Stress isn’t all in your head. It doesn’t just impact your thoughts and attitudes. Though it often begins there, stress can have a big impact on the health of your body and soul. And finally, it can lead to depression and burnout.
If you’ve ever had a hard time getting out of bed or wondered whether life is worth living, you’ve likely experienced the beginnings of burnout. Burnout happens when you undergo excessive stress over the long-term. It’s a feeling of complete and total exhaustion – emotionally, mentally, and physically. It will steal your energy and leave you feeling hopeless and helpless.
Maybe the worst part of burnout is that, though it often begins there, it isn’t limited to your workplace. It will inevitably spill over into every aspect of your lives. It can destroy friendships and your marriage. It holds you back from being the parent that your child needs you to be. And it leaves your self-worth in tatters.
I know this from first-hand experience. Two years ago, the stress of work and school and family combined to leave me in a state of hopeless paralysis. In the midst of that, I lost my job. There were days when I wondered whether getting out of bed was worth the time or energy. My marriage suffered, as did my relationships with my children. Fortunately, I recognized what I was experiencing before it could destroy me. And that is the first step in recovering from burnout: recognize that you have a problem.
How Do I Know If I’m Burning Out?
We all have days when we feel overworked and underappreciated. Feeling that way occasionally isn’t necessarily a sign of burnout. However, when those days become the norm rather than the exception, you may be headed down the path toward burnout.
Burnout doesn’t happen all at once. It’s a slow, creeping process that grows worse and worse over time – especially if it isn’t addressed. The key is paying attention to the warning signs and actively working to combat them.
So, what are some of the signs of burnout?
Emotional Symptoms of Burnout
Some of the first changes that you’ll notice if you’re on the road to burnout are emotional in nature. You may have a growing sense of failure or hopelessness. You may begin to doubt yourself or lose your sense of self-worth. There may be moments when you feel trapped in your own body. Conversely, you may feel detached, as if you are watching a movie of your life rather than living it. You’ll likely find yourself thinking pessimistically and wondering whether things will ever get better. As time goes on, you’ll find your motivation sapped and even when things go well, you’ll find yourself focusing solely on what could have been better.
If you look at your life and find many of the symptoms, you may be on the path to burnout. If you continue, you will likely begin to see some of the following physical symptoms.
Physical Symptoms of Burnout
In addition to emotional damage, burnout can also create serious physical problems for you. It often begins with a sense of weariness. You’ll find that even after a good night sleep, you still feel tired. One of the reasons for this is that burnout will often cause your sleeping and eating patterns to change. You’ll go from being a morning person to a night out or vice versa. You may not be able to sleep at all. And you may find that you either want to eat more often than normal or you completely lose your appetite. Beyond that, you may find that you’re experiencing more frequent headaches or even muscle pain. And as time goes on, your decreased immunity can lead you into more frequent bouts with sickness.
As time goes on, you’ll likely find an increase in these physical symptoms if you are experiencing burnout. As your body begins to be affected by the stress, your behavior and attitudes will likely change as well.
Other Symptoms of Burnout
If you’re experiencing burnout, you will likely find that your lack of motivation will lead you to begin acting in different ways. You may look for ways to avoid work through putting stuff off or coming in late and leaving early. You’ll find yourself taking out your frustrations on others, even those who are connected to the source of your stress. This often leads to withdrawing from others and isolating yourself. The pain of broken relationships can cause you to take solace in food, alcohol, or even drugs. If you find yourself doing these things, you are likely dealing with some form of burnout.
Is There Hope For The Burned Out?
Though burnout can make you feel hopeless, there is always hope. Tomorrow isn’t set in stone. And the mistakes of our past don’t have to determine our future successes.
I know, from experience, how exhausting and devastating that burnout can be. I’ve been there. But I also know that there is a way through the clouds of stress and burnout. I’ve gone through that fire and reached the other side. And I can tell you, as someone who thought he would never make it another step, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope on the other side.
So, how was I able to push through and reach that other side? It was only possible with time and some of the following steps.
Develop and Maintain Close Relationships
We, as human beings, are relational creatures. We thrive when we have strong connections to others. And this isn’t just folklore. Research has proven that people with strong friendships and family ties are happier, healthier, and more likely to find success.
These kinds of deep relationships are never more important than when we find ourselves going through burnout or depression. The dangerous thing about both burnout and depression is that when we go through them, we tend to withdraw from others. This only worsens our condition.
Because of this, you’ll need to be intentional about building and maintaining strong relationships when you find yourself in a season of burnout. Make plans to get breakfast or lunch with friends that you can trust. Find someone you have confidence in that you can confess your experiences to and who will listen to you without judgment.
These are the kind of deep relationships that will not only preserve you during difficult seasons, they will carry you through to the other side.
In saying this, I’m speaking from a place of experience. When I went through my time of burnout, I was tempted to run away. In fact, there were days when I locked myself in my room and shut my phone off so I wouldn’t have to face anyone. But I eventually realized that I was only spiraling downward. So, I followed the exact advice I’ve given you here: I found three or four close friends and began to share my life with them.
Our meetings weren’t always comfortable, and I often didn’t look forward to them. But afterward, I would feel as if a burden had been lifted. I would walk away knowing that I wasn’t alone. And that went a long way toward helping me get through that difficult season.
Take Care of Yourself
During periods of burnout and stress, you’ll often find yourself losing your appetite and unable to work up the energy to exercise. As I’ve already mentioned, this is one of the primary physical symptoms of burnout. But it’s not just a symptom of it, it can actually make your burnout even worse.
As your diet changes – usually for the worse – and as you lose the motivation to exercise, your body and mind will be negatively affected. During my bout with burnout, I started eating more than normal. I’d go through the cabinets, searching for something sweet to drown out my pain. My weight quickly increased, my health suffered, and my burnout worsened.
Although it might not seem like it, taking care of yourself physically is key to overcoming mental exhaustion and burnout. I didn’t realize just how much my body was contributing to my burnout until a close friend encouraged me to pay more attention to my diet and exercise. Once I started cutting out a lot of the sweets and put an exercise routine in place, I found that the state of my body and mind improved. And thankfully, I had friends who kept me accountable. They asked me how I was doing with my diet and even went walking with me on a weekly basis. This made a world of difference in staying consistent in these things.
When you’re in the middle of a season of burnout or intense stress, you tend to lose sight of the bigger picture. I can remember feeling like my entire world was crumbling when I went through that time in my life. It felt as though I had lost everything. And there was a lot that had changed. But someone gave me the wise advice of focusing on the things that hadn’t changed.
Focusing on the stable things in life can help you no matter what you’re going through. When chaos is erupting at work or your relationship with your spouse is rocky, find something that hasn’t changed and hold on tightly to it. Remember, life is unstable and involves change after change. But there are a handful of things that don’t change.
This is one of the reasons that Alcoholics Anonymous encourages people who want to get out of alcoholism to have a belief in a higher power. An unchanging higher power gives us something to hold onto in the middle of life’s storms. It can also help us as we seek a perspective that looks beyond tomorrow and into the distant future.
This was one of the most important parts of overcoming burnout for me. When my entire life seemed to be falling apart, I believed that there was a larger plan. I believed there was a higher power that was holding everything in place. And I was had faith that, in the end, he would see me through.
This faith carried me through my burnout and led me to a place where I’m able to look back on that time with thanksgiving. I’m not thankful that I had to go through such a dark season. But I am thankful for the lessons that I learned there and the strength that I gained. I’m thankful that I’m now able to have more confidence than ever that burnout and depression and stress don’t have the final say.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can experience the same transformation that I did – by overcoming your burnout – I would encourage you to click the link below and begin your journey.
Don’t let stress have the final say. There is hope!
Contributed by Casey Fenn