Feeling stressed and overwhelmed? You’re in good company. Myriad studies have reported that people in the U.S. work more than any other developed country. And, while working 24/7 is often touted as a badge of honor, it’s not sustainable. Signs you’re burnt out and need to practice more self-care can sneak up on even the most dedicated of employees. Because, you’re not a robot. One of the best anecdotes about burnout is from writer Glynnis MacNicol, who wrote for Elle that when she looks back at her downward spiral into burnout the signs were obvious even though she couldn’t see them at the time.
At one point she admitted she was so overwhelmed at work that she fantasized about leaving her job to be a garbage collector so she could escape the 24-hour news cycle. “I would sit at my desk, G-chat windows exploding, no less than 40 tabs open on my screen, my Blackberry within arms reach like a small tethered child or, perhaps more accurately, like a contraband substance, my television set tuned to the morning shows, and gaze out my window overcome by a sharp longing — a deep envy — of men who toss cans of refuse into a rumbling truck before continuing on to parts unknown. Parts free from the internet,” MacNicol wrote. Sound familiar? These signs you’re headed for burnout are your body’s way of telling you it’s time to put on the brakes ASAP.
1. You Feel Physically & Emotionally Exhausted
Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter explained on Psychology Today that burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotion exhaustion. “In the early stages, you may feel a lack energy and feel tired most days. In the latter stages, you feel physically and emotionally exhausted, drained, and depleted, and you may feel a sense of dread for what lies ahead on any given day.” If you can relate, it’s time to take an honest look at all of your commitments and see how you can make more time for yourself. This might include talking to your boss, taking up meditation, and setting aside dedicated time to take care of yourself.
2. You Develop Unexplained Physical Symptoms
Do you have chronic headaches, muscle aches, or gastrointestinal distress that’s accompanied by stress? This is your body’s way of telling you it’s time to slow your roll. “In addition to dysregulation in brain function, emerging evidence suggests that — much like other chronic stress conditions — burnout also leads to turmoil within the regulation of the body’s neuroendocrine system,” Alexandra Michel wrote for the Association of Psychological Science. “The hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis is an important component in the regulation of the stress response, controlling the release of the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol.”
3. You Experience An Overwhelming Sense Of Dread
While burnout is often associated with being overworked, a lot of other factors are involved. For example, if you’re spending your life doing things you don’t want to do, and you greet each day with an overwhelming feeling of dread, you could be headed for burnout. According to the Mayo Clinic, things like feeling a lack of control, work-life imbalance, lack of social support, and doing things that don’t align with your values are major contributors to burnout. Michel wrote: “Richard Gunderman, a physician who serves as a professor of radiology and philosophy at Indiana University, described the incremental onset of burnout as ‘the accumulation of hundreds or thousands of tiny disappointments, each one hardly noticeable on its own.'”
4. You Feel Cynical & Detached
If you don’t find joy in anything, you constantly feel cynical and pessimistic, you’re isolating yourself, and you feel detached from your environment and the people around you, you could be burnt out, Dr. Bourg Carter said on Psychology Today. When these feelings persist they can manifest as negative self talk, lead to extreme isolation, and devolve into full-blown anxiety and depression. “If you are experiencing some of these symptoms, this should be a wake-up call that you may be on a dangerous path,” she explained. “Take some time to honestly assess the amount of stress in your life and find ways to reduce it.”
5. Your Anger Doesn’t Match The Situation
Chronic stress can keep you in a constant state of fight or flight, which might lead you to scream at the barista for forgetting the foam on your latte. Dr. Bourg Carter noted that at the onset of burnout your anger could manifest as interpersonal tension and irritability, and if you don’t put on the brakes it could escalate to angry outbursts. Kind of like an onslaught of verbal diarrhea that you spew all over innocent bystanders. If everyone is walking on eggshells around you, it’s time to take a look at your stress level and make some changes.
6. You Have Trouble Concentrating
If you’re going like the Energizer bunny from the moment your feet hit the floor in the morning until you fall into bed at night, it’s eventually going to catch up with you. Studies have shown that multitasking is really bad for your brain, and trying to do multiple things at once all day long leads to poor concentration and actually makes you less productive. It’s the reason you walk into a grocery store intending to buy soy milk and walk out with everything but. It’s why you put the ice cream in the fridge and the beer in the freezer. Even computers crash when they don’t get a break. Everyone needs a reboot — that’s what lunch, evenings, weekends, mental health days, and holidays are for.
7. You Have Insomnia
One of the worst parts of burnout is not being able to sleep because you’re dreading everything you have to do the next day, feeling anxious that you won’t do it well, and generally beat yourself up for not being good enough. This is a terrible way to spend eight hours in bed. A study published in the journal BMJ Open found that burnout-related insomnia is associated with chronic hyper arousal, which happens when your amygdala (the part of your brain that senses danger) is in a constant state of fight or flight. The longer you remain in this state, the harder it becomes to power down at night.
You’re Burnt Out; Now What?
In a culture that values work and productivity, a lot of people have a hard time admitting when they’re burnt out. This can lead you to believe you’re the only one. You’re not. Ignoring burnout won’t make it go away, and it can lead to chronic health problems. If you are feeling burnt out, ask for help. Take time for self-care, find a therapist, and make sure you continue to do things you enjoy. Start saying no to things that will only add to your stress level.
Seriously, you are under no obligation to take anyone to the airport ever. That’s what Uber is for. Putting yourself first is not selfish — it’s 100 percent necessary. Books, baths, yoga, Netflix — whatever makes you feel good is what you should do. “Burnout isn’t like the flu; it doesn’t go away after a few weeks unless you make some changes in your life,” Dr. Bourg Carter explained. “And as hard as that may seem, it’s the smartest thing to do because making a few little changes now will keep you in the race with a lot of gas to get you across the finish line.”
I’m much better at speaking up when I experience burnout symptoms than I used to be. Don’t let the shame of not being able to do it all keep you in a vicious cycle of misery. Trust me, from someone who has burnt out and had to take six months off of work to recover, you deserve better.