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Last Updated on December 18, 2020

I Survived Burnout More Than a Few Times, and Here’s What I Learned

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I Survived Burnout More Than a Few Times, and Here’s What I Learned

Burnout used to be like an old wild and disruptive friend who would show up in my life at the most unlikely times. One summer in particular when I was on a vacation with my family, I was a wreck. I couldn’t enjoy my time with my husband and daughter who were soaking up the sun, swimming, and enjoying their free time. I, however, could only see life through a very negative lens and spent more time brooding than playing. In the weeks and months leading up to that vacation, I had worked myself to the bone, was feeling under pressure on some personal family matters, and hit the proverbial wall. I had nothing left in my engine for myself or anyone else.

Burnout is a regular visitor to my life as I always step in to help others

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the first time burnout showed up. A hard worker and high achiever dating back to elementary school, my primary focus was on achieving at all costs. I am also a caregiver by nature feeling the need to step in and help when others need help. Through law school and then working in the nonprofit sector, I would work and work and work ignoring my building stress until I flamed out.

On that particular vacation though, I finally grew tired of burning out. Because after I came home, I decided to do something different. I decided I was tired of hitting the burnout wall and instead wanted to figure out how to avoid it the next time around.

In time, I came to learn the early warning signs of burn out and how to face it off before it took over. And here is what I learned.

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The fine line between “stressed” and “burned out”

Burnout happens when you are under excessive and prolonged stress. People are often able to respond to short bursts of pressure and demand without much trouble. But when that pressure continues day after day without a break, the stress can mound and potentially become burnout.

Importantly, you can be stressed but not burned out.

When you are stressed you are facing a lot of different pressures both mentally and physically but even still you can imagine getting things under control. On the other hand, if you have burnout, you are feeling empty, a lack of motivation, and don’t see a hope of positive change. Burnout is when you begin to detach and feel cynical or ineffective.

You may not recognize burnout when it’s right in front of you

We often think “burnout” looks like someone who is so incapacitated they are unable to work. Burnout doesn’t have to look so extreme. You can continue to work when you have burnout but instead feel every day at work is a bad day. You could be feeling disinterested in your work or maybe even depressed by it. You could feel overwhelmed by responsibilities and turn to distracting activities like drinking or social media.

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The most common sign of burnout is when your stress is so high you start to see diminishing returns at work and you are lacking interest in work or life.

Some of the other warning signs:

  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of sleep
  • Lack of appetite
  • Inability to focus
  • Physically and emotionally exhausted
  • Drained and depleted
  • Low or no motivation
  • Forgetful
  • Physical stress (e.g. chest pain)
  • Getting chronically sick
  • Anxiety
  • Anger

To be clear, there is not an official diagnosis of burnout – unlike depression which is a widely studied condition. And sometimes burnout may start to look more like depression which is why it can be important to seek professional attention. What is most insidious about burnout is that it creeps up on you over time. All of the indicators may be there but you may fail to recognize it when it is right in front of you.

Types of people who are more prone to burnout

The best place to start is to identify what is causing excessive and prolonged stress in your life. This can come from the workplace, home, or both.

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So while there isn’t any one type of person that is prone to burnout, there are some common themes of the types of people who are more likely to face burnout:

  • People who face heavy workloads or high stress positions.
  • High achievers
  • Caregivers including healthcare professionals at the front line of care
  • Working parents
  • Students

Burnout may not simply come because of excessive work

Keep in mind that burnout doesn’t just happen because of significant demands on people lives. It can happen if our mindset shifts.

In my coaching work, I have clients that exhibit signs of burnout but it may not come necessarily simply because of excessive work. Take, for example, Jennifer (name changed to protect confidentiality). She has an intensive job that has her working many evenings and most weekends. This is something she has been doing for years. But recently she has realized how exhausted she is from work. She is getting more upset with demands made on her than she has in the past. She is beginning to hate her job and can’t understand why all of a sudden she can’t “deal” with work. For Jennifer, the cause of the emerging burnout wasn’t the demands of the job itself. It began when she felt unappreciated and ignored. Therefore, burnout can manifest when we become disappointed by dashed expectations.

Create ‘margin’ in your reschedule

We tend to over schedule our lives. So our days can be jam packed with work, appointments, and other obligations. This has us running from place to place without a moment to breathe. Look at how you can start to schedule breathing room in your day. Avoid scheduling meetings back to back in your day. Schedule out time on your schedule to do some important catch up.

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Adopt resilience tools at work

While work itself can be stressful, there are ways to build in strategies that allow us to de-stress during the day. This includes doing some deep breathing, meditation, or just taking a walk outdoors. Productivity hacks suggest dedicating specific chunks of uninterrupted time (read: no email or social media) and then taking solid breaks around 10 or 15 minutes to clear your mind.

Adopt the strategy of “no”

People feeling burnout are often feel they must “do it all.” Stepping back from burnout means finding ways to lessen the stress which means saying the powerful two letter word NO. It may be hard at first but look for opportunities to delegate demands to others, shift priorities off your plate, or delay obligations.

Find regular times to unplug yourself

Don’t be under the illusion you always need to be moving to make progress. Sometimes, doing nothing is exactly what your body and mind are looking for. Find time to recharge by unplugging from it all. Taking real breaks – to eat, sleep, decompress – can give us the energy we need to remain productive.

To be sure, taking a real break can be difficult in today’s world when we are all expected to remain in constant communication though messaging and email. Consider giving yourself an electronics-free time so you can remove yourself from the noise of work, social media, and email.

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There was a time I was convinced that I was on a regular cycle of burnout and that my old familiar friend would re-enter my life maybe once a year or every couple of years. I thought I was just a person who faced burnout and that was just part of who I was. But that trip to the beach woke me up and forced me to finally face down how I was the cause of my own burnout.

I now have a personal program to manage my stress and avoid burnout. Sure, I can still get pretty stressed at times but I am much quicker to see the signs and take immediate action. You too can be empowered to tackle and stop burnout in its tracks.

More by this author

Danielle Droitsch

Certified Life Coach for Professionals

How to Say No When You Know You Say Yes Too Often I Survived Burnout More Than a Few Times, and Here’s What I Learned

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Last Updated on October 7, 2021

7 Reasons Why Your Body Feels Heavy And Tired

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7 Reasons Why Your Body Feels Heavy And Tired

Interestingly enough, this topic about our bodies feeling heavy and tired has been assigned right around the time when I have been personally experiencing feelings of such “sluggishness.” In my case, it comes down to not exercising as much as I was a year ago, as well as being busier with work. I’m just starting to get back into a training routine after having moved and needing to set up my home gym again at my new house.

Generally speaking, when feeling heavy and tired, it comes down to bioenergetics. Bioenergetics is a field in biochemistry and cell biology that concerns energy flow through living systems.[1] The goal of bioenergetics is to describe how living organisms acquire and transform energy to perform biological work. Essentially, how we acquire, store, and utilize the energy within the body relates directly to whether we feel heavy or tired.

While bioenergetics relates primarily to the energy of the body, one’s total bandwidth of energy highly depends on one’s mental state. Here are seven reasons why your body feels heavy and tired.

1. Lack of Sleep

This is quite possibly one of the main reasons why people feel heavy and/or tired. I often feel like a broken record explaining to people the importance of quality sleep and REM specifically.

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The principle of energy conservation states that energy is neither created nor destroyed. It may transform from one type to another. Based on the energy conservation theory, we need sleep to conserve energy. When getting quality sleep, we reduce our caloric needs by spending part of our time functioning at a lower metabolism. This concept is backed by the way our metabolic rate drops during sleep.

Research suggests that eight hours of sleep for human beings can produce a daily energy savings of 35 percent over complete wakefulness. The energy conservation theory of sleep suggests that the main purpose of sleep is to reduce a person’s energy use during times of the day and night.[2]

2. Lack of Exercise

Exercise is an interesting one because when you don’t feel energized, it can be difficult to find the motivation to work out. However, if you do find it in you to exercise, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by its impact on your energy levels. Technically, any form of exercise/physical activity will get the heart rate up and blood flowing. It will also result in the release of endorphins, which, in turn, are going to raise energy levels. Generally speaking, effort-backed cardiovascular exercises will strengthen your heart and give you more stamina.

I’m in the process of having my home gym renovated after moving to a new house. Over the past year, I have been totally slacking with exercise and training. I can personally say that over the last year, I have had less physical energy than I did previously while training regularly. Funny enough I have been a Lifehack author for a few years now, and almost all previous articles were written while I was training regularly. I’m writing this now as someone that has not exercised enough and can provide first-hand anecdotal evidence that exercise begets more energy, period.

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3. Poor Nutrition and Hydration

The human body is primarily comprised of water (up to 60%), so naturally, a lack of hydration will deplete energy. According to studies, the brain and heart are composed of 73% water and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery: 31%.[3] If you don’t consume sufficient amounts of water (and I suggest natural spring water or alkaline water), you will likely have more issues than just a lack of energy.

In regards to nutrition, a fairly common-sense practice is to avoid excess sugar. Consuming too much sugar can harm the body and brain, often causing short bursts of energy (highs) followed by mental fogginess, and physical fatigue or crashes. Generally, sugar-based drinks, candy, and pastries put too much fuel (sugar) into your blood too quickly.

I have utilized these types of foods immediately before training for a quick source of energy. However, outside of that application, there is practically no benefit. When consuming sugar in such a way, the ensuing crash leaves you tired and hungry again. “Complex carbs,” healthy fats, and protein take longer to digest, satisfy your hunger, and thus, provide a slow, steady stream of energy.

4. Stress

Stress is surprisingly overlooked in our fast-paced society, yet it’s the number one cause of several conditions. Feeling heavy and tired is just one aspect of the symptoms of stress. Stress has been shown to affect all systems of the body including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems.[4] Stress causes the body to release the hormone cortisol, which is produced by the adrenal glands. This can lead to adrenal fatigue, the symptoms of which are fatigue, brain fog, intermittent “crashes” throughout the day, and much more.[5]

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It’s important to look at stress thoroughly in life and take action to mitigate it as much as possible. Personally, I spend Monday to Friday in front of dozens of devices and screens and managing large teams (15 to 30) of people. On weekends, I go for long walks in nature (known as shinrin-yoku in Japan), I use sensory deprivation tanks, and I experiment with supplementation (being a biohacker).

5. Depression or Anxiety

These two often go hand in hand with stress. It’s also overlooked much in our society, yet millions upon millions around the work experience symptoms of depression and anxiety. Many that are depressed report symptoms of lack of energy, enthusiasm, and generally not even wanting to get up from bed in the morning.

These are also conditions that should be examined closely within oneself and take actions to make improvements. I’m a big proponent of the use of therapeutic psychedelics, such as Psilocybin or MDMA. I’m an experienced user of mushrooms, from the psychedelic variety to the non-psychedelic. In fact, the majority of my sensory deprivation tank sessions are with the use of various strains of Psilocybin mushrooms. Much research has been coming to light around the benefits of such substances to eliminate symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and more.[6]

6. Hypothyroidism

Also known as underactive thyroid disease, hypothyroidism is a health condition where the thyroid gland doesn’t produce sufficient levels. This condition causes the metabolism to slow down.[7] While it can also be called underactive thyroid, hypothyroidism can make you feel tired and even gain weight. A common treatment for hypothyroidism is hormone replacement therapy.

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7. Caffeine Overload

I’m writing this as someone that went from five cups of coffee a day to now three cups a week! I’ve almost fully switched to decaf. The reason I stopped consuming so much coffee is that it was affecting my mood and energy levels. Generally, excessive consumption of caffeine can also impact the adrenal gland, which, as I covered above, can almost certainly lead to low energy and random energy crashes.

Final Thoughts

The most important thing is to identify that you feel heavy or tired and take action to improve the situation. Never fall into complacency with feeling lethargic or low energy, as human beings tend to accept such conditions as the norm fairly quickly. If you’ve made it this far, you’re on the right path!

Examine various aspects of your life and where you can make room for improvement to put your mental, emotional, and physical self first. I certainly hope these seven reasons why your body feels heavy, tired, or low on energy can help you along the path to a healthy and more vibrant you.

More Tips on Restoring Energy

Featured photo credit: Zohre Nemati via unsplash.com

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