Burnout is normally associated with the workplace, but anyone who feels overworked and undervalued is at risk of burnout. Anyone: the hardworking employee, the frazzled stay-at-home mom, the far-too-studious college student and the aspiring entrepreneur.
The problem with burnout is it is often not noticed until it is too late. Sometimes it is never diagnosed, you and your life just fall apart without ever understanding why. Another problem is that severe burnout can actually lead to physical and mental consequences.
If you allow yourself to reach the stage of Habitual Burnout – where you just live in this stage and continue pushing – it can lead to excessive stress, substance abuse, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and a reduced immune response resulting in vulnerability to diseases. It can also lead to chronic adrenal fatigue – and it can take years to fix adrenal fatigue! According to the American Psychological Association’s David Ballard, PsyD, there are ten signs that you may be experiencing burnout:
Exhaustion can be emotional, mental or physical, but the important sign that your exhaustion is burnout-related is that it is unrelenting. You are tired all the time. It is a sense of being completely depleted and not being able to regain the energy that is spent.
- Lack of Motivation
If you are finding it harder and harder to get yourself out of bed in the morning and to start work, if you have lost your enthusiasm and your passion or if you find that you cannot find an answer to “Why?” then you are possibly experiencing burnout. Burnout tends to cause us to dissociate and disengage. Things we once loved become meaningless and apathy becomes normal.
- Negative emotions
Burnout is coloured by despair and hopelessness. If you feel increasingly cynical or disillusioned with life and everything, then it is possible that you are experiencing burnout. You could be more pessimistic than you used to be. You could be feeling helpless, trapped and defeated. You could find yourself becoming frustrated and irritable more easily. You may find that your patience is not what it used to be and that you are lashing out at others more often. You may even find that you are aware of this happening but you don’t even care.
- Cognitive problems
Burnout and chronic stress can affect our ability to concentrate and to retain information. Stress can cause hyper focus – which is useful in short bursts – but if it continues for too long, hyper focus makes it impossible to pay attention to other things. Stress and the associated hormones are associated with attention disorders and with memory loss when we are exposed to them for too long – as is the case during burnout.
- Reduced productivity
Compare your output to prior years and prior projects. Burnout can happen over long periods of time, so it isn’t necessarily noticeable. You could also just be in a temporary slump that has nothing to do with burnout. If you do a side-by-side comparison over a long-term view and realise that you are producing less work, or lower quality work than you have previously, it could be as a result of burnout. This is especially true when you are experiencing the negative emotions of self-doubt and a sense of failure. These tend to be self-fulfilling emotions and they often accompany burnout. Procrastination is also an extremely common symptom of burnout, linked very closely to the fear of failure and a detachment and disengagement from your work.
- Interpersonal problems
Burnout can result in two obvious social issues: you either get into more and more conflicts (probably due to the increased negative emotions from symptom number three) and you engage more with people, but more negatively. Or, you can withdraw and begin to isolate yourself from your team and your loved ones. You might find yourself physically present, but completely tuned out from those around you. You may find yourself feeling isolated and alone all the while withdrawing from others and avoiding engagement – even with those you love.
- Not taking care of you
Burnout can cause people to engage in unhealthy coping strategies, such as excessive drinking and smoking, being too sedentary or eating the wrong foods. But you might also find that you lose interest in looking after yourself – you stop caring about what you are wearing, stop wearing make-up (if you wore it before), don’t sleep enough and generally stop caring about your appearance or your health. In some cases, you may turn to self-medication: either taking more and more headache and sleeping pills or using alcohol to sleep and coffee to wake up. It is also extremely common for people experiencing burnout to lose interest in hobbies and activities that previously brought them joy.
- Preoccupation with Work
If you are expending mental energy thinking about your business (or job) when you are supposed to be relaxing with loved ones, the your work is interfering with your ability to recover from the stresses of the day. In order to recover from stress, you need to actually disengage from the task that created it. You need to give yourself time to relax and to think about other things – preferably things that make you happy. If you find that you are unable to pull your mind away from work, it could be because work stress has gone on too long and is too high.
- General decreased satisfaction
Burnout can cause a continual sense of dissatisfaction. You may find you have a tendency to feel less and less happy about your career and your home life. You may even begin to feel stuck and powerless in relation to work, home or your community. You may also find yourself skipping work, coming in late and leaving early.
- Health Problems
After a long period of time, chronic stress and burnout will result in real health problems. They can start small in the form of muscle pain and headaches. You can experience a change in appetite and sleep habits and often you will experience lowered immunity and frequent illness. Over time, burnout can lead to digestive issues, heart disease, depression and obesity.
The presence of one or two of these symptoms in your life does not necessarily mean that you are experiencing burnout – you could just be experiencing a period of high stress. That does not mean you should ignore the symptoms! Stress can be potentially dangerous and needs to be managed, but it is not necessarily burnout. However, if you identified with half or more of these symptoms and you feel that they have been present for a significant period of time, then it is very worthwhile reaching out to a friend, a loved one or a professional and asking for help in beating your burnout and getting back to your true self.
You are also welcome to book a chat with us to see if we can help you feel like yourself again!