Editor’s Note: Life can be overwhelming at times. This we know for sure. We’re sharing this post, originally published in May of 2020, to help you recognize times when you’re burned out and take steps to get to the other side.
You have to text Rachel today, I tell myself. It takes, oh I don’t know, maybe fifteen seconds to send the text; it’s a few fingerprints on my phone which is very likely in my hand already. But I can’t. The most simple tasks can paralyze me.
There’s an email—fine, a dozen emails—I need to respond to, an article I’m five weeks past deadline on, jobs I’ve let slip by because I can’t send a simple message. I’m by no means a slacker though; I’ve attempted to overachieve since I spent recess time inside helping my teachers. Why play when I could grade spelling tests, why sit still and clear my head when I could listen to the latest episode of The Daily, why doze off to sleep watching a mindless movie when I have a stack of The New Yorker magazines piling up next to my bed? It’s been enforced and repeatedly reinforced to my millennial cohorts and me that every moment must propel us forward, making us smarter/fitter/richer or making the world as a whole kinder or cleaner.
Before all this happened I was well into ten-plus years of working a morning job, an afternoon job, and an evening job, many of which doubled up as weekend jobs, on top of being a reliable friend and a nice person and a voting, contributing, informed member of society. Ten years of responding to “How are you?” with “busy” or “tired.” I’ve spent the majority of this pandemic sleeping, and much of me is relieved and grateful for the forced downtime so I can catch up on decades’ worth of sleep deprivation.
My mental state hinges on how efficiently and successfully I can scratch tasks off my to-do list, yet some to-dos never get crossed out because the burden of doing it all, all the time has paralyzed me.
Some days I can do the big things, but not the little things. Some days the little things propel me to thinking I can get the big things done, and then I crash. My mental state hinges on how efficiently and successfully I can scratch tasks off my to-do list, yet some to-dos never get crossed out because the burden of doing it all, all the time has paralyzed me. Many of us live, and have lived for years, with no clear demarcations of when we’re on and off the clock. And we’re burned out.
Burnout is a devious elixir of exhaustion and chronic stress that benefits exactly nobody. So here, for the sake of our health and happiness, let’s start by recognizing burnout and combating it early.
5 Signs You’re Burned Out
1. You’re tired. Really, really tired.
Being burned out takes exhaustion to a new level. Think foggy brain, an overall lack of motivation, and being easily irritated. Are you having a hard time concentrating? Do you feel frustrated, more so than usual? How hard is it to drag yourself out of bed in the morning? Your body knows all; you just have to listen to it.
2. Your relationships are suffering.
When experiencing burnout, some folks may tap into their annoyance by lashing out at those around them. (Oftentimes it’s the one who deserves it the least who gets the brunt of it.) Others may withdraw or tune out. Pay attention to how you handle your relationships while suffering burnout.
3. Your job performance is slipping.
Feeling dissatisfied, stuck, annoyed, unambitious, over it—that’s burnout. Before you quit your job though, evaluate if there’s anything you can do or anybody you can talk to to make things better. There’s a difference between temporary boredom and long-term burnout.
4. You’re experiencing chronic health issues.
When ignored over a long period of time, chronic stress can directly correlate to serious health problems such as heart disease, digestive problems, and depression. It’s never worth it.
5. You’re not taking care of yourself.
Too much alcohol at night, too much coffee in the morning, and not enough sleep in between is one way to cope with burnout, but a terrible way to cope with burnout. Keep an eye on your vices and how you use them when you’re feeling stressed. For me, it’s excessively napping; that’s my favorite avoidance technique. For you, it could be chain-smoking or becoming sedentary.
5 Steps to Recovering from Burnout
1. Designate time to relax.
An upside to pandemic life is that we’re all reminding ourselves of the relaxing hobbies we hadn’t been making time for, whether that’s yoga, reading, puzzling, going for a walk, or attending virtual happy hours. It’s important to have a corner of your life that’s not connected to work and make time for it for no other reason than it makes you happy.
Turn your phone off and go for a walk. Spend an afternoon in the woods digging up ramps. Banish phones to another room during dinner. While our little handheld robots feel necessary to modern life, turning them off sets boundaries and streamlines your thought processes, since you’re not being bombarded by this text or that email or another news notification.
3. Get enough sleep.
Sleep is the cure-all for just about everything. It’s necessary for memory, productivity, and overall mental function. Recovering from burnout requires you to replenish the resources you have to deal with stress, and sleep is #1.
4. Pay attention to your body.
Everybody and every body reacts differently to chronic stress. My TMJ flares up when I’m particularly stressed and I would lie in bed all day if allowed. Some may experience headaches or shoulder tension. Maybe you have digestion issues or suffer from anxiety attacks. It’s important to tune in to the physical signals your body is giving you.
5. Understand when it’s your problem and when it’s theirs.
Think about it: Is your burnout motivated by internal factors, like societal pressures, or external, like more demands and fewer resources at work? Understand what’s stressing you out and who you need to address it with, whether it’s a boss or whether it’s you.
Megan is a writer, editor, etc.-er who muses about life, design and travel for Domino, Lonny, Hunker and more. Her life rules include, but are not limited to: zipper when merging, tip in cash and contribute to your IRA. Be a pal and subscribe to her newsletter Night Vision or follow her on Instagram.