Burnout happens to the best of us. A recent Gallup study discovered that 23% of respondents feel burned out often or always, with 44% of others feeling burned out at least sometimes.
Burnout can lead to frustration at work, depression at home, and even physical symptoms, such as headaches and more frequent illnesses. The longer you let it drag on, the worse it gets.
When you feel burned out, don’t try to power through without addressing the root cause. Instead, use the opportunity to reflect on why you feel burned out and what you could change in your life to right the ship.
What Causes Burnout?
People take different paths on the road to emotional burnout. For many, long periods of job-related stress can lead to irritability, cynicism, and lowered performance, all common signs of burnout. Feelings of powerlessness over your ability to perform your job well or to control your schedule can quickly lead to burnout, especially if you don’t feel supported by the people around you.
Burnout doesn’t only happen at the office, though. You can experience burnout in your personal life as well. Humans are social creatures, and when we don’t get enough positive social engagement, other parts of our lives begin to lose their color. The same thing can happen if our passion projects flop or if we don’t feel like we’re making progress toward the future we want.
Be careful not to mistake temporary burnout with more serious issues, such as depression. If you continue to feel common symptoms of burnout, no matter your situation, an appointment with a psychologist could help you figure out the best course of action.
What Your Burnout Wants You to Know
Once you recognize the signs of burnout, take proactive measures to dig yourself out of the rut. Start by asking these questions to identify the type of burnout you’re experiencing so you can make the changes necessary to move forward.
1. Do I feel better at work or at home?
When you have work-related burnout, every day at the office feels like a miserable grind. You don’t have as much fun with your co-workers as you used to. You miss deadlines you would normally make. Worst, you lose sight of your ambitions for your career.
If that describes your situation, consider speaking to your boss about new ways to challenge yourself at work. Otherwise, a change of scenery may be your best option. Take time to assess the trajectory you’re on and whether the destination excites you.
“Doing this could lead many to consider taking on a side hustle or pursuing a passion project,” says Ryan Napierski, president of Nu Skin. “It can be a great way to get you out of a rut and can challenge you in new areas of your life.”
If you feel fine at work but miserable at home, first make sure that you aren’t leaving all your good energy at the office. Take a day off to relax around the house and enjoy your favorite activities. If you realize you feel uncomfortable without something to do, think about whether this is a new feeling.
Are you struggling to find meaningful ways to spend your time? Schedule some happy hours with your friends or family, take a personal day somewhere unfamiliar, or try a new hobby. Consider seeing a therapist to make sure you’re not ignoring something important.
2. Do I feel comfortable saying “no” to people?
“Humans are social animals who thrive on reciprocity,” says Kristen Wong in The New York Times. “It’s in our nature to be socially obliging, and the word no feels like a confrontation that threatens a potential bond. But when we dole out an easy yes instead of a difficult no we tend to overcommit our time, energy and finances.”
People who suffer from burnout often end up with more on their plates than they can handle. When you never turn down requests from friends, family, or co-workers, step back to think about whether making yourself available at every moment is really the best idea. People may view you as dependable, but all that pressure can lead to feelings of despair if you can’t live up to the expectations you’ve set for yourself.
Practice saying no by pausing before you agree to requests. Sometimes, you only need a second or two to think before you realize something won’t fit your schedule. Other times, you may need to tell the person asking, “I’m not sure. Let me get back to you later today.” This is a great way to practice “no” without actually saying the word. Plus, if you think about it and can fit the request into your calendar, you can always agree after you’ve had time to consider.
3. Does my life right now feel like a step toward the life I want?
Be honest with yourself: Do your daily activities reflect the habits of the kind of person you want to be? Don’t worry if you’re not a millionaire yet or if you haven’t achieved enlightenment by 30. Earning money at a regular job so you can pursue your true goals counts as progress. However, if you find yourself floating through your days without moving toward a vision, you could end up feeling directionless — i.e., burned out.
Avoid this trap by stepping back and reflecting on what you want from life. If you enjoy waiting tables at an awesome restaurant, you don’t have to replace that happiness with medical school to live a burnout-free life. Consider what you want and what makes you happy, not what other people think you should covet. With that goal in mind, you can realign your priorities and start moving toward the life you deserve.
“When people live and experience the components of their personal vision frequently, they tend to feel more fulfilled and happy,” says Susan Heathfield, management and organization development consultant. “This is because a personal vision statement is a guide, written by and for you, for your life.”
Forgive yourself quickly when you start to suffer from burnout. The more you wallow in unhappiness, the longer it will take to dig yourself out of the hole. Acknowledge your struggle, understand how you got there, and take the necessary steps to move forward.