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Strategies for Combatting and Preventing Burnout

Two rows of used, badly burned matchsticks

"I'm just tired"

This is something I said when someone at work noticed me getting more water to take with my Ibuprofen to treat my headache. What I didn't realize until after the fact was that I was getting a lot of headaches lately. I was also having issues concentrating and carrying out tasks that usually take no effort for me to do. I just thought I wasn't getting good sleep. But even on nights when I was sleeping soundly, I still felt groggy and stressed about what the day would entail. I know now that I wasn't just "tired". I was experiencing Burnout.

What is Burnout?

At first glance, Burnout sounds pretty similar to regular stress. Burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. Psychology Today describes Burnout as "an extended period of stress that feels as though it cannot be ameliorated". In other words, we tend to see a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to regular stress. Maybe it's after a certain period at work, perhaps it's up until the weekend comes, maybe it's after you've completed a course for your degree--whatever it may be, you know that you won't feel this amount of stress forever. With Burnout, however, stress feels never-ending and comes with feelings of emptiness, apathy, and hopelessness.

Illustration of a Black man sitting at his desk with his head down.

What I'm finding is that when our stress is left unchecked, we fall into the form of depression known as Burnout. Burnout is usually caused by work problems such as excessive hours, conflict with co-workers, significant changes in a work routine, etc. However, Burnout can also appear in other aspects of life such as caretaking, parenting, romantic relationships, side jobs, school, and self-employment. Anyone can experience Burnout, not just corporate workers.

For a while, I've been feeling physically and mentally exhausted but what is especially true is that I've been feeling a sense of dread towards work. I have also begun going into a form of anticipatory anxiety known as The Sunday Scaries in which the feelings of anxiousness are directly tied to the upcoming work week. Other key signs of burnout include irritability as well as consistent feelings of anger or cynicism. Burnout can make us feel less compassionate or less effective in our daily work.

While anyone can experience Burnout, it is most common in people who: are perfectionistic, have a generally pessimistic outlook, feel the need to be in control, or have a high-achieving nature. While working too much is a more common cause of Burnout, it can also happen when we lack close relationships, have too many responsibilities without enough help, or lack proper sleep.

What Does Burnout Look Like?

As previously stated, Burnout can cause us to feel apathetic toward what we should care about. If you're in the medical profession that would be a patient's well-being. If you offer a service, it would be the satisfaction of the customer or client. And if you're a stay-at-home parent, it could be the overall maintenance and management of the home.

Illustration of Black woman with fog around her head

For example, I'm expected to have great attention to detail and organizational skills in my line of work. However, in my state of Burnout, I find myself repeatedly making simple (but irritating) mistakes. Someone experiencing Burnout may also find themselves in a constant "mental fog" that keeps them from concentrating or causes them to do illogical things. One common mistake that people make (myself included) is using their work badge to "badge in" to their own homes.

Burnout doesn't just affect our mental state, it also affects us physically. Someone experiencing Burnout may have frequent headaches, fatigue, stomachaches, mild illness, or trouble sleeping. There are also social consequences to Burnout, in which we tend to isolate ourselves from others when we experience it. When we experience Burnout, we're also more likely to be irritable, have uncharacteristic outbursts, or (more severely) use substances to cope. As you can imagine, Burnout can be a great hindrance to daily life.

What Do We Do About It?

A plan of action is going to vary from person to person. A solution should be suitable for your specific lifestyle, as treating/preventing Burnout isn't one size fits all.

Work Solutions

  1. Voice Your Concerns - When I was laid off from my very first job after college, I held on to that experience and developed a fear of being unemployed. With that in mind, it can feel nerve-wracking to voice concerns at work because you feel like you could jeopardize your job security by "complaining too much". But know that you're not complaining, you're trying to keep yourself healthy. Depending on your work dynamic, it would be worth speaking with your manager/superior and brainstorming solutions. Is your department able to hire more help? Can the workload be better allocated? Can you gain clarity on the demands and expectations asked of you?

  2. Take Time Off - This is going to be heavily dependent on your role and industry, as I understand that not everyone can take time off work whenever they want. However, those of us who have PTO, need to use PTO. Right now I'm sitting on a ridiculous amount of time that I should be using. But sometimes I get "pre-anxious" about what happens when I have to return and what type of problems I'll have to deal with. Don't worry about problems that haven't happened yet. If you have PTO, use it.

You'll notice I didn't list "get a new job" as a solution. If we're being completely honest, quitting your job and getting a new one isn't always a proper solution for Burnout. You should take these types of measures if other options (compromise with employers and taking vacation) aren't possible solutions. We are also in an economy in which quitting your job isn't easy and could be a harmful financial decision. Even in the case that you do decide to quit your job and pursue something else, there's no guarantee that you won't experience Burnout again. Whether you love or hate your job, and whether your job is low or high stakes, Burnout is still possible and you will still need to find solutions to prevent or treat it.

In any case, I would still recommend keeping your options open when it comes to work. Maybe you can't necessarily up and quit, but you can still put yourself in a place to seek out other opportunities and find something else before you pull the trigger on your job. Especially if you are in a constant state of dread when it comes to work, or have exhausted any other solutions.

A row of five matchsticks. One is burned and the last one on the row has a leaf growing out of it

Lifestyle Solutions

  1. Put Something Down: Sometimes Burnout can come about because we've bitten off more than we can chew. As a result, we spread ourselves thin and are drowning in different roles and tasks. Some responsibilities can't be set aside, but take time to think about what you're able to put down. Are you volunteering your time for a lot of other responsibilities? What is something that you're able to pass on to someone else who has more time? How can you prioritize your time in a way that filters out things that are on your schedule? This can be disappointing, especially if you enjoy volunteering or helping others. But think of it as a hiatus, rather than completely quitting what you're doing.

  2. Turn to Others: Reach out to people closest to you like your family, friends, or your partner. Be transparent about how you're feeling. Opening up this way to your loved ones builds connection, but it also can lead to a solution. Is there a way that someone in your life can help lighten the load? Brainstorm ways that other people can pitch in and give you a chance to rest or take on certain duties.

  3. Set Boundaries: People who often say yes to requests are more likely to experience Burnout. It may be time to think about what you're doing to overextend yourself. You will need to get comfortable with saying "no" to requests. Saying "no" to one request will allow you to say "yes" to what you need (rest, sleep, focus directed to something more important).

  4. Make Time for Hobbies and Interests: You may be so busy with other duties that you've allowed your hobbies, things that bring you joy, to fall by the wayside. Whatever that may be, it's in the best interest of your wellness to make time for them. I know that when I make some time to read fiction or play The Sims, I tend to be in better spirits. And no, these don't have to be "productive" interests.

  5. Prioritize Movement: There are so many mental and physical benefits to daily exercise. Even a short walk can improve your mood. Exercise can help lift your mood, increase energy, sharpen focus, and relax the mind.

  6. Improve Diet: Making changes to our diet such as minimizing sugar, reducing caffeine, avoiding alcohol and nicotine, etc. can do wonders for our health. When we take charge of our physical health, improvement in our mental and emotional health tends to follow.

Overall, a lot of strategies and prevention for Burnout revolve around protecting our mental health and stability. Quite frankly, I don't believe Burnout should be an expected part of life. It shouldn't be something that we "just have to deal with". I don't believe Burnout to be a good way to live, let alone a normal way to live.

Reader, I hope that you take some time to listen to your mind and body. I've read that when we experience Burnout, our mind and body are trying to tell us something. Whether it's telling you to put down certain responsibilities, take charge of your health, or pursue a job/career that does not constantly drain you, I hope you take some time to listen.

Thanks for reading,



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