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Burnt out? Here Are the Signs and Road to Recovery

By: @ericabassotherapy 

Many of us are busier than ever before. We juggle demanding careers, personal responsibilities, and social obligations to name a few, and if you’re a high-achiever this list may never seem to end. Burnout is a growing concern today due to the normalization of overworking and staying booked, often at the expense of our well-being. Burnout is different than being exhausted or stressed. The World Health Organization (WHO) describes burnout as a response to chronic job stressors that have not been successfully managed. It’s important to note that burnout doesn't happen overnight. Rather, it develops gradually, and the symptoms can vary from person to person. Research tells us burnout consists of three main symptoms, let us go into detail below.

Exhaustion

You begin recognizing persistent tiredness that doesn’t improve with rest or even great sleep scores. This may confuse you if you have always known to have a high threshold for workload and stress. You may have developed some unhealthy habits to just get through the day, like over-relying on caffeine, sugar, or even substance abuse, which only leave you feeling more physically and emotionally drained. Physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, or other unexplained health issues may occur. You are now dreading work and daily tasks that may have once been fulfilling.

Cynicism

You have become detached from your work and notice yourself being negative, critical, or cynical towards the company or co-workers.  If the phrase ‘low morale’ comes to mind, this may be where you are. Cynicism or detachment can be thought of as a coping mechanism that helps us distance ourselves psychologically from work. This may have stemmed from repeated experiences of unfair or disrespectful treatment in the workplace. Cynicism is when we have lost the connection and satisfaction from achieving at work.

Inefficiency 

Due to losing your connection to work and feeling physically exhausted, your performance and productivity at work have decreased. As a high-achiever, you don’t recognize yourself anymore. You may do the bare minimum to get assignments submitted, but ultimately your work output shows a sharp decline. You might start worrying about this because it is a stark contrast to your usual work habits. Inefficiency can also stem from a work environment that lacks adequate resources or a supportive and competent management team. This can look like unclear directions or expectations for your role or the absence of receiving positive feedback and reinforcement to understand what you are doing well and areas of improvement.

Recognizing the signs of burnout early and taking proactive steps to recover and prevent burnout is crucial for maintaining a healthy, balanced life. Now that we have covered the three main components of burnout, here are some steps to begin recovery if you are currently in a state of burnout. Recovery from burnout requires a multifaceted approach that addresses physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Here are some effective strategies:

Tending to the Physical Body

Prioritize self-care in whatever form works best for you. A good starting point is to focus on regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep. Given the conditions that led to burnout, these areas likely need some attention. Take an honest and non-judgmental inventory of each aspect and create a plan to improve them. Additionally, practice stress management techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or journaling.

Tending to Your Emotional Landscape

We all need to learn the art of setting appropriate boundaries, and this becomes especially crucial if you've reached a state of burnout. Boundaries are compassionate and allow us to show up as our best selves. A great place to begin is likely separating work from personal time (i.e. no longer checking emails/taking work calls during off-hours). Being able to tolerate the discomfort of saying "no" is important, especially if you are used to being a high performer. Remember, your health is always the most important thing, so practice declining additional responsibilities during this time.

Tending to Your Mental Health

If possible, consider using your vacation time to get away or at least take some mental health days to recharge. Engage in creative or physical activities that help release stress and use this time to re-engage with hobbies and interests that bring you fulfillment or discover new ones you never had time to do before. Spend present, quality time around loved ones. When at work, incorporate short breaks in your schedule to tune in to what you need instead of bulldozing through the day. Now is an opportunity to reflect on whether where you are at is a mismatch in your values and your need for community and support in the workplace.

Consider speaking with a professional mental health provider who can help you navigate your feelings and develop coping strategies. Burnout is a serious issue that requires attention and action and preventing burnout is about creating sustainable habits and a balanced lifestyle. It’s always best to recognize the warning signs early that you are leading down a path to burnout, but if you are already there now is an opportunity to tune inward and reflect on what needs to change. Remember, taking care of yourself is not a luxury but a necessity. Make self-care a priority, set healthy boundaries, and seek support when needed. 

References: 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4911781/

Erica Basso is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (114828) practicing statewide in California. She owns a boutique therapy practice committed to helping high-achieving women overcome anxiety, perfectionism, relationship challenges, and more. To work with her or one of her therapists, visit www.ericabassotherapy.com. 

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