How to Tell if You’re Experiencing Burnout and 8 Ways To Get Out of the Burnout Cycle

We’ve heard a lot about burnout the last few years. Especially in conversations revolving around The Great Resignation. Was the pandemic the main trigger to our sudden revelation of burnout?

I can’t speak for everyone, but when faced with the possibility of mortality a lot of the daily bullshit that once seemed to play a major roll in life suddenly felt ridiculously unimportant. Once you’re shown the light of what truly matters in life it’s pretty hard to regain even a slight amount of care for monotonous living. We’re expected to over preform at work, have a side hustle, and be social- all while taking care of ourselves/ families and enjoying life. Of course we’re exhausted and on the brink of a collective burnout.

While we can’t just quit going to work and preforming lackluster tasks that make the world run, we can decrease our chances of burnout. Simple mindset and lifestyle changes can help to combat the symptoms of burnout and get us out of the cycle of chronic stress that causes burnout- leaving us with more room to truly enjoy the important things in life.

What is Burnout?

Psychology Today refers to burnout as a condition that happens more specifically in an occupational context, but awareness around lifestyle burnout has been more recognized in the last few years. Burnout doesn’t just happen overnight. Burnout happens when chronic stress in the workplace or personal life is not properly managed. It’s the result of extended exhaustion and physical/ emotional stress caused by feelings of being overwhelmed, overworked, or underappreciated.

Burnout vs. Stress

Burnout might sound similar to being stressed out but they are two very different conditions. In fact, burnout is caused by a prolonged cycle of stress. With stress you may feel a sense of heightened urgency and hyperactive emotions with a feeling that you’re drowning in responsibilities. When you’re experiencing stress you can generally see a light at the end of the tunnel once tasks are completed- you’re still pretty hopeful about work and life.

Stress is a normal part of life, it’s actually a healthy occurrence in small doses. Our body needs a certain amount of stress to function and survive in fight or flight mode. Burnout on the other hand is not a normal part of life. It’s a serious condition that can lead to clinical depression. Once you reach a point of burnout you become disengaged and hopeless. Burnout causes you to lose motivation and creates a feeling of being completely drained- sometimes making life seem like it’s not worth living.

What Causes Burnout at Work?

  • Working in a high pressure profession
  • Having an overly demanding job or boss
  • Feeling as if you have little to no control over your work
  • Working in a chaotic environment
  • Work that feels unchallenging or monotonous
  • Lack of recognition or reward for hard work

What Causes Lifestyle Burnout?

  • Lack of adequate sleep
  • Not setting personal boundaries
  • Taking on too many responsibilities
  • Overworking without time to enjoy family, friends, and hobbies
  • Not having a strong support system or social relationships

What are the Symptoms Associated with Burnout?

Becoming aware of warning signs and symptoms associated with burnout is the first step to healing. According to the Mayo Clinic many symptoms associated with burnout relate to other mental health conditions like depression. If you are experiencing the following symptoms it’s important you speak to a therapist for further guidance.

Lack of Motivation

We all experience days in which we just don’t feel motivated from time to time, but burnout takes loss of motivation to another level. When experiencing burnout it almost feels impossible to motivate yourself to complete even the simplest tasks. Procrastination is common and it takes much longer than usual to complete work. You may begin to lose the motivation to even show up for work and start showing up late, leaving early, or not showing up at all. If you’re experiencing burnout in your personal life you may begin to withdraw from personal responsibilities like cleaning, self-care, and caring for loved ones.

Increased Isolation

Those experiencing burnout often feel extremely overwhelmed. This sense of constant overwhelm may result in losing the desire to socialize with others. Being around co-workers, friends, or family may begin to feel draining and unenjoyable. This increased isolation can begin to cause feelings of loneliness or hopelessness.

Frequent Cynical Thoughts & Pessimism

If you were once a friendly, optimistic, and overall positive person that’s suddenly become cranky and cynical to generally everything in life you may be experiencing burnout. Mental health issues that aren’t properly treated have the ability to change one’s entire personality. When you’re in the middle of burnout you can find the negative in everything or everyone. Be mindful of your thoughts and how you’re speaking to others. Has it increasingly become pessimistic or cynical lately?

Changes in Sleep

Studies show those with burnout have significantly higher levels of insomnia and less restorative sleep than others. Whole the person may feel physically and mentally exhausted the chronic stress related to burnout causes an inability to fall or stay asleep.

Digestive Issues

Because the gut is connected to the nervous system, gastrointestinal issues are often associated with chronic stress conditions like burnout. Physical symptoms like bloating, nausea, constipation and diarrhea may show up in more often in those experiencing burnout.

Frequent Headaches & Muscle Pain

When the body is under a state of prolonged stress physical symptoms like headaches and muscle pain are common. Excessive tension on the muscles can cause neck and back pain. Headaches and back pain have also been associated with those who experience insomnia or irregular sleep- often common with burnout.

Lowered Immunity

Have you been getting sick a lot more often? When the body is in a constant state of stress the immune system takes a hit. The body produces hormones under stress that negatively impact T cells in the body. These are the main cells responsible for fighting off illness.

Changes In Appetite: Weight Gain or Loss

Burnout can cause loss of appetite or over eating by emotionally eating. Even if you haven’t noticed changes in eating habits weight changes are a common sign of burnout. Too much chronic stress can cause hormonal changes resulting in weight loss or gain. Women are especially prone to weight gain under stress due to increased levels of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol results in weight gain particularly in the belly area even if changes to diet haven’t occurred.

How to Stop Burnout

The easiest way to stop burnout is to take action as soon as possible. Lifestyle changes and mental health professionals can help you get out of the cycle of chronic stress that causes burnout.

Become Aware of Your Stressors

The first step is to become aware of what’s triggering your burnout. You may know that work is the primary cause of your burnout, but what exactly is it about work that’s the main contributor? You may not be able to completely avoid specific stressors, but recognizing what they are can help you better approach the situation.

Try writing down what’s triggering your burnout. Once you have a visual of the specific causes ask yourself- Can I change my perspective of this trigger? Can I set more boundaries to eliminate some of the stress surrounding this situation? Do I need to speak up about a particular situation? It can be much easier to create plan of action or resolution when you can physically see in writing what’s causing the distress.

Create a Support System

Who are your biggest supporters in life? It’s common to self isolate when experiencing burnout, but some of your closest friends and family may be your biggest supporters to help you get through burnout. Talk to your support system about what’s causing burnout. They may have some valuable insight from an outsiders perspective.

Strong social relationships play a huge role in mental health. Take your mind off what’s causing your burnout by enjoying time with friends and family. Try setting aside time each week to have a meal or coffee with someone in your support system.

Speak to a Therapist

Burnout is a serious condition that can lead to other mental health issues like clinical depression. Working with a therapist can help you work through existing burnout and reduce the chances of it turning into a more serious illness.

Practice Sleep Hygiene

Get serious about your bedtime routine to help alleviate some of the stress that comes with burnout. Sleep is one of the body’s natural medicines. During sleep your body works to heal and rejuvenate cells.

Some tips to practice better sleep hygiene include: setting a strict bedtime, putting away mobile devices an hour before bed, taking the tv out of your bedroom, and sleeping in complete darkness. Try drinking some herbal tea like passionflower or valerian root to induce a natural calming effect before bed.

Exercise Regularly

Exercising regularly isn’t just about getting fit. It plays a big role in mental health and helps the body handle stress. Working out also releases feel good hormones in the brain to help combat mental illness. You don’t have to hit the gym everyday, but aim to workout 3-4 days a week for at least 30 minutes.

For tips on starting a workout routine without hitting the gym read my previous post Getting Fit At Home: The Best Methods for Staying Healthy Without a Gym Membership

Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries in all areas of life helps to alleviate feelings of stress and overwhelm. It can be hard to say no for many of us, especially in the workplace, but this practice ensures you’re not taking on more than you can handle. When you’ve already got a lot on your plate vocalize to your supervisor that taking on another task may negatively impact the quality of what you’re currently working on. If you’re working in a chaotic environment and have an office try shutting your door more often.

Have a sincere conversation with your boss about what is going on at work that’s negatively impacting your mental health. Often times supervisors aren’t actively trying to create a toxic environment, they simply don’t know that you’re in such distress. Speaking up helps bring awareness to them and may help you more than you think.

Prioritize What Makes You Happy

When you aren’t busy with work or personal responsibilities try prioritizing what truly fills you with joy. It may be a hobby like gardening, hiking or art. Whatever it is spend as much free time as you have enjoying these areas of life. Spending time doing what you love is a reminder that life isn’t all about work or responsibilities, it’s something to be cherished and enjoyed. If you don’t have a hobby try finding something you love. Spend time exploring by taking an art class, or seeing a live show, learn a new skill like salsa dancing or archery. The point of this exercise is to remember how to truly live again.

Take a Break

Take a few vacation days even if you don’t travel anywhere. Taking a week off from time to time helps to rejuvenate your mind and body. If you can’t take a whole week try a long weekend every now and then. Your life does not revolve around work and without proper self care you’ll be useless to your boss and company. A mental health vacation may be exactly what you need to change your perspective of what’s causing burnout.

The Last Resort

In extreme cases of burnout you may try everything to get out of the cycle, worked with a therapist and made lifestyle changes but nothing seems to help. This could possibly be a situation where you’re in a toxic environment. If this is the case the last resort may be to make a life changing decision like finding a new job or career. Before making a huge decision that will impact your life make sure you’ve taken all precautions. Set a plan of action into place before taking that leap. Leaving what’s familiar can be a scary thing, but sometimes it’s the best choice for your mental health.

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