Over time, I have learned that burnout is one of those hazards in life that does not discriminate against anyone. In my practice, I have not only seen clients who have experienced burnout in their careers, students who have pushed themselves to their limits, and caregivers who cared so deeply about their loved ones that they forgot to take care of themselves. Before we dive into exploring warning signs, let’s talk about what it is first. Burnout is chronic stress that often times leads to not only physical but emotional exhaustion, feeling of detachment from others, sarcasm, feeling ineffective, and often times feeling discouraged. The nature of a burnout is difficult to predict and recognize because it creeps up on us over time.
Although it may be difficult to recognize, let’s talk about the warning signs that our bodies send us before we begin to experience the full blown power of a burn out.
Sleep difficulties. In the early stages of a burnout, you may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep though the night. At first it may be just one or two days per week, but the number of sleepless nights starts going up and you may find yourself having difficulty getting a full night sleep.
Fatigue. With lack of sleep comes another warning sign, which is having lack of energy and feeling tired most of the day. After that battle continues for a while, you may experience feeling not only physically but emotionally exhausted and every day seems to be a dread.
Difficulty concentrating. With inability to sleep and feeling fatigued, you may start to notice that your concentration and ability to remember things begin to interfere with your daily tasks.
Making mistakes. With all the above factors playing a major role in your performance, you begin to lose attention to those small details you used to pay attention to. That is simply because you have enough energy to focus on one task only-to get though the day. As a result, it is easy to make a small mistake that begins to add up to other mistakes that you did not realized you have made in the first place. You may be working longer hours but due to feeing stressed you may be less productive and began to notice the never ending pile of things that still need to get done.
Decreased immune system. Have you noticed that you have been getting headaches, feeling sick more often, or that cold simply does not want to go away? Due to the fact that your body is depleted of a good sleep, your immune system gets compromised making you become more vulnerable to colds, flu, infections and other medical problems.
Anger. At first you may feel more tense, irritable or experiencing more conflicts with others. If those feelings continue to stay present in your life you may begin to experience irritability and tension turning into anger outbursts and serious arguments with others.
Anxiety. With difficulty concentrating, missing deadlines, and decreased productivity, comes stress, tension and worry. With increased tasks and lesser time to get things accomplished you may find yourself feeling more and more anxious and unable to complete the usual tasks.
Depression. Often times than not, anxiety is accompanied with feeling hopeless and sad about the current situation which can lead to feelings of worthlessness and guilt. With feeling depressed we begin to experience loss of enjoyment, pessimism, isolation, and detachment. You may begin to emotionally and physically remove yourself from activities that you used to enjoy. As those feelings progress, you may find yourself more immobilized.
With anxiety and depression comes loss of appetite. At the beginning you may simply just not feel hungry due to all the things that you have to do, but with time you may actually lose appetite altogether and experience weight loss.
Unhealthy coping. With already feeling and experiencing all of the above factors, you may begin to cope with them by using unhealthy substances, such as alcohol or drugs or find comfort in food.
I would encourage you to take some time and focus on some of the warning signs of a burnout that I listed above. I encourage you to keep this list in mind remembering that burnout does not discriminate against anyone. If you are experiencing any of those symptoms, please know that you are not alone and that there are people than can help you get back on track. All of our therapists at The Centered Life are fully committed to help you not only recognize the signs of a burnout, but also help you find healthy coping skills to balance life.
All my best,