What Is Burnout, And How Do I Deal With It?

Crying, exhaustion, increased anxiety, anger, emotionally and physically shutting down….does this sound familiar?  If so, you are like many of us and are possibly experiencing burnout.  Most of us have heard of burnout yet many of us believe that we will know when we are starting to burnout or that we can prevent it before it becomes too severe.  Unfortunately, this is not always true and can lead to many problems in our relationships, jobs, and emotional and physical health.  Furthermore, burnout is not solely related to jobs but also relationships and life in general.  Merriam Webster’s definition of burnout includes “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration”.  I like how Michael Gungor explains his understanding as “Burnout is what happens when you try to avoid being human for too long.” 

Signs and symptoms of burnout often fall into one of three categories:  Physical, Emotional, or Behavioral.  Examples of Physical Symptoms of burnout include feeling tired, lowered immunity resulting in increased episodes of illness, headaches, muscle pains, changes in appetite, and changes in sleep patterns.  Examples of Emotional Symptoms of burnout include feelings of self-doubt, failure, defeat, detachment from others and the world, loss of motivation, negative thinking, and decreased sense of accomplishment.  Finally, some examples of Behavioral Symptoms of burnout include avoiding responsibilities, isolating from others, increased procrastination, using unhealthy coping strategies such as using drugs and alcohol, taking your anger and frustration out on others, and not showing up to work or committed events. 

According to Stress and Burnout in Ministry (helpguide.org), many people associate stress and burnout as the same thing.  There are some key differences between stress and burnout.  First, stress is associated with over engagement, being overly emotional, and extreme sense of urgency.  However, burnout is associated with not being engaged in activities, not feeling or expressing emotions, and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.  One often feels and is aware of being stressed; however, one doesn’t always notice feeling burnt out.  Perhaps, what begins as stress leads to burnout.  For example, one may initially engage in too many activities resulting in feelings of stress which then often will lead to feelings of disengagement when burnout is present.  Also, one may have hypersensitive emotions when feeling stressed and will transition to lack of emotions and feelings of numbness when burnout is present.  Finally, stress is known to lead to anxiety whereas burnout often lead to depression.  Thus; experiencing both stress and burnout can and often does lead to anxiety and depression. 

Several lifestyles and personality traits are more prone to leading to burnout.  Do you work too much, not have enough time to socialize or not have quiet and alone time to recharge?  Do you have too few close relationships or take on too many responsibilities that result in lack of sleep?  If you answered yes to these questions, your lifestyle is prone to leading to burnout.  Do you struggle with perfectionism or have a pessimistic view of yourself or others?  Do you have the need to be in control or identify as a Type A Personality (constantly busy, very competitive, high ambition, schedule oriented)?  If you answered yes to these questions, your personality traits often contribute to burnout. 

If you have identified feelings of burnout or recognize it in others, what do we do now?  If that answer was as simple as turning a light switch on and off, it would be beyond awesome.  However, no awesomeness here.  However, don’t fret, there are many strategies to help prevent and overcome burnout. 

Here are 8 strategies to help prevent and overcome burnout:

1.      First and foremost, Identify that there is a problem: For example, you may start to feel disinterest in work or relationships and are beginning to feel exhaustion, sick, and angry towards others.

2.    Refocus on good self-care as a part of your daily life:  examples include saying no when you mean no, relaxation techniques such as grounding, and getting enough sleep and balanced diets.  (read more about self-care in a previous blog here)

3.    Take needed time off:  Take a vacation or staycation to regroup and reenergize.

4.    Reassess your goals:  For example, a previous goal may have been to save $1000 a month to put towards a down payment on a home and you revise it to saving $250 a pay instead….you will still reach your goal but perhaps it will take a bit longer, but you will be physically and emotionally better in the long run.

5.    Practice positive thinking:  For example, reframing a situation such as acknowledging the progress you have made on a goal rather than focusing on the areas that you have not achieved YET. Check out this blog on how to use gratitude to help you stay positive.

6.    Seek and accept support from others:  Therapy is a great option because therapy provides a safe place to process thoughts and feelings.  Also, try to increase your supportive social network to do leisure activities like going to the movies.

7.    Avoid negative people:  Negativity is contagious!  How can you increase positivity in your life if you are surrounded by negativity?  You can’t!  Find and surround yourself with positivity and if you prefer, find it in your pets or nature.

8.    Love yourself:  You are enough, and you are a good person!  If you don’t believe this now, work on learning to love yourself!  Practice complimenting yourself and accepting compliments.

Tony Robbins provided great advice when he stated “Understanding how to find the magic moments in your daily life is critical.  If you subscribe to the philosophy that says, ‘My vacation will free me from burnout,’ then you’re waiting for a few days out of the year to make up for many days of stress.  Instead, you have to be able to take mini-vacations on a daily basis.” 

What “daily vacations” are you going to take?  How have you experienced burnout?  How are you managing burnout?  Share with us your experience on burnout below!