I'm going to be blunt. The world right now is exhausting. The year 2020 has been one of the most trying in recent memory, and between civil demonstrations and the coronavirus pandemic, no one is certain when the stress will come to an end.
I don't blame you for feeling fatigued or as though your social battery is constantly running on empty. And I promise you aren't alone in that.
But you need to be careful. Fatigue can quickly spiral into burnout, and burnout into depression, particularly given the perfect storm created by the current socioeconomic climate. With that in mind, here are a few red flags that you might be on the verge of burning out, and what you can do to correct course.
If you're tired all the time and no longer able to summon enthusiasm for things you once cared about, it's likely you're already well on the road to burnout. You feel spent – like your energy has evaporated out of you in its entirety; like even the simplest of tasks is akin to climbing a mountain. This pervasive exhaustion isn't healthy, and it's incredibly difficult to drag yourself out of bed and be productive when you feel like you're running on fumes.
First and foremost, make sure you're getting enough sleep. Even a few hours of extra shuteye can make the difference between productivity and wasted effort. Poor sleep, meanwhile, can have significant adverse effects on your motivation, cognitive abilities, and stress management capabilities.
Designate some time to relax before bed, and establish a routine that allows your mind to wind down and slow down. Keep electronics out of the bedroom, and if necessary, consider using melatonin in limited quantities to help yourself settle into a regular schedule.
Chronic stress makes it incredibly difficult to focus on anything for any meaningful amount of time. The human mind has evolved to concentrate on the things it perceives as immediately harmful. Unfortunately, in the modern workplace, this often means stress has a tendency to compound itself to the point that it overwhelms both our bodies and brains. Common side effects include poorer problem-solving skills, memory issues, and an overall decline in cognitive function.
It's important that you learn to set reasonable and healthy boundaries and train yourself to recognize the stressors in your own life. Figure out some way that you can release or manage the stress and set aside the time to do so. This may involve meditation, exercise, or even speaking to a therapist – make sure your employer is aware of your struggles and invested in helping you manage them.
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Work-related burnout isn't something that happens all at once. It's subtle, tending to slip into your life over weeks, months, and sometimes even years. The best way to tell if you're starting to slip is to think about both your performance and your level of job satisfaction over the past while.
Do you feel like you've been on a perpetual, downward slope with no end in sight? Do you feel worn-out, beaten down, and dispassionate? Do you feel like you aren't being properly compensated or appreciated by your employer?
You may also find that you're working yourself to the bone, putting in longer and longer hours in a vicious cycle that's ultimately unsustainable. To address both of these situations, you need to set proper boundaries.
Get yourself organized, get your responsibilities in order, and speak to your employer about establishing a better work-life balance – and take a vacation if you feel you need one.
Burnout doesn't just manifest at work. It often bleeds into our personal lives as well. Maybe you're feeling increasingly irritated by your friends and loved ones, or withdrawing from social activity altogether and living life entirely on autopilot.
You might feel stuck in a rut, aimless, or simply perpetually angry.
This is no way to live. Unplug, refocus, and take the time to create a personal life that's separate from the workplace. Figure out what it is about the job that's got you so on-edge, and cut as much of that out of your life as you can. Perhaps,+ most importantly, make an effort to rediscover your passions – find something that challenges, excites you, and engages you.
When someone is in the grips of severe burnout, self-care is often the first thing to go down the toilet. It often becomes impossible to make healthy decisions. They stop eating properly, sleeping properly, and exercising – they may even turn to addictions like alcohol or other substances to help them manage their mental state.
Pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you. There are always physical and mental signs that you're approaching your limits. Some examples of this could be frequent bouts of nausea, jaw pain from clenching, headaches, and muscle aches. Burnout and depression have a nasty habit of making the other worse, leading to a mentally exhausting and hard to break out of the cycle.
Burnout is a serious problem, and it's not often something that can be addressed on its own. Learn to recognize the warnings signs and red flags. And learn to ask yourself for help – reach out to someone you know is willing and able to get you back on your feet.
About the Guest Author:
Brad Wayland is the Chief Strategy Officer at BlueCotton, a site with high-quality, easy-to-design custom t-shirts.