Living and working in a state of burnout has become the norm in our society. Sadly it’s so common that we fail to recognize the signs. We barely even notice anything is wrong. Stress and exhaustion are now a way of life. Yet, we are making a serious mistake than can have severe consequences.

What does it mean to be “burned out?”

Burnout is a state of overwhelming exhaustion; mental, emotional and physical. It can be caused by work pressures, lifestyle factors, even certain personality traits. It’s more than everyday stress. Burnout is characterized by overpowering, unrelenting stress over a long period. The mind and body are so beaten down that simple daily functioning seems like an overwhelming burden.

Being burned out has a tremendous impact on both your physical health and mental well-being. As the extreme stress continues, the result is often life altering illness, depression, and a pervasive sense of extreme failure. Essentially, there is nothing left to give and the body starts shutting down.

Beware the warning signs of burnout

The first step is being aware of the warning signs that signal burnout. We frequently dismiss or rationalize them away. We are just dedicated to our jobs, honoring our commitments, or being a good parent, child, or friend. Those are merely our justifications so that we can go on doing what we’ve been doing.
We need to pay attention to the signs.

Mental signs:

• A pervasive sense of failure and self-doubt

• Feeling helpless, incompetent and defeated

• Loss of motivation and interest in your job, hobbies or family

• A very negative, irritable and impatient attitude

• Lack of a sense of satisfaction and any feelings of accomplishment

• Feeling detachment and distant from the rest of the world

• Experiencing a vicious cycle of overwhelm while the world is crashing around you

• Frequent distraction and an inability to focus or be engaged in a conversation.

• A feeling of pushing yourself harder with no results

• A pattern of memory loss, forgetting where you put things or what you are doing

Physical signs:

• Extreme exhaustion and lack of energy, feeling completely drained

• Loss of appetite, interest in intimacy or insomnia

• An increase in sickness or a general feeling of unexplained illness

• Frequent headaches, back and neck pain, muscle and joint aches

Behavioral signs:

• Calling in sick for work, being late, even quitting or getting fired from your job

• Increase in conflicts both in the workplace and at home

• A general lack of self-care, skipping meals, poor eating habits, sometimes even a change in personal hygiene

• Self-imposed isolation and diminished quality of relationships

• Extreme procrastination and lack of responsibility

• Abusing alcohol, drugs, or food as a way to cope with life

What can you do?

• When you see the warning signs; pay attention. Realize that is necessary to make some changes, possibly drastic ones, depending on the causes and severity of burnout. If you don’t take steps to recover, the damage will only continue to get worse and it will be harder to avoid burnout.

• Allow more time for rest and relaxation. This may be anything from an extended vacation to a commitment to at least one day of rest each week, to negotiating less work hours.

• Adopt a more balanced lifestyle. Spend more time with people you love. Allow more time to have fun, express your creative side, and engage in activities you enjoy.

• Protect your boundaries. Say no to demands on your time by others, decrease outside commitments, and regularly disconnect from technology; phone computer, etc. The world will survive without you.

• Make it a priority to get more sleep, eat a healthier diet, and engage in regular exercise.

• Time alone is a must. Whether it’s journaling, meditation, reading, taking a walk or simply sitting quietly for a short period of time each day, you need to slow the mind and calm the body.

Conclusion

Learning how to manage stress is critical when you’re on the path to burnout. It is much easier to avoid burnout, than to recover from it.

(Photo credit: Low-key portrait of desperate office manager via Shutterstock)

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