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How to Recognize Burnout (and What to Do About It)

From @BlessTheMessy Instagram

Burnout is a very real thing that affects a lot of people.

The problem is that it can be kind of challenging to tell whether the way you feel is because of the normal stress of day-to-day life or if it’s something more serious.

It can also be hard to know what to do to put an end to burnout once you’ve identified it.

In this article, we’ll talk about what burnout is, how to tell if you’re burned out (or heading in that direction), and what to do about it.

What is burnout?

First things first, let’s talk about what burnout is.

It’s more than just a sign of “working hard” and, even though it’s a popular topic these days, it’s not a NEW thing. In fact, the phrase was coined back in 1974 by psychologist, Herbert Freudenberger. A Holocaust survivor, Freudenberger was what people would describe as extremely driven and a bit of a workaholic. He worked as a therapist by day, usually working 12-hour shifts. Then, at night, he would treat drug addicts at his clinic. Over time, his nonstop work schedule started to get to him. In addition to chronic fatigue, he was also highly irritable, prone to angry outbursts, and was generally not a good person to be around, according to his family (NPR, 2016).

One day, all of the chronic stress and lack of sleep finally caught up with him when he was physically unable to get out of bed. That’s when he started self-diagnosing himself. He felt like what was happening to him wasn’t just depression or exhaustion. But he didn’t know the right word for it. So, he came up with his own: burnout. He came up with the term when he thought about the blank look on his drug addict patient's faces as they would watch cigarettes until they burned out.

Burnout is a state of overall exhaustion. It’s when you’re physically, mentally, and emotionally depleted in the face of excessive and prolonged stress —especially when you feel like you can’t keep up with the demands that are being placed on you.

Burnout is very common in the workplace, but it’s also a big problem for people who do things where they are constantly “on the job”, rarely getting time off. And it’s only worsened when they feel unappreciated or underappreciated on top of being overworked. Some examples are moms (whether they stay at home or work outside the home) and caregivers who are constantly taking care of everyone and everything, but don’t normally get days off or shows of gratitude for their dedication.

Burnout can also be the result of:

  • Feeling like you have no say in your work or life

  • Being expected to do more than is reasonable

  • Doing work that feels meaningless or monotonous

  • Being in an environment that places a lot of pressure on you

  • Being in an environment that feels chaotic

  • Taking on too much

  • Trying to do the work of multiple people by yourself

  • Not getting a healthy amount of sleep

There are also certain personality types that are more prone to burnout than others. They include high achievers, Type A’s, perfectionists, pessimists, and “control freaks”.

How do you know if you’re burned out?

Burnout has a really significant impact on your overall health. It’s more than just feeling like you need a break or a vacation. When you’re burned out, it can impact every single area of your life.

Some of the effects or symptoms of burnout include:

  • Lack of (or lessened) productivity

  • Lack of interest in things you normally enjoyed

  • Lack of motivation to get things done

  • Low to no energy

  • Feeling tired all the time

  • Waking up feeling like you need a nap

  • Feeling helpless or hopeless

  • Feeling cynical

  • Feeling trapped

  • Feeling defeated

  • Feeling resentful of people, your job, your to-do list, etc.

  • Feeling like you’ve given all you have and have nothing left

  • Lowered immunity

  • Getting sick more often

  • Feeling like doing anything is a waste of time and/or energy

  • Feeling like there’s no end to the demands on your time and energy

  • Feeling like your to-do list never gets any shorter

  • Feeling constantly overwhelmed

  • Feeling like nothing you do makes a difference

  • Feeling like no one appreciates you

  • Change in eating habits

  • Change in sleep habits

  • Feeling like a failure

  • Constantly doubting yourself

  • Feeling like no one understands you

  • Feeling alone

  • Feeling a deep sense of dissatisfaction with life

  • Feeling like you haven’t accomplished anything

  • Withdrawing from loved ones

  • Withdrawing from responsibilities

  • Constantly procrastinating or drawing things out

  • Using things like food, drugs, or alcohol to cope

  • Lashing out in anger at other people

  • Skipping work needlessly

  • Showing up to work late

  • Leaving work early

If you read through this list and could relate to several items, chances are you’re either burned out or heading in that direction.

So, what can you do?

From @BlessTheMessy Instagram

How do you treat burnout?

The first step to treating burnout is to recognize that you’re in the midst of it (or are on your way toward burnout). The next step is to figure out a way for you to manage stress in a healthy way. Having coping strategies in place can help you to alleviate the symptoms of burnout so you can have the clarity and energy to not only get yourself out of the burnout stage, but to prevent it from happening again.

Get connected

Turn to your support network for help. This might mean asking for help or letting people know that you need to take some things off your plate. Some examples include:

  • Getting help with chores

  • Finding a babysitter to help with your kids

  • Just having someone to talk or vent to so you can get some things off your chest

If you don’t have a support system already, now might be a good time to either find one or build one. There are a lot of communities and groups out there built around common interests, backgrounds, or goals. Find a group of like-minded people and get engaged.

Take a Break

If at all possible, take a break from the things that are stressing you out. Use up your vacation time and sick days. Take a leave of absence if you have to. If you’re feeling burned out at home, consider going for a weekend vacation — or even a staycation at a local hotel. Unplug from electronics and social media if those contribute to your sense of overwhelm. Use the time to truly step away from it all and relax.


Speaking of relaxing, that’s a big one. You need to take time to decompress and really slow down. In addition to getting some good, restful sleep, you should also make it a point to engage in activities like yoga, meditation, and breathwork to help your body and mind rest after all the stress they’ve been under.

Are you an employer who’s concerned about burnout in the workplace?

I offer corporate breathwork sessions that can help the members of your team manage their stress and anxiety so that they’re happier, more creative, and more productive. I’ve recently facilitated breathwork sessions for Sony Music employees, Accenture, and teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

I’d love to talk to you about how I can help you cultivate a more positive work environment. Click here to learn more about my corporate wellness sessions.

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