The 5 Most Common Signs of Burnout (and what to do about it)
If you’re feeling like you’re on a treadmill, unable to keep going on it and yet unable to step off, you might be experiencing burnout. Trouble concentrating, sleeping, and physical ailments appearing - frequent colds and feeling fatigued all the time - are all indicators that you need to take a break. Hustle culture has us all feeling overworked and stressed.
Pushing on without taking a break can cause you to develop much more serious problems in the long run, such as cancer or autoimmune conditions. It can seriously affect your mental health too, causing deep anxiety and a feeling of helplessness.
To be clear, if you have a big presentation to do at work, or a performance review - something very specific and fleeting that is causing you to worry and not sleep well, this is not burnout. But if you get up morning after morning and feel dread at facing the day, this could be a red flag.
What is burnout?
Burnout it not the same as stress. Prolonged stress can certainly cause burnout, but they are different things. While prolonged stress tends to cause physical damage, prolonged burnout causes emotional damage. Being under stress is usually on and off and you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. With burnout, there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel, and it gets harder and harder to keep going.
Some of the more common signs of burnout are:
1. Deep fatigue and insomnia.
2. Anxiety, a feeling of helplessness and even clinical depression.
3. Feeling that nothing you do is good enough or worthwhile.
4. Having a short temper and feeling snappy and on edge.
5. Often coming down with colds or small ailments.
Let’s take a look a some of the most common signs of detail in more detail:
1. Feel the burn
The emotional difficulties that accompany burnout are difficult to spot because they can be things you feel from time to time anyway. The key is, it’s almost constant with burnout. You might feel under appreciated and see whatever you do as never quite good enough, even though you’re putting in 110%.
All this might lead to very negative self-talk or snapping at people, as well as seeing yourself as failing at everything. You might find yourself often irritated by silly things or flying off the handle at something a loved one says. You may start to isolate yourself from your social group because you can’t stand their smiling faces and their attempts to make you see the bright side.
2. It invades your sleep
You start to dream about work - or whatever is causing your burnout. You might find it extremely difficult to fall asleep because your head is so full of anxiety about what the next day will bring. Dreams about something you’ve been working on turning bad on you might give you nightmares and wake you in the middle of the night. Again, not just once or twice, or for a week, but on an ongoing basis.
3. It’s hard to do anything
You might find yourself hitting the snooze button far more than normal. You might phone in sick and spend the day in bed which sounds relaxing, but you’re worrying about what you should be doing and feeling guilty, so it adds to your anxiety. Just showering or making something to eat takes enormous effort.
4. You give up on yourself
Every day is a bad day and you can’t see it changing. You’re far from reaching your goals you were so keen on not so long ago. So you throw in the towel. What the hell. If it’s going to be bad anyway…. So you start to let yourself go, ignoring your skincare routine and maybe start drinking more than usual. You skip the dentist this time and you just keep your hair in a bun so you don’t need to go to the hairdresser.
5. It sneaks up on you
You don’t just wake up with burnout one morning. It’s stealthy. After all, there’s nothing wrong with having an off day. An off week. It happens to everyone. So you skipped a shower - who cares. But if it’s been going on for longer and longer, you need to take stock and take an honest look at how you’ve been managing your work/life balance.
Burnout can be a lot harder to spot if you’re self-employed and/or working from home - as well as more likely to occur. During the pandemic all office workers who found themselves working from home got to see how tricky it is to keep a line between working and not working. Sitting at the kitchen table - is it mealtime or a Zoom call from work? Messages and emails coming in from work at 9 or 10pm - it’s easy to see how the line blurs and you can fall into constantly being in work mode without realising it.
So what can you do?
It doesn’t have to be professional help necessarily. Talking to a sister or a really good friend can start the process of opening up about how you’re feeling and relieving some of the pressure.
Put yourself first
Start to look after yourself as you would look after someone you love. Pamper yourself by getting into a bath with some wonderful smelling products and give yourself a facial treatment. Turn off your phone and put on some soothing music. Not once mind you, but every day. If you do this before you go to bed, it can really help you to sleep better.
Say NO to negative people or those who want you to do things you don’t feel like doing. You’re too busy looking after someone who needs you - yourself! Take time to do the things that bring you joy, whatever that may be.
Try a calming app
Try Yoga - or a more active workout
If your job has you running around all day, you might find a slow Yoga class just the thing to unwind and find your inner peace. If you can’t get to a class near you, try an app like Glo.
On the other hand, if your job has you sitting at a desk for hours on end, you might prefer a more vigorous workout such as a salsa dance class. You could combine this with spending more time with your significant other and have one night a week when you go out to a dance class together.
Take an actual break from work
If you can, take some time off work. If you’re not due any holiday, get a doctor’s note to take some time off. It’s just as important as if you were physically sick. For a week, spend the mornings in bed, go for walks, enjoy cooking nutritious meals, and watch movies. It’s really okay to do that!
Get together with positive people
Meet up with friends or family members whom you know will be supportive of you taking some time off and who will help you to relax and do nothing.
Kill two birds with one stone. Reading is relaxing and calming. If you read books that help with burnout, you can be in a win-win situation.
Here is a burnout cheatsheet with more information on how to recognise burnout in employees.
Write a journal every day
Journaling is hugely beneficial when it comes to mental health. Getting all your feelings, worries and anxieties onto paper is freeing and leaves you feeling lighter and more centred. If you need help getting started, here are some journal prompts to get you going - free to download.
By doing all these things, before you know it, you’ll be feeling your drive and bounce returning. But when it has returned, be mindful of maintaining your balance. If you feel that going back to the same job will just put you back in burnout mode very quickly, considering changing jobs or even careers.
When you feel ready, starting to make long-term plans to achieve your goals and keep your long-term life/work balance in check at the same time. Use a productivity app or planner like The Aspira© Planner to manage your time and make sure you're spending enough time on your personal projects and goals.