What was once a fiery passion is now nothing but embers.It started so promisingly — a new job, a new career — and you wanted to excel at it, so you worked and worked and worked … but like quicksand, the harder you worked, the deeper you sank until you felt chronic exhaustion, lack of purpose, and a void of happiness. Maybe you even experienced serious health issues. No, this isn’t stress. It isn’t emotional exhaustion. It’s burnout.
Whether you’re an intern, freelancer, successful entrepreneur, or CEO, you’re not immune to it.
Burnout has the power to sink your happiness, your personal life, and your career fast. If you don’t have healthy work and lifestyle habits, or you have little work-life balance, you may be in the danger zone.
In this article, we’ll explore the hidden causes behind burnout, help determine if you’re on the road to experiencing it, and provide ways to bounce back from it and prevent it in the future.
What Is Burnout?
The term burnout is defined as “a fire that is totally destructive of something” or “the failure of an electrical device or component through overheating."
Can you already see the metaphors?
Applied to the human body, it’s defined as “physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress."
These haunting definitions show that burnout isn’t something to take lightly.
After periods of prolonged stress, overwork, tedium, unfulfillment or many other challenges, you reach your max capacity for managing these factors and you reach a new frontier called burnout. Instead of passion, purpose, and motivation, there’s a deep void.
As a result, your job performance tanks. But burnout doesn’t just affect your work life — it also seeps into your personal life and can have a detrimental effect on your personal passions and relationships.
While burnout isn’t classified as a medical diagnosis, the World Health Organization formally recognized burnout as an occupational hazard in 2019.
Founder of the Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington, recalled her first wake up call that she was sinking in the burnout pool: “It was a day I’ve talked and written about dozens of times — the day I collapsed from sleep deprivation and exhaustion, broke my cheekbone and woke up in a pool of blood… For me, that day literally changed my life. It put me on a course in which I changed how I work and how I live.”
From the time she hit her rock bottom, Huffington went on to write books on the importance of sleep and started Thrive Global, an organization that works to help individuals struggling with stress and burnout.
The company describes burnout as an “epidemic” and aims to provide individuals with the resources they need to prevent it.
Stress Versus Burnout
Burnout and stress are closely linked and often mistaken for one another. It’s important to understand that the two terms are not interchangeable — they both have different characteristics. Knowing their differences can help you create an action plan to combat burnout.
Stress is tied to anxiety and often manifests as any of the following:
- frantic behavior (such as a panic or anxiety attack)
If you’re running late to work, have a big presentation coming up, or are struggling financially, you’ll likely feel stressed.
Feelings of stress come and go, depending on your to-do list, and can often be managed or tamed by the completion of the activity or by practicing stress-relieving exercises.
The body, though, can only handle so much stress.
If you are struggling with stress, learn how to boost your mood and lower your anxiety in the WealthFit Course “Stress Less” with Jaime Hope, an ER Physician.
When you experience chronic, intense stress, you’re on the path to burning out.
Singer and pop culture icon Beyonce experienced burnout in 2011 before releasing her fourth album. “It was beginning to get fuzzy — I couldn’t even tell which day or which city I was at,” she told The Sun. “I would sit there at ceremonies and they would give me an award and I was just thinking about the next performance.”
Fatigue, depression, and lack of motivation follow everywhere in its wake. These clouds of total exhaustion and overwhelm may circle around you everywhere you go.
Burnout is a cousin of depression. It is a slow, sad, drained state where motivation is long gone and the future looks bleak.
Unlike some forms of stress, recovering from burnout can require significant change. While there’s not a one-size-fits-all fix, there are many options for tackling burnout.
Consequences Of Burnout
If left untreated, burnout can lead to a number of physical and mental issues.
Severe cases can contribute to high blood pressure, type II diabetes, and heart disease, the Mayo Clinic reported.
Burnout also depresses the immune system, leaving you exposed to sickness.
You may find yourself:
- neglecting your hobbies
- turning down invites
- pulling away from your family and social groups
You may feel like your creativity and motivation have been extinguished altogether.
Going to work feels like an insurmountable chore. Even small tasks start to seem overwhelming, and the daily grind turns into a black hole of despair.
Instead of tackling workplace challenges with vigor, a burned-out person will feel like there is no escape from the exhausting demands placed upon them.
More than just a personal struggle, people in the thick weeds of burnout aren’t inclined to contribute to society. They lack the motivation to volunteer and give back to their communities and aren’t able to give the emotional energy needed to be there for their loved ones.
Thankfully, there are a number of ways to overcome burnout.
With a little support, even the most burned-out person can make the necessary lifestyle changes to emerge unscathed.
Next, we’ll discuss how to bounce back from burnout if it’s currently affecting you, and then we will explore how to prevent burnout in the future.
How To Bounce Back From Burnout
Climbing out of the burnout pit is a difficult but rewarding task. It’s possible to feel hopeful, energized, and motivated again.
In order to switch lanes from the road to ruin onto the highway to success, focus on the key issues that are inhibiting you from thriving.
Step 1: Identify
First, it’s critical to identify which parts of your life are causing you to burn out.
The Mayo Clinic notes that burnout can be detrimental to your health and offers risk factors to help you spot it early on. Some of these risk factors include:
- You identify so strongly with work that you lack balance between your work life and your personal life
- You try to be everything to everyone
- You feel you have little or no control over your work
Do you have an overly-demanding boss? Are you trying to do too much? Are you taking care of yourself outside of work? Maybe you simply work too hard on too little sleep.
Uncovering the root cause of your burnout helps you to tackle the practical problems first. Perhaps you need to open a dialogue with your superiors to work through your workplace gripes. Maybe you need to cut back your hours — or switch jobs or even careers altogether.
Identifying the problem alone may bring you some relief. Once you know exactly what isn’t working for you, you can devise a plan to fix it.
Step 2: Reach Out To Your Community
The next step is to reach out to your community. Humans are social creatures and we’re designed to rely on the support of loved ones to get through tough times.
Tell your friends and family members what you have been going through and lean on them as you crawl your way out of the burnout tunnel. If you need medical assistance in any form, find help.
Step 3: Rejuvenate
Take time to rejuvenate. While vacations certainly aren’t band-aids for chronic workplace issues, stepping back from your regular 9-5 is a good place to reflect and decide how to proceed.
Beyonce took a year off before returning to work, during which time she filled her time traveling and doing activities that brought her joy. Whether you escape to Hawaii for a week or take a Sunday afternoon to journal and think, hitting the pause button is a great way to mindfully plan your next steps.
Take a little me-time and practice self-care. Allow yourself to slow down and cultivate a sense of compassion. What do you need to make yourself feel better? Gift yourself the time and space to nurture your body and mind. Get a massage. Work out. Read a book.
During this time, as well as in your day to day routine, be sure to unplug. There are few things that contribute to stress as much as having a beeping, demanding rectangle in your pocket that at any moment will remind you of a new fire you have to put out. A Swedish study of young adults found that those who were constantly accessible via their cell phones were most likely to report mental health issues, stress, and sleeping problems.
Turn your phone off during meals and quit using technology at least an hour before bedtime. Perhaps make time for a digital detox and nix technology altogether for a few days.
How To Prevent Burnout
So maybe you escaped burnout the first time by quitting your job, or you’ve crawled out of the burnout pit before. But now you’re starting to feel its familiar cold grasp sneak up on you again.
First of all, congratulate yourself for catching it early. The sooner you can take steps to prevent it, the better.
Like taking immune support medicine to prevent a cold, here are 4 ways to keep you happy and healthy in mind, body, and soul without allowing chronic stress to take over your life.
Energize Your Brain
The mind is a tool that must be constantly used and sharpened to stay in tip-top shape. Find things that spark your sense of curiosity and make the time to peruse them. Undertake creative tasks like making art, music, or food.
Sometimes these creative outlets come out of left field — and you had no idea you’d enjoy them. For actor Brad Pitt, architecture is his go-to.
“If I have something that I’m dealing with that’s causing me a lot of stress, my mind goes to architecture,” he said. “I walk around the yard and start thinking about what I need to do to the house structurally. It’s similar to puzzles in that way, like a crossword puzzle or anything else I can put my mind into. It’s a relief for me.”
Find Ways To Relax
Equally important is finding time for stillness.
When the brain needs a break or when you’re feeling overwhelmed, take time to relax or meditate. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety and is a great way to reset your mind.
Muffi Ghadiali, CEO of Electriphi, told Fast Company that meditation is the most important thing that keeps him grounded during stressful work times. Most importantly, he makes it a part of his daily routine.
“Sometimes taking just 15 minutes out during the day can be challenging, so I stick with a morning routine, before all hell breaks loose,” he said.
Find your body’s off switch. After all, keeping a light on will run up a big electric bill — and burn the lightbulb out quickly.
Maintain Your Body
Even if you have your dream job, you run the risk of burning out if you don’t take care of your health.
Ask yourself the following questions to do a quick body audit:
- Am I putting the right fuel in my body?
- Do I feel too tired?
- Am I in the right shape for my day to day activities?
Feed the Soul
Whether religion is your thing or you find spirituality in watching the sunrise from a mountain peak, do the things that fill your soul bucket to the brim.
Have deep conversations. Express gratitude. Understand your purpose. Take time for the activities that make you feel fulfilled, purposeful, and alive.
The best way to step off of the burnout treadmill is to cultivate joy and meaning in your life.
Don’t Let Burnout Burn You Out
You don’t want to end up like collapsing and spending time in the hospital like Arianna Huffington. And you don’t want to lose your passion or experience any of the other detrimental effects of burnout.
That’s why it’s important to prevent burnout the best you can utilizing the strategies in this article. And along the way, consider the fun, small events in your life that bring you joy.
A healthy dose of this will keep you on the right track and keep burnout from knocking on your door.
Alyssa is an intrepid world traveler and writer who likes both her food and words to be extra spicy.