exhaustion, read on to discover how to regain your balance, reverse burnout, and feel like yourself again.
What Is Burnout?
Burnout is a condition that may lead to severe emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. This goes beyond the occasional feeling of stress or fatigue. People who are at risk for burnout may dread getting out of bed and feel like achievement is impossible.1,2
Some occupations are at a higher risk for burnout than others. Physician burnout for example, where health care workers battle long hours, high stress, and a fear of medical errors, is quite common.3 But anyone who is exposed to high amounts of stress can experience burnout.4
What Might Cause Burnout?
- Working in a high-pressure or chaotic environment.
- Feeling like you have little control over your work.
- Having a chronically heavy workload.
- Experiencing a lack of recognition or reward for a job well done.
- Unclear expectations.5
- Too much time spent at work away from friends or family.
- A lack of supportive relationships at work or home.
- Taking on too many responsibilities (without enough help from others).
- Not getting enough sleep.
- Having a high-achieving, perfectionist personality.6
Signs Of Burnout
When you’re in the middle of something, it can be hard to see the forest for the trees. Here are some warning signs that the stress you feel may be pushing you to the brink of burnout.
- Exhaustion, physically, emotionally, or mentally. You feel overwhelmingly tired for no good reason.
- Lack of motivation. You don’t feel enthusiastic about anything anymore, including things that used to excite you about your work.
- You feel disengaged or checked out. When you’re feeling burned out, you unplug from the things that used to give you energy.
- You’re having trouble sleeping. It’s hard to get a good night’s sleep even though you feel tired. You may be mulling over work issues that are causing stress, or you just can’t sleep.
- Increased cynicism or pessimism. Your feeling of enthusiasm for work is gone, and now everything seems to rub you the wrong way.
- Irrational anger or stress. If small issues are provoking a strong emotional reaction, you may be feeling burnt out.
- Difficulty concentrating. Burnout and chronic stress may cause you to have “tunnel vision” on the things that are bothering you or causing stress. This may make it difficult to focus on other things.
- You’re getting sick more frequently. Stress may make you feel temporarily energized. But once that wears off, you may crash. The result can be a weakened immune system that makes you more susceptible to everything from colds and flus to heart palpitations.
- Relationship problems at home and at work. When you’re feeling the effects of emotional exhaustion, your relationships may suffer. You may become more combative. You may also withdraw, talking to your coworkers or loved ones less.
- You may form (or fall back on) some unhealthy habits. Stress can spark unhealthy habits like excessive drinking, smoking, poor diet, and a lack of sleep. If you notice you’re starting to slip in these areas, it may be time to look for solutions.7,8,9
The Effects Of Burnout
Prolonged stress can trigger your body’s fight or flight stress response. When this happens, your body releases hormones like adrenaline, vasopressin, and cortisol. These hormones can have wide-ranging effects on your physical and mental health and well-being.10,11
Potential Effects On Your Physical Health
Extended exposure to stress may lead to:
- Blood sugar issues
- Hair loss
- Heart health issues
- Thyroid issues
- Problems with weight and obesity
- Sexual dysfunction
- Tooth and gum issues12,13
Potential Mental And Psychological Effects
If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work all of the time, you may eventually see some of these symptoms:
- Sleeping issues
- Low mood
- Extreme stress14
Potential Effects On Your Job Performance
The stress of workplace burnout may also affect your performance at work. These are some of the known potential effects of burnout on your job:
- Job dissatisfaction
- Absenteeism and a taking an increased number of sick days15
- Decreased cognitive functioning, including a disruption in creativity and problem solving16
How To Prevent And Reverse Burnout When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed
When you’re burnt out, it can be hard to muster up the energy to make changes that may make you feel better. If you can, try to prevent burnout before it happens by using the following tips. If you’re already in the throes of burnout, you can still take steps to reverse it. Here are some tips for preventing and reversing burnout.
Reach Out To Others
If you’re feeling stressed, spending time with others may help. You may find it helpful to vent about your stress. You may also try to forget about your stress and enjoy a positive time with your loved ones without thinking about work. Here are some other ideas for reaching out:
- Be more social with your coworkers.
- Reach out to positive people and try to limit time with negative people.
- Connect with a cause or group that is meaningful to you.
- Try to develop new friendships, especially if you are feeling lonely.
- Help other people to forget about your own stress for a while.17
Set Clear Boundaries
When work starts to seep into all areas of your life, burnout can set in. One way to prevent or potentially reverse this is to set clear boundaries. This can help strengthen work-life balance. Here are a few ideas:
- No meetings on Fridays.
- No email after 6 PM.
- No new clients if you already have a full roster.
The boundaries you decide to set will be specific to your own work life. The important thing is to identify where things seem out of balance and set a boundary.18
Understand Your Own Strengths And Weaknesses
You may be more likely to stay engaged at work if you’re doing something you’re good at. If your job doesn’t make the most of your talents, you may find yourself checking out. If you’re asked to spend a lot of time doing tasks you don’t excel at, you may become discouraged.
If you’re not sure what you’re good at, assess your own skills or ask a trusted boss or coworker for feedback. You can use this knowledge to identify areas for growth, set new goals, and develop your strengths further.19
Keep Up Healthy Habits
You likely know what makes you feel good: exercise, eating healthy, and getting plenty of sleep. Each of these healthy habits may help you deal with stress and feel better.20,21,22 Unfortunately, when you’re feeling burnt out, these may be the very things that you start to slip on.
If you’ve slumped in your healthy habits, try to get back on track by re-committing to a healthy lifestyle. Do what you know will make you feel good, even if you’re tempted to sit on the couch and binge on Netflix instead.23 Here are some ideas for healthy habits that will make you feel good:
- If you smoke, try to quit.
- Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day.
- If you drink alcohol, quit or reduce your intake to moderate levels.
- Eat a high quality diet.24
Find Meaning In Your Work
Finding your “why” may help you stay motivated at work. If you are connected to the purpose of your work and you believe you’re making a difference, you might be less likely to burn out. Sure, you may still feel stress from time to time, but finding meaning may help you see the bigger picture.25
If you can, try to look at your job responsibilities and identify the ones that you find meaningful. Is it possible to shift things around so you work on those more? Can you introduce new tasks or projects that you’re excited about? Work with your boss (or yourself, if you’re your own boss) to craft a better situation for yourself.
Seek Out Creative Outlets
Even if you don’t have a “creative” job, finding a way to be creative in or out of the office may help you stay engaged and motivated.26 Consider pitching some new ideas at work. If that’s out of the question, why not take that painting class or guitar lesson you always meant to try?
Take A Vacation And Unplug
If you feel like you’re on the brink of burnout, see if you can step away before your stress levels escalate. Taking a few days off to clear your head may help give you some perspective.27
The Final Straw: Consider A Change
If you’re in a position where you constantly feel out of control, bullied, overwhelmed, and cynical, the best course of action may be to leave that job. Quitting likely won’t be your first response, but if you’ve tried other strategies to no avail, find a job that better aligns with your needs might be worth considering.
To help you make the best decision possible, ask yourself the following questions:
- Can you be the best version of yourself at your job?
- Does your job line up with your values?
- What does the future look like at your current job? Are you moving toward something desirable?
- How is your stress and burnout affecting you physically and mentally?28
You may find that you can make your current job work with a few changes. On the other hand, you might decide that your health is being affected and pursuing something different is the best option. Only you can make that decision. No matter what you decide, be sure to take the signs of burnout seriously and take action.
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