Talk to the people around you and you might come to the conclusion that feeling mentally exhausted and emotionally drained has just become commonplace these days. Indeed, feeling burned out has become normalized in many ways, almost accepted as just a part of modern life, therefore discouraging people from seeking help.
However, burnout is a real issue, and one that needs to be addressed as soon as possible in order to prevent dire consequences. While high achievers — individuals who succeed at a rapid pace — are more often than not the ones that are susceptible to burnout, practically anyone can experience the feeling.
Remember that you don’t just wake up one morning and realize you are burned out; it’s a slow and steady accumulation of mental and emotional exhaustion.
From working overtime every day of the week to overcommitting to projects beyond your capacity, there are many ways burnout can enter your life. You don’t just wake up one morning and realize you are burned out; it’s a slow and steady accumulation of mental and emotional exhaustion. And because the symptoms are not obvious initially, it can be very difficult to recognize. In addition, burnout is something that is very gradual, and it takes time for you to reach the point where your body and mind start to pay the price for your overexertion.
The difference between experiencing stress and arriving at burnout is a matter of the extent and degree of the symptoms. The sooner you recognize the signs, the sooner you will be able to avoid burnout (as long as you make structured, consistent, and meaningful lifestyle changes to address your symptoms).
What’s important is that you do not ignore the signs, but rather recognize your exhaustion and seek ways to establish a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle.
Below are some clear red flags to look out for.
Physical and Emotional Exhaustion
Prolonged and Chronic Fatigue
In the early stages, you might feel a sense of lethargy and demotivation. In the later stages, it develops into emotional and mental exhaustion.
Insomnia and Sleeplessness
First, you might notice your sleep is disrupted once or twice a week. As time goes on, it develops into insomnia.
Poor Memory and an Inability to Concentrate
It might be a mild distraction or an inability to remember, later leading to the inability to concentrate, poor memory, and tasks piling up that you are unable to complete in time.
Beginning as intermittent body pains, these can turn into chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal pain, dizziness, fainting, and/or headaches (all of which should be medically assessed).
Frequently Falling Ill
You might start as being tired. Later, your body becomes depleted and your immune system is unable to cope. This makes you more vulnerable to infections, colds, flus, and other immune-related problems.
Poor Eating or Loss of Appetite
You may miss a meal or not feel hungry sporadically. This can turn into a consistent pattern of missing meals, causing you to lose weight.
In the early stages, symptoms are mild, including tension, worry, and edginess. As you get closer to burnout, the anxiety keeps you from functioning normally.
Melancholic blues may make you feel guilty and worthless. At its worst, you might experience immense and intense emotional pain, deep sadness, and thoughts of suicide (if your depression reaches this point, you should seek professional help immediately).
Anger starts as interpersonal tension and irritability. In the later stages, it may turn into angry outbursts and serious arguments at home and in the workplace. If anger turns into thoughts (or acts) of violence toward others, seek immediate professional help.
Cynicism and Detachment
Loss of Enjoyment
At first, the loss of enjoyment may seem very mild, such as not wanting to go to work or being eager to leave social gatherings. Without intervention, loss of enjoyment may extend to all areas of your life, including the time you spend with your family and friends. At work, you may try to avoid projects or escape work altogether.
This begins as negative self-talk, leading to trust issues and a feeling that you can’t count on anyone.
In the early stages, you may experience a mild resistance to socializing. Later, you might get angry when someone speaks to you, causing you to avoid interaction as much as possible.
This is when you feel disconnected from others and/or your environment. Signs include calling in sick, not going to work, and frequently showing up late.
Ineffectiveness and Lack of Accomplishment
You question your existence and everything you do. You feel helpless and hopeless.
You may feel ineffective, unimportant, useless, and an increasing sense that you’re not able to do things as efficiently or effectively as you once did.
Poor Performance and Non-Productivity
Caused by chronic stress, this results in long hours and an unmanageable pile-up of work and day-to-day chores.
There is never any reason to be ashamed of burnout as many of us are prone to it in our productivity-obsessed culture. However, this does not mean that you should push it under the rug and forget about it. Burnout is a real issue that can lead to dire consequences if not properly addressed.
While burnout may leave you feeling hopeless, there are ways to combat it. The key is to know when you have reached your limit. Once you have identified burnout, it is important to act quickly as symptoms can worsen with each passing day. Now that you’re aware of the red flags, click here to learn how to make the necessary changes and lead a healthier, more sustainable life. It’s also recommended to seek professional help, especially if you experience thoughts of suicide.
Sailaja Menon is a licensed psychologist at Life Works Holistic Counseling Centre. With over 25 years of clinical experience, Sailaja is the first psychologist from Johns Hopkins University to specialize in multicultural counseling.