Burnout is real. Between a lingering pandemic, the crisis in Ukraine, political upheaval across the globe, increase in crime rates, and economic troubles in the news- it’s no surprise that stress affects so many people today.
Stress describes that scary mix of feelings we’ve all experienced at one time or another—total lack of energy and motivation, the sense of being overwhelmed and stretched to the max, as well as irritability and even cynicism.
That last symptom can manifest in you feeling like you don’t belong, and that nothing you do matters which can lead to depression due to lack of motivation and loss of interest.
Because these sensations mingle in unique ways inside each person, it may actually be challenging to recognize if you’re going through it. It’s important to understand the difference between a manageable amount of stress and burnout. If you don’t address stress when it’s happening to you, everything from your mental and physical health to your career and your relationships may be affected.
How can you tell if you’re going through it?
Burnout comes from chronic stress, and chronic stress can profoundly impact your brain. For example, stress has been shown to weaken the prefrontal cortex, which governs your higher reasoning and decision-making abilities. If you’re going through it, you may have trouble with paying attention, problem-solving, learning new things, and avoiding simple mistakes.
Conversely, chronic stress can actually enlarge and super-charge the amygdala, which is the emotional center of the brain responsible for the fight-or-flight response when in danger. So at the same time that stress is making it more difficult for you to think clearly, it may also provoke strong feelings of fear and anxiety due to its affect on our brains. Where attention goes neuro firing goes and neuroplasticity grows.
Do you suffer from the following:
Difficulty falling or staying asleep
Pain in your gut and/or digestive problems
Elevated heart rate
Feeling ill more frequently
The most reliable ways to avoid health problems associated with stress isn’t an on-off switch: if you know what to look for, you’ll be able to notice when you’re beginning to get burned out. Then, there are plenty of steps you can take to actively prevent full-blown burnout.
Make a healthy routine
Treating yourself right is the best way to gain resilience to daily challenges. Prioritize the fundamental building blocks of healthy living, like eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and socializing.
Do small things that make work more pleasant
No matter what your career is or what your goals are, you need to have some moderation in your work life. On a day-to-day timeframe, that means taking little breaks throughout your shift. Looking at the big picture, that means scheduling time off throughout the year. Whether it’s for a vacation or a staycation; it’s healthy to take some time away.
You can also make subtle changes to your work environment, like tidying up and brightening your workspace with the ideal work space for you. An even more impactful change you can make is connecting with your coworkers, even if you work from home.
Make time for what you love
Most people have passions that don’t intersect with their jobs. Nurturing those parts of yourself will help you feel more well-rounded, add more dimension to your weekly routine, and give you something to look forward to after working hard. If you’re not sure what your passions are, learn how to get creative or get active in a way that’s purely for your own enjoyment.
It’s easier than ever to jump into a new hobby with virtual events. From the comfort of your home, you can participate in a creative writing session, join a fun and friendly knitting circle, take a 30-minute chair exercise class for staying fit over 50, learn the secrets of podcasting, tske up guitar, take a ballet class, take a free yoga class, or maybe learn some en español.
Be kind to yourself and remember that it’s a process
Like other mental health issues, it’s best to treat burnout one day at a time, and to approach it from a place of self-compassion. If you’ve followed the steps above and still haven’t experienced noticeable improvements in your mood, confidence, and hope for the future, you should reach out to a health professional. Seeking help from your doctor isn’t a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.