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Putting Out the Fire: Preventing and Managing Burnout

Putting Out the Fire: Preventing and Managing Burnout

Burnout is a term that many of us are familiar with and have experienced ourselves. It is a response to chronic stress from different types of work involving responsibilities, purpose, expectations, or obligations. Some examples may include volunteering, studying, caregiving, or employment. According to the World Health Organization, burnout includes the following:

  1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion.
  2. Increased mental distance from, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job.
  3. A sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.

Recognizing Burnout:

By paying close attention to common signs of burnout within yourself or others, you can manage and prevent these feelings and increase your overall wellness. Think about burnout as that bone-deep, all-encompassing exhaustion. Often experienced as Sunday night dread, leading to those Monday morning blues. Below are some examples of how exhaustion can show up in every dimension of our lives and prompt us to recognize burnout.

  • Physical: Perhaps, you are feeling your body just doesn’t feel right—your energy is “off” and you feel out of touch with yourself. Or maybe you are experiencing more noticeable symptoms, such as panic attacks, chest pains, increased heart rate, nausea, and headaches. Change of appetite, causing weight loss or weight gain, is another commonly reported symptom.
  • Emotional: You are past the point of stress, and it is noticeable to you or those around you. Maybe you notice you are reacting with increased irritability, sensitivity, defensiveness, or anger. You’re lacking your usual methods of stress management. You may be more sensitive to feedback. Feedback is often blown out of proportion, and you may think, I guess I can’t do anything right.
  • Social: Things that used to be enjoyable may not be anymore. Disconnection and absenteeism are common warning signs here—loss of interest in social interactions, lack of participation in meetings or social engagements, avoidance of taking on new responsibilities, or less responsiveness to calls, emails, and so forth. As social connection decreases, isolation increases. Perhaps a formerly extroverted person starts to become distant, or they seem more withdrawn than usual.
  • Spiritual: You feel out of touch. Maybe you are less engaged in spiritual practices, meditating less, or are no longer feeling grounded and connected in nature.
  • Intellectual: You feel generally disengaged. Perhaps you or those around you are noticing that your quality of work is not what it usually is. You are less productive or less creative.

Managing & Preventing Burnout:

  • Revisit your “why.” Ask yourself these questions: What is the reason you do what you do? What is the purpose? Why do you find satisfaction or fulfillment? It’s easy to get burned out if you can’t see the bigger picture. If you lose sight of the work you are engaged in, it makes an impact. Get back in touch with why you do what you do. Explore and look for reasons to feel excited again.
  • Manage your expectations for yourself. Expecting the same output from yourself every day, regardless of external factors or disruptions, is unreasonable and a recipe for burnout. When you don’t meet your own expectations, practice self-compassion. Nobody can be 100% in all their roles all the time. Not every day will be perfect—and that’s fine if you remind yourself that it’s fine.
  • Learn to say “no.” Being honest with yourself and others about your capacity and saying “no” will support you in managing commitments. Remember, “no” is a full sentence.
  • Plan for breaks. Even with a deadline bearing down on you, taking regular breaks to reset yourself—having a stretch, getting a coffee or some fresh air, or doing a meditation may make all the difference in not only your energy throughout the day but also in preventing or managing burnout over a long period of time.
  • Prioritize your wellness. If you are noticing burnout, be intentional about taking care of yourself. For instance, schedule socialization back into your planner by setting virtual coffee dates, video calling with friends and family, visiting in person, or even taking a walk in your neighborhood where you can wave to your neighbors. People need people; it’s just the way human beings are.
  • Seek/ask for support. If you just can’t say no, seek support. If you’re experiencing or approaching burnout, don’t stay silent. Seek support and reach out to someone—a trusted friend, partner, or professional. Burnout can become a very isolating place and support can go a long way.
  • Remain hopeful. Burnout happens. The experiences that accompany burnout are challenging to recognize, manage, and prevent. By trying to remain hopeful, and with a little intentionality, you will start to learn what the signs and symptoms are in your life, and you’ll be able to practice responding more effectively.
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