Recognizing, Managing, and Preventing Burnout

August 15, 2023

Burnout is a term that many of us are familiar with, have heard of, or have experienced ourselves. It is a response to chronic stress from different types of work involving responsibilities, purpose, expectations, or obligations. Some examples may include volunteering, studying, caregiving, or employment. According to the World Health Organization, burnout includes the following:

  1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  2. Increased mental distance from, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to, one's job
  3. A sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment

Do you associate success with the number of things you are ticking off your to-do list every day? You’re not alone. In fact, I have been noticing a trend in the individuals reach out to me for counseling for this exact reason. Many of my clients have normalized a working culture of obsession with impossibly long to do to-do lists.

“Busy” is the answer to every “How are you?”. It’s accepted and reinforced in our culture that values achievement, accomplishment, and productivity. When we don’t explore our own values and find ways to honor them too, conforming to cultural values takes over and eventually leads to that bone-deep, all-encompassing exhaustion. Often experienced as Sunday night dread, leading to those Monday morning blues.

With so many high-achieving people in our world associating a huge part of their identity with various kinds of work, their inability to ever complete these unrealistic to-do lists slowly, but surely chips away at their confidence and self-worth over time.

The cycle of exhaustion sets in and it takes longer and longer to do the same amount of work, usually with declining quality. The overworked person starts to feel less accomplished, more cynical and starts detaching from whatever their work is (e.g. employment or caregiving responsibilities). This is where burn out starts to set in.

There’s no space in the day to stop, breathe, prioritize, assess their needs, communicate these needs, and get support before they hit the burnout wall. Check out the Not-To-Do List above to take some space before you hit this wall to prevent or manage your burnout.

Recognizing Burnout:

By paying close attention to common signs for yourself, you can begin to manage and prevent burnout, increasing your overall wellness. Below are some examples of how exhaustion can show up in every dimension of wellness in our lives and prompt us to recognize the burnout wall in sight.

  • Physical: Perhaps, you are feeling your body just doesn’t feel right – your energy is “off” and you feel out of touch with yourself. Or maybe, you are experiencing more noticeable symptoms such as inability to sleep, panic attacks, chest pain, increased heart rate, nausea, and headaches. Change of appetite, causing weight loss or weight gain is another commonly reported symptom.
  • Emotional: You are past the point of stress, and it is noticeable to you or those around you – your reactions are different than what they typically are. Maybe you notice you are reacting with increased irritability, sensitivity, defensiveness, or anger. Your stress management just isn’t what it usually is. For example, you may be more sensitive to feedback. Feedback is often blown out of proportion, and you may think, "I guess I can’t do anything right."
  • Social: Things that used to be enjoyable, may not be anymore. Disconnection and absenteeism are common warning signs here - loss of interest in social interactions, lack of participation in meetings or social engagements, avoidance of taking on new responsibilities, or less responsiveness to calls, emails, and so forth. As social connection decreases, isolation increases. Perhaps, a formerly extroverted person starts to become distant, or they feel or seem more withdrawn than usual.
  • Spiritual: You just feel out of touch. Maybe you are less engaged in spiritual practices, meditating less, or are no longer feeling grounded and connected in nature.
  • Intellectual: You feel generally disengaged. Perhaps, you or those around you are noticing that your quality of work is not what it usually is, you are less productive, or very commonly - less creative.

Managing & Preventing Burnout:

  • Revisit your ‘why’. Asking yourself questions such - What is the reason you do what you do? What gives you a feeling of purpose? It’s easy to get burned out if you can’t see the bigger picture—if you lose sight of the work you are engaged in, it makes an impact. Get back in touch with why you do what you do. Explore and look for reasons to be excited again.
  • Manage your expectations for yourself. Expecting the same output from yourself every day regardless of external factors or disruptions is unreasonable and a certain recipe for burnout. When you don’t meet your own expectations, try practicing self-compassion. Nobody can be 100%, in all their roles, all the time. After all, you are not a machine. Not everything will be perfect —and that is okay if you remind yourself that not everything being perfect is okay.
  • Learn to say ‘no’. Being honest with yourself and others about your capacity and saying ‘no’ will support you in managing commitments and setting yourself up for success rather than failure. Remember, “no” is a full sentence. Being kind does not mean not having boundaries. In fact, not having boundaries usually turns out to be unkind for yourself and others.
  • Plan for breaks. Even with a deadline or your own/other’s expectations bearing down on you, taking regular breaks to reset yourself – having a stretch, getting a coffee or some fresh air, or doing a meditation may make all the difference in not only your energy throughout the day, but also in preventing or managing burnout over a long period of time.
  • Prioritize your wellness. If you are noticing burnout, be intentional about taking care of yourself. For instance, schedule socialization back into your planner by setting virtual coffee dates, video calling with friends and family, visiting in person, or even just taking a walk in your neighborhood where you can wave to your neighbors. People need people, it’s just the way human beings are. Are you peopled out? Schedule time for yourself to have some solitude.
  • Seek/ask for support. If you just can’t say no, seek support. If you’re experiencing or approaching burnout, don’t stay silent. Seek support and reach out to someone – a trusted friend, partner, or a professional. Burnout can become a very isolating place and support can go a long way.
  • Remain hopeful. Burnout happens. The experiences that accompany burnout are challenging to recognize, manage, and prevent. By trying to remain hopeful and with a little intentionality, you will start to learn what the signs and symptoms are for yourself and in your life, and you’ll be able to practice responding more effectively.

Need more support? Sonder Services is here for YOU! Reach out TODAY to explore your values, prevent and manage burnout, and increase your overall wellness.