Most people have experienced burnout at some point or other. It can have long-lasting effects on our emotional and physical well-being. Overcoming burnout can feel like an overwhelming task, making it worse. Burnout is a level of chronic stress, so learning to manage and reduce your stress will help you overcome burnout.
What exactly is burnout?
You’ve probably heard the term burnout before. When we spend too much time in a stress cycle, we can burn out. It’s a feeling of not being able to do anything. Maybe you just want to sleep or you feel like you’re failing at everything. Everything begins to feel like a huge burden, even the small things. All of this added together makes you unhappy.
How do you identify burnout?
Stress happens. There’s no avoiding it. However, many people are really bad at managing their stress. They allow it to pile up until it is cycling constantly. This is what leads to burnout— sustained levels of stress over a long period of time. It’s not having a bad day or being frustrated that your life isn’t perfect.
Symptoms of burnout
- Exhaustion – You just feel beat. Exhaustion is one of the first symptoms we notice because any amount of stress can trigger this response. However, when you’re headed into burnout, you’re stuck here. You have a harder time processing information, you have no motivation, and you can’t see the positives in anything. (Note: this can also be a symptom of depression, so please speak to a therapist if this sounds like you)
- Cynicism – You feel disconnected from coworkers and family. You don’t see the point in doing something. Your work suffers because you are no longer invested in it. If you can’t talk to those around you about the issues at hand, it might be a sign that you’re burning out.
- Inadequacy – When you are in the process of burning out, your insecurities and self-doubt increase. You might feel like you can’t do anything right. You might question every decision you make. If you don’t receive any positive reinforcement from those around you, this will feed your insecurities and doubts.
How do you overcome burnout?
The stress cycle is exhausting and can be overwhelming. It’s important to remember that while you can’t control everything in life, you can control how you react, how you process, and how you move on.
Once you’ve recognized the symptoms of burnout, you have to figure out what to do next.
The first thing you should look at is how you spend your time and energy. You obviously can’t eliminate everything that causes stress, but there are probably some things you can either stop doing or scale back on. Consider where you want to spend your time so that you can feel better.
Next, you need to develop a plan for overcoming burnout. This will involve engaging in activities to manage your stress. Making huge changes all at once can increase your stress and compound your burnout, again because you can’t do it all. Start small with things that are easier to control.
Here are some ideas for where to start:
Get better sleep
Good sleep is essential for handling life. The problem, of course, is that when you’re stressed, it can often have a negative impact on your sleep. Do what you can to make sure you get to bed at a reasonable time. Build a nighttime routine to prepare yourself for sleep. Consider things like cutting out caffeine in the evenings, and try to stay away from the blue light from electronics.
Your nighttime routine should consist of relaxing or calming activities, such as journaling, reading, or meditating. You will train your body and mind to wind down and be ready for sleep.
Getting good sleep can have a positive impact on your health, as well as help you to handle the daily stress in your life.
Eat well and drink water
Taking care of your body is a small way to help your mental and emotional state improve. When you’re burned out, you might grab what’s quick and easy, or things that will give you a fast boost. Typically, these things aren’t what your body really needs. You don’t need to be perfect and cook every meal from scratch, but choose healthier snacks and maybe skip the extra cup of coffee or energy drink.
Make sure you’re consuming enough water each day because dehydration can affect us in ways we don’t even think about. Staying hydrated can help curb some of the cravings for sugars and fats and will give us more energy.
You don’t need to necessarily head to the gym or begin some fancy new workout regimen. However, physical movement can help your body get rid of some of the stress you’re dealing with. In addition, exercise gives your brain time to focus on something else and you might be able to come away from the activity more clear-headed.
The important thing is that you don’t add more pressure to yourself to work out because you’re supposed to. You should choose something you enjoy and think about it as a fun activity.
Set limits and boundaries
The word no has to become your friend when you’re overcoming burnout. You need to set limits for what is possible for you and what is not. You have to accept those limitations and be clear with others about them. If you don’t, the burnout won’t go away.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Many of us are used to handling all the things by ourselves. We see asking for help as a sign of weakness, an admission that we can’t do it all.
Who ever said we were supposed to be able to do everything on our own? Just because Suzie down the street has an immaculate house and 7 kids who only eat homemade organic meals doesn’t mean you can do the same. There are things about Suzie’s life that you aren’t privy to. You don’t need to be Suzie. Just be yourself.
Don’t be accessible
This doesn’t mean avoiding everything. It just means being accessible for the things that are important to you, things that make you feel good. It goes back to saying no to things. Saying no to people who have grown accustomed to counting on us is difficult. This is especially true if you don’t handle conflict well.
One way around feeling confrontational is to tell people you can’t do something because of a prior commitment. You don’t need to disclose what that commitment is. Maybe it’s sitting on your couch binging every episode of a TV show. You’re taking care of your mental health. No one else needs to know that. They should be able to respect you.
Take breaks as needed
This one is tough, especially if you feel like you’re behind in everything because of the burnout. It’s counterintuitive. However, going full speed and continuing to push yourself is how you ended up burning out. When you start to feel the extreme exhaustion or the indifference toward things, it’s a sign to step away.
Give yourself the same grace you would give a friend or loved one. Don’t just close the laptop and play on your phone for a few minutes. Really walk away from everything and allow your mind and body to rejuvenate. Once you are able to clear your head, you’ll be able to take up the task again and be more successful in completing it.
Acknowledge your hard work
We are always quick to compliment someone else on the hard work they’ve put in, but we rarely give ourselves a pat on the back. When you’re stuck in burnout mode, this is even harder to do. All we see are our failures.
It’s great if other people can recognize what you do and thank you for it. Don’t brush them off. But that’s not something you can count on. When people are used to you just handling things, they tend to take it for granted. But you can step back and acknowledge that you have done some amazing shit in spite of the stress.
Be proud of what you have accomplished. As you make moves to change your habits and improve your life, celebrate each step you take.
Overcoming burnout takes time. Just like it took time to become overwhelmed, it will take time to bounce back.