Some days are harder than others. For the last several days, I’ve been in a slump with low energy and barely any motivation to get going. This wasn’t the first time that this happened, but it had been so long since the last time that I forgot what it felt like.
After some much needed rest and self-reflection, I realized that what I’d been experiencing is burnout. Burnout occurs when life’s demands begin to pile up, leading to feelings of overwhelm and exhaustion. It can be attributed to mental, emotional, physical, environmental, and spiritual stress.
Often, people experience burnout related to work-related stress. In my case, it seemed as though the weight of the world had been stacked on my shoulders, and I struggled to stand up straight.
In this post, we’ll discuss signs of burnout and how to get ahead of it before it gets ahead of you.
4 Signs of Burnout
Burnout looks different for everyone since no two people are exactly the same. Burnout for me may show up differently than it does for you. Either way, these are common signs of burnout that people generally experience.
1. Chores begin to fall by the wayside
If you are typically a clean or neat person and you begin to notice that dishes have started to pile up in the sink or the laundry hasn’t been done for two weeks in a row, this is a sign that you may be experiencing burnout. I prefer to wash my dishes right after I use them, or to at least rinse them off and put them in the dishwasher. When I recognize that the dishes have been in the sink for a day, that is my alert that my energy is low. Once two days go by and the dishes remain in the sink, along with new ones, then I know that I am burned out and may need to rest.
2. Sleep is hard to come by
This is an excellent indicator to recognize if and when you are stressed. For most people, sleep is imperative. It is difficult to function efficiently without restful sleep. If you usually follow a bedtime routine and get restful sleep during the night and then suddenly you don’t, be mindful that you may be on your way to burnout. Having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep are great indicators of stress. If you start to stay up later than usual or find yourself struggling to get out of bed in the morning, assess why. Reflect on your thoughts at bedtime and in the morning after you awaken. Is there something that you are worried about? Worrying is a form of stress and if you can pinpoint what you are worrying about, you can begin to address it.
3. Appetite begins fluctuating
Have you started to snack more than usual? Do you find yourself getting takeout every night instead of cooking at home? Are you just not hungry and have no desire to eat? Whether your appetite has increased or decreased, changes in your appetite as well as the foods you consume can be a tell tale sign of burnout. Eating was the first coping skill that I learned. When I feel burned out, I notice that I choose foods that are low in nutritional value or that produce a feeling of satisfaction. When I’m not, I typically eat a balanced plant-based diet filled with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. If your diet or appetite has changed for the worst and no longer fuels you, you may be experiencing burnout.
4. It’s hard to find motivation
Because burnout leads to exhaustion, it may be difficult to find the motivation or energy needed to get things done. Whether it’s going to work, showering, engaging in your hobbies, or socializing, burnout can make the easiest tasks feel insurmountable. Do you usually exercise first thing in the morning or go to happy hour with friends after work? Have you found it more difficult to find the drive to read that book you were so into last week? Due to the way that burnout drains your battery, it might seem almost impossible to do things that you typically do without any issues.
Simple Ways to Beat Burnout
There are several ways to get ahead of burnout before it turns into a dark knight of the soul type of situation. What works for me may not work for you. However, these are steps that I’ve taken to get ahead of burnout before it worsens.
1. Give yourself space to feel your feelings
Sometimes we can be really hard on ourselves. If we aren’t putting in as much effort as we are used to or if we fall short of our expectations or goals, it is easy to beat ourselves up about it. Being in a space where you may feel low, sad, or anxious isn’t fun. But sometimes it is necessary. Trying to rush yourself out of those feelings instead of feeling them fully may propel you into a deeper state of burnout on the next round.
If you can spend time working through those emotions, analyzing them, and feeling them, it may be easier to move on from them. In the past, I’d try to distract myself from these tough emotions which was unhelpful. Once I was no longer distracted, I was right back where I started, sometimes even deeper. But sitting with these emotions, although uncomfortable, was necessary in order to move on from them. Remember that we are human and some days will be better than others. Don’t beat yourself up for having a tough day.
2. Do one thing at a time
This is imperative! If you’ve fallen off of your routine, instead of trying to get right back on track by doing everything you were doing before you felt burned out, start with one thing. For example, if you normally go for a walk in the mornings, read for 30 minutes every day, meditate before bed, and make dinner each night, try just one of these things when you feel ready. As tempting as it is to get right back on track, you may overwhelm yourself even further if you attempt to dive head first back into your routine.
Starting with one thing and then gradually adding the other things you are used to doing is a great way to stay balanced and keep the stress at bay. Before you know it, you’ll find your way back to regularly scheduled programming.
3. Ask for support
Sometimes it can be difficult to ask for help. In doing so, you may feel like a bother or a burden. Some choose not to ask for help due to their ego. In times of burnout, it is necessary to reach out to your support system. Whether it is your parents, siblings, significant other, therapist, boss, or friend, confide in someone that you trust and let them know that you need help. I know this isn’t always easy, especially if you are so used to doing things by yourself, or if you’re typically the one that people come to when they need help. You’d be surprised that some people are more than glad to support you in your time of need. You know what they say, “closed mouths don’t get fed,” so how can you be supported if you don’t make it known that you need support?
4. Practice gratitude
I bet you weren’t expecting this one. But hear me out. Expressing gratitude is the easiest way to connect with a higher power. In times of stress, it might be difficult to understand why we feel the way we feel or why certain situations occur. But staying connected to the Divine even in the bad times can help get you through.
Even if you feel like there is nothing to be thankful for, I can guarantee that there is. Regardless if it is for breathing, for sleeping five hours instead of two, for having food to eat, even if it is junk food, for having a rough over your head, for having a job. I can literally go on. We often take things for granted without the intention of doing so. However, remaining grateful in the tough times is a great practice to implement whether or not you are feeling burned out.
Burnout isn’t fun. It can happen for a multitude of reasons. The most common reason people experience burnout is due to work-related stress. Knowing what burnout is as well as the signs of burnout can help you manage it when it occurs. Additionally, using the tools above when you begin to experience burnout are great ways to recover quickly.
Now that you are familiar with burnout, what will you do in the future when you begin to recognize that you may be getting burned out?