It’s not uncommon to have days where you feel underappreciated, overloaded, or just plain helpless. But if you’ve reached the point where getting through your day–or even getting out of bed—is requiring a Herculean effort, you may be experiencing burnout.
Burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged and excessive stress. It’s often associated with work stress, but stress from relationships, parenting, and caregiving can also lead to burnout.
Burnout saps your productivity, drains your energy levels, and can leave you feeling helpless, overwhelmed, and resentful. Its adverse effects can even cross over into your physical wellbeing, making you more vulnerable to illness.
Burnout often creeps up gradually, which means you may be able to stop it if you can recognize the signs and take action before it strikes.
Signs of Burnout
Burnout is typically characterized by emotional feelings of detachment, helplessness, failure, depression, and a lack of motivation.
It can be accompanied by behavioral signs, including procrastination, isolation, withdrawal, using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope, or lashing out at others.
If you feel like you’ve got all four burners blazing on high and you’re about to run out of gas, you may be on the precipice of burnout. Here are some ways to reclaim your inner fire before there’s nothing left to give to yourself or anyone else.
How to Avoid—and Recover From—Burnout
You may feel out of control or like nothing matters. But, even though you can’t always make the stressors go away, you can take positive steps to get more balance in your life.
If the thought of turning to a helpful friend sounds unappealing, that’s your burnout talking. Reach out to someone you trust and let them know how you’re feeling.
According to the Mayo Clinic, friendship can offer many benefits to your physical and mental health, including:
- Increase your sense of belonging and purpose
- Boost your happiness and reduce your stress
- Improve your self-confidence and self-worth
- Help you cope with traumas, such as divorce, illness, and job loss
- Encourage you to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as excessive drinking or lack of exercise
Adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of depression, and studies have found that older adults with a rich social life are likely to live longer than those with fewer connections.
Giving back and practicing kindness can be a win-win situation when you’re feeling low. Not only can you brighten someone else’s day, but research has revealed that generosity can activate your brain’s reward region, lighting it up in the same way as food and sex.
If you’re hovering at the edge of burnout, there’s a good chance you’re already over-scheduled with too much on your plate. So you don’t have to volunteer to lead the PTA or organize a food drive to get the benefits of giving back.
Rather, look for ways you can practice generosity and kindness in small ways throughout the day that don’t require a lot of time or effort.
- Smile and say hello to a stranger
- Pay for someone else’s coffee
- Let someone in front of you at a check-out line
- Tell a friend how much you appreciate them
- Give a stranger a compliment
- Be kind to employees at stores, restaurants, etc.
- Be a good listener for someone else
When commitment piles up, burnout is sure to follow. So take an honest look at your to-dos and responsibilities and start saying “no” to the extra requests.
Saying no can be challenging, particularly when it means disappointing a close co-worker, friend, or family member. But, as Brene Brown says, setting boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.
If you’ve got more on your to-do list than you have hours in the day, it’s time to start outsourcing.
And no, not just the work stuff.
What do housekeeping, homework, yard work, shopping, party planning, cooking, and running errands have in common? They’re all examples of “to-dos” that you can outsource to someone else.
Sure, you can hire someone to take on these responsibilities, and probably support a local mompreneur at the same time. Not everyone has the resources to hire extra help, however.
Which means outsourcing could look like:
- Asking a friend, neighbor, or spouse for help with errands
- Trading school drop-off, pick-up with another mom
- Using grocery or meal delivery services
- Letting that overly-eager neighbor kid walk the dog
- Giving more chore responsibilities to your kids
Social media can be a force for good. It can help you stay connected to friends and family and find new communities of people who share your passions. But it can also be an unhealthy escape, providing hours of attractive distraction and keeping you from tackling your real-life responsibilities.
Research has also shown that social media use can be detrimental to mental health. Multiple studies have found a strong link between heavy social media use and an increased risk for depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts.
Unplug. Remove social media apps from your phone. Set screen time reminders during the day. Take a break from the phone, the screen, and the endless distractions.
Find time to nurture your creative side. Researchers have analyzed over 100 studies and found numerous health benefits of creativity and art, including:
- Improved wellbeing
- Decreasing negative emotions
- Increasing positive ones
- Reduced depression
- Reductions in stress and anxiety
- Improved immune function
Cook, dance, draw, color, write, sculpt, or make something crafty. There are no rules for creativity, and you don’t need to be “good” to get going. Even journaling or sketching for 5 minutes first thing in the morning can be a creative outlet, so don’t let a lack of time or art supplies stop you from flexing your creative muscles.
Sleep may be the #1 most important thing you can do for your physical and mental health. Lack of sleep can exacerbate stress, and stress can interrupt your sleep. Break the cycle and ensure you’re getting the rest you need for your mind and body to recover.
- Stick to a sleep schedule, go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
- Get a minimum of 6-8 hours each night
- Eliminate screen time and blue light 2 hours before bed
- Take a warm bath or shower an hour before bed
- Declutter your room
- Optimize your bed for comfort and health
- Utilize essential oils to calm and relax
- Read a good book before you go to sleep
It can be tough to get moving when you’re suffering from burnout, which can drain your energy, motivation, and desire. If you’re in the pre-burnout phase, you may lack time to squeeze in exercise, forgoing your regular workout routine to “get it all done” or meet your deadlines.
It’s these times when you don’t have a spare minute or the motivation to exercise that you need it the most.
Physical exercise such as walking, jogging, yoga, and weightlifting can have a profoundly positive impact on depression and anxiety, relieve stress, improve memory, help you sleep better, and boost your overall mood.
If you’re short on time, you can reap the same benefits from carving up your exercise into short periods throughout the day. Take a quick, 10-minute walk in the morning, on a lunch break, and in the evening, and you’ll get the same benefit as one 30-minute session.
Your food impacts your mood. So support your mental and physical wellbeing by feeding your body nourishing foods full of healthy nutrients, and stay away from sugary and highly processed junk foods designed to hijack your body and brain.
Eat plenty of fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, oats, and legumes to help keep blood sugar levels from crashing. Get plenty of magnesium-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, dark chocolate—yay!—and raw cacao.
You are an amazing creature. Humans have an incredible talent for resiliency, the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, and significant stress. Resilience helps you bounce back from stress, but it can also help you grow, get stronger, and be more adept at handling future stress.
Just like your muscles rebuild stronger after a workout, you can build resilience by:
- Taking care of yourself with good sleep, food, and movement
- Mindfulness practices like yoga, journaling, and meditation
- Adaptogens: herbs that promote resilience to stress
- A positive, hopeful mindset
- Daily gratitude practice
- Self-love, patience, and grace for yourself
- Getting help from a licensed professional
There’s only so much stress that you can shoulder before the strain becomes too much. Burnout can have a negative impact on your health, your job performance, and even your relationships. But you don’t have to let burnout take you down. Make yourself and your wellbeing a priority, and you can build up the resilience you need to carry the weight of the world without slipping off track.