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How to recognize signs of burnout

Updated: Apr 2, 2021

A high level of stress over time can lead to burnout. Burnout can impact our life satisfaction, happiness, and job performance, to name a few. In turn, this can lead to significant issues with our mental and physical well-being.

Rather than being a sudden event, burnout is generally a gradual process, which means that if we don't know what to look for, we can find that we don't notice anything amiss until one day we don't see the point in getting out of bed.

What is burnout?

It's helpful to think of stress as existing on a sliding scale in terms of time, with long-term relaxation and happiness at one end and chronic fatigue and burnout at the other.

The further we move towards the burnout end of the scale, the more symptoms we manifest. And the more severe they become. Ultimately we can reach the point where nothing in life seems to have meaning, and all of our joy has gone. Even things we usually enjoy can become pale and bland. In simple terms, burnout happens when we try to "do" too much for too long. And it's a personal thing. You may be able to comfortably work for 80 hours a week for years on end, while your colleague crashes and burns if they try to work more than 60.

Each of us has our limits.

Build a baseline to notice changes

Because burnout builds up over a long period, it's good to have a baseline against which to measure. To do this:

  1. Pay attention to how you feel throughout the days.

  2. Be specific about your feelings around each of your daily activities.

  3. Include those from work and home life.

This is your baseline. Once you have a baseline, it becomes possible to notice when things are starting to move away from it. Burnout has many signs, and many of them can have other underlying causes, so a holistic approach is called for.

What are the signs of burnout?

Our brains are exceptional at spotting large differences, but not so much when those differences are small or happen slowly. This means that we can easily spot sudden changes, but slow-moving long-term changes can be harder to identify. Put another way, if we feel 1% worse each day than the previous day, it's a small enough change that we're unlikely to notice unless we're really paying attention. Over the course of years, feeling 1% worse each day can lead to huge changes that we never see happening.

Pay particular attention to:

  • How well you're sleeping

  • How anxious you feel

  • How tired you are at the start of the day

  • Your levels of enthusiasm

  • Your overall health

  • Your levels of irritation, anger, and hostility

  • Your productivity

If any of these start to dip for an extended period, it can be a sign that you're on the pathway to burnout. What you're looking for is not one-off instances but long-term effects.

For example, everyone has the occasional night of poor sleep. When it starts to happen regularly, or all the time, that's a sign that something is going on.

What to do if you're experiencing burnout

If you find yourself experiencing burnout, the most important thing to do is slow down and take a break. Sometimes this may be getting away for a week, or it may involve making bigger life changes.

Take some time to evaluate your triggers and work to minimize the things that build burnout for you. Get help if you are unsure about how to manage all of life's responsibilities. Seek medical attention if you feel you need it.

You can avoid burnout by having a plan to achieve your dreams that includes enough balance and down-time that you can get there without burning out.

Life is day by day, friends...enjoy the journey!

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