One of the most dangerous aspects of burnout is that it impacts self-awareness. When you’re in it, you’re running on adrenaline, and the momentum feels so exhilarating that you end up adding more and more to your plate. But once burnout hits, it can take months to overcome.
A vacation may temporarily help prevent or cure burnout. But a few days off is not enough to keep the tide from coming in.
The stresses of a full fledged working job or long term financial or even personal pressure are causes of burnout.
We share four tips below about how to prevent burnout.
1. Early Warning Signs
Some of the subtle cues that you might need to reassess how much you’re taking on:
Basic activities like going to the grocery store feel overstimulating.
You feel so overwhelmed you’ve started to cut activities you know are good for you (e.g., exercise or alone time).
You’re saying “yes” even though you’re already at capacity.
You find everyone and everything irritating.
Getting sick and being forced to shut down for a bit sounds kind of nice.
You’re all too familiar with “revenge bedtime procrastination,” when you stubbornly stay up late because you didn’t get any time to yourself during the day.
We are quick to ignore these signs, but they are important alarm bells. “Sometimes life taps you on the shoulder with a feather, sometimes it hits you with a brick, and sometimes it runs you over with a bus. Learn to listen when it’s just a feather.”
2. Types of Burnout Your May be Heading For
The word “burnout” has become an umbrella term. It’s useful to understand exactly what you’re feeling so you can get the specific support that will be most helpful. If you feel fried because you’re pulling long hours, that has different implications than if you work from 9 to 5 but are depressed because you find your role meaningless. Look at three dimensions of burnout:
Exhaustion: You feel constantly depleted.
Cynicism: You feel detached from your job and the people around you.
Ineffectiveness: You feel that you’re never able to do a good enough job.
3. Break the Stress Cycle
In the modern world, we operate on surge capacity all the time because we never complete the stress cycle. If you’re stuck in traffic for hours, you won’t immediately feel better as you walk through your front door. Your body will still be in the middle of a stress response. And if you haven’t made it a habit to wind down, you’ll continue to produce the stress hormone cortisol for the rest of the evening. Eventually, all that accumulated stress will catch up to you and you’ll crash. Here are the seven ways to complete the stress cycle:
Take slow, deep breaths
Do a physical activity
Hang out with friends
Do something creative, like writing or drawing
Engage in physical affection, like asking for a hug
4. Draw and Respect Boundaries
People don’t know what you want. It is your job to make it clear. It takes courage to say no and stick to it without feeling guilty. The next time you are on the brink of saying yes to something you are not excited about, pause and ask yourself:
If I say yes, what do I gain?
If I do this, what will I not be able to do instead?
If I say no, what is the worst thing that would happen?
Your capacity is also going to be different from everyone else’s. Your friends, coworkers, and even your partner may not share your burnout triggers. For example, if you are an introvert and your partner is an extrovert, they may see you in a slump and encourage you to schedule dinner with friends or go to a show. That’s what they would do to feel better. But that might be the exact opposite of what restores you.
Burnout is your body and soul forcing you to pay attention to them.