Burnout is, by definition, a state of persistent exhaustion. Mental, physical and emotional exhaustion. Normally occurring after a long period of stress. For many, this can ultimately lead to either extreme feelings of overwhelm or depression.
It was November last year when I experienced burnout for the very first time. From June, work suddenly increased to a whole new level. The previous 18 months of hard slog were now seemingly paying off. And it was exciting. Driven by my desire to help people, and intrigued to see what new heights of revenue I could achieve, I booked myself solid. Working a 6-day week and coaching 7:30am until 9pm most days.
Having never worked these kinds of hours before, I hadn’t really appreciated the importance of “me” time. It was just something that had naturally occurred before. And unsurprisingly, after 6 months of poor self-care and no down time – I burnt out. And ended up getting sick and having to take the whole of December off work. Since then, I have consciously taken the time to listen to my body. And my mind. And have taken measures to create a life of less stress and more balance. It was a great, and much needed, learning curve for me.
Did I know I was approaching burnout? Not really. I just thought I was working hard. Experiencing the normal levels of stress that most professionals experience in their jobs. But there were tell-tale signs which, if I had paid closer attention to, could have stopped me from burning out completely.
Here are 12 signs you’re approaching burnout – and don’t even know it.
1) Problems with memory, concentration and decision-making
If you’re struggling to absorb information. Finding it difficult to keep track of conversations. Forgetting simplest things like people’s names. Struggling to extract information from your mind and communicate it. Or finding it tough to solve problems and make decisions. There’s a strong chance you are on the verge of burnout. Poor cognitive function is a key symptom of chronic stress. Take note.
2) Everyone and everything is exhausting
If you have got to the point where everything and everyone in your life is exhausting. And if you could hide away and avoid it all, you would. If your energy is on the floor and you feel like you have nothing left to give. Chances are you’re exhausted and you’ve already reached burnout.
3) Disturbed sleep
Around late September I developed insomnia. Surviving off about 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night. I was having problems getting to sleep and then waking up between 4am and 5am. The issue with disturbed sleep is it wreaks havoc with your natural sleep hormones. Your body gets so confused about when it should and shouldn’t be awake, it ends up producing cortisol all the time. So even when you are physically exhausted, you still can’t sleep. Chronic lack of sleep will certainly lead to burnout.
4) Poor Emotional Management
You’re stuck in a negative state. Questions such as “Why am I doing this?” or “What’s the point?” or even “How am I ever going to get out of this?” might be circling your mind. You might feel frustrated, and irritated by the smallest of things. Particularly people or tasks invading your space and time. You might be quite snappy or short with people. You might feel emotionally overwhelmed. Not being able to stop crying. You might be walking around like a zombie. Completely numb. Too exhausted to feel anything. These are all signs, if you don’t take some time out soon, you’re destined for total burnout.
5) You don’t want to get out of bed in the morning
This could be because you’re completely demotivated by what you’re doing. Your life or job isn’t aligned to your values and is either unfulfilling or highly stressful. It could be because you’re simply physically exhausted. Either way – something needs to change before it’s too late.
6) You’ve stopped caring
Not because you’re a terrible person. Simply because you don’t have the energy to care anymore. A lack of enthusiasm or satisfaction in life can be signs burnout is on the way.
7) Your work is under par
When it comes to performance, we have good times and bad. However, when the bad has been outweighing the good for quite some time, it might be because you’re burning out. And seeing yourself under-perform could be adding more fuel to the fire.
8) Your professional and personal relationships are suffering
Whether that’s because you don’t have the energy to engage with anyone. Or because you’re snapping all the time. If you’ve noticed your relationships are suffering – it’s time to assess where your life is at right now.
9) You can’t switch off
No matter where you are or who you’re with – you’re thinking about work. Whether that’s the tasks you have to do, or how overwhelmed you are with it. It’s always on your mind and your mind can’t get a break.
10) Poor self-care
Because of lack of sleep, I found myself caught up in a pretty horrific caffeine-sugar cycle. Both of which ultimately made the situation worse. But due to lack of time and lack of energy, I was using both to make it through the day. And at times I felt trapped. I also didn’t take time to rest. Really rest.
If you’re engaging in unhealthy coping strategies to manage your stress, such as eating too much junk food, not eating enough, drinking too much alcohol, smoking, over-exercising, relying on caffeine, being too sedentary, not sleeping or using drugs to help you sleep – chances are you’re on your way to burnout. If you’re not there already.
11) You feel you’re constantly rushing
If you’re rushing from one thing to the next, with no down time in the middle. Or you feel you’re running off adrenalin all day long. Keep going like this and there’s a strong possibility you’ll end up burning out.
12) Your health is taking a battering
Some health issues are more obvious. For example, digestive issues, obesity, having frequent coughs and colds, tight shoulders and neck pain. But some are less obvious. For example, heart disease. If you have been feeling unwell for some time or have been experiencing any new physical symptoms, chances are your body is telling you to slow down. Go to the doctor and get checked out before you end up with a serious health condition.
If you’re experiencing any of the above, you could be on the edge of burnout. It’s therefore important to put some new habits in place, starting now, to avoid burning out completely.
1) Sleep comes first. Getting enough sleep will keep you rested and allow you to make better choices when it comes to coping strategies. Taking 5 days off work helped me to get back into a normal sleeping pattern.
2) Make relaxation a priority. Schedule time for you and hobbies you find calming. Reading, meditation, drawing, listening to music, getting regular massages are some examples.
3) Focus on health. Your health is the foundation to everything. Without your health, you could end up with nothing. Eat well. Exercise. And sleep!
4) Build a life outside of work you find truly satisfying. Don’t know what you enjoy? Here’s an article to help you find a hobby you’re passionate about.
5) Turn off your phone and laptop. Your brain needs to rest as much as your body does. And I’m sure your friends and family will thank you for it.
7) Where is the stress coming from? Is the pressure really coming from outside or is it pressure you have put on yourself? Are your standards too high? Do you have a fear of failure? Do you have trouble saying ‘no’? If the pressure is internal – start to look at ways you can reduce this. Speaking with a life coach, therapist or NLP practitioner can help.
8) If the pressure is coming from outside, at some point you have to decide when enough is enough. Communicate and set your boundaries with whoever is involved. And if they don’t like it, then maybe it’s time to move on.
9) Take a holiday. Nothing like a good break to recharge the batteries.
How do you manage your stress? What tips and advice can you give to others? Please comment below!
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Zeta Yarwood is recognised as a leading Career Coach and NLP Life Coach in Dubai, helping individuals across the world to achieve success in all areas of their lives. With a degree in Psychology and over 10 years’ experience in coaching, management and recruitment – working for multinational companies and award-winning recruitment firms – Zeta is an expert in unlocking human potential. Passionate about helping people discover their strengths, talents and motivation, Zeta lives to inspire others to dream big and create the life and career they really want.