9 Signs of Mental Burnout

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    Many of us go through periods where our lives just seem difficult, and we have nothing left to give. We’re also often reluctant to share these thoughts and feelings. Does any of this sound familiar?

    • “Every day is a bad day.”
    • “Caring about work and home is useless and a waste of energy.”
    • “Exhaustion is a perpetual state of existence.”
    • “Every day is spent on menial, mind-numbing and joyless tasks.”
    • “Nothing makes a difference, and nothing is ever appreciated.”

    If any of these hit home, you may be suffering from burnout. It’s important to recognize if you are so that you can take the proper steps to ensure the self-care and recuperation necessary. These can range from seeking professional help to to your routines, but we’ll chat more about that later. We’re going to briefly explain what burnout is and then describe 9 signs of mental burnout to be aware of so you can take the much-needed steps to become fully engaged in your personal and work lives so you can enjoy them again.

    What is Burnout?

    Burnout “the emotional depletion and loss of motivation that result from prolonged exposure to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors.” But what does that mean in normal English? Essentially, life is alot, and you’ve reached a state of exhaustion and have nothing left to give.

    In the past, most of the focus regarding burnout was on employees in the workplace, but and the highlight that this is an issue that affects all parts of our lives. It’s also important to recognize that we all have different limits and levels, and this can change between stages of our lives, affected by a multitude of variables. It doesn’t do us any good to judge or measure ourselves against others. That’s why recognizing the physical, emotional, and behavioral signs and symptoms of burnout is so crucial.

    The Signs and Symptoms

    It’s not uncommon for people to experience a combination of some or all of the symptoms we have listed below. The more boxes you check, the more severe your burnout is, and the more in need you are of some relief.

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    So let’s deep dive into the 9 signs of mental burnout:

    Physical Signs and Symptoms

    It’s incredibly important to listen to our bodies, but all too often we don’t know what we’re actually listening for. The following are three physical signs and symptoms of burnout:

    1. Frequent Headaches & Muscle Pain: The physiological stress of burnout keeps the body in a perpetual state of high tension, almost like you’re constantly playing a sport or exercising. And that means it never has time to recover. The resulting headaches and muscle pain are a telltale sign that you’ve been pushing yourself too hard.
    2. Compromised Immune System: Do you find yourself getting sick more often than usual? How about getting sick all the time? Often, folks are keen to blame being sick on seasonal changes, kids or “just being that way.” The truth is, when we’re in a state of burnout, our immune system’s ability to fight off antigens is reduced, and we’ll suffer because of it. 
    3. Exhausted in the Morning, Awake at Night: Waking up day after day feeling extreme fatigue, only to experience insomnia when trying to get some precious and much-needed sleep, is another sign of burnout. And, unfortunately, it’s a cycle that is going to continue to feed itself unless properly dealt with.

    Emotional Signs and Symptoms:

    While our emotions are real and not reality, they definitely have a great impact on our day-to-day existence. If you’re noticing huge changes in how you’re feeling, it may be because of burnout. Here are three emotional signs and symptoms of burnout:

    1. Loss of Motivation: You may have noticed that your drive to get things done has waned or completely disappeared. It may be severe, manifesting in disdain for work and personal obligations. Or it might be subtler, like having trouble getting your day started properly or getting off social media to focus on your task list. Be on the lookout for the obvious (and not-so obvious) signs.
    2. Lack of Satisfaction or Accomplishment: When we’re in the midst of burnout, it’s hard to feel any sense of satisfaction or accomplishment in the jobs and duties we complete. Our minds and bodies are simply too fatigued and worn down to allow us that serotonin boost we’d normally get from a job well done. If you’re having trouble celebrating the wins, burnout may be upon you.
    3. Feelings Detachment, Hopelessness and Failure: The more burned out we are, the harder it is to connect with colleagues, friends and family on an emotional level. The things you used to care about and share suddenly don’t seem to matter anymore, and nothing feels as good as it was. You might start to feel hopeless or like a failure in your workplace or home. This is a big red flag that you need to address your burnout!

    Behavioral Signs and Symptoms:

    Actions speak louder than words. And when we’re suffering from burnout, our behavior will change and show it. Sometimes we’ll notice it, sometimes others will, but we’d best observe carefully so we can deal with it. Here are three behavioral signs and symptoms of burnout:

    1. Self-Isolating / Withdrawal: This can be as simple as gravitating to the sidelines in a work meeting or function or not talking as much as you used to at the dinner table. It can grow into behaviors like closing a previously always-open office door or hiding in the basement or bedroom in your home to avoid family members. When we’re suffering from burnout, we simply don’t have anymore to give, and so we retreat.
    2. Skipping Out on Work & Family: We all need a mental health day from time to time. But when we start to frequently miss days of work or important family events, our behavior is starting to really show we can’t handle it all anymore, and we may be burned out. The more activities that are being missed, the more severe the burnout.
    3. Using Food, Drugs or Alcohol as Coping Mechanisms: When our treats, rewards and temporary reliefs become staples and necessities just to get through another day, we’ll do well to recognize our unhealthy coping mechanisms as a sign of something deeper. Burnout breeds cravings for relief. Abusing food, drugs and alcohol is not a healthy way to achieve this.

    So, Now What?

    Having the self-awareness that you may be suffering from burnout is all fine and dandy, but knowing what to do when the signs start popping up is incredibly important. And that means engaging in equal parts prevention and remedy.

    Adding some physical activity to your life is amazing. Find something you enjoy! It can be mentally stimulating like a walk through the park or nearby forest. Or it can be a total zone-out moment like pumping weights or going full-tilt on the treadmill at the gym. Whether it’s some yoga in the morning, skipping rope on the back patio at lunchtime or doing push-ups and squats when taking a break at work or waiting for the water on the stove to boil, there are tons of options. Just get moving!

    Emotional nourishment is also going to help out a ton. Writing down your resentments, fears and other mental chaos in a journal is very therapeutic — as is making time to immerse yourself in fun activities like getting out into nature, picking up an old hobby like the guitar or painting and enjoying quality time with important people in your life. Finding the time to be still and stop or giving yourself the permission to play and be a kid again are also great.

    You can also have a guiding hand in your behaviors. Essentially, this is about making good habits a priority so that when you’re not tip-top, you don’t deviate from the plan too much. And this will help make sure that burnout doesn’t set in too severely.

    Start simple but be really clear and precise about the better habits and behaviors you’d like to see in your life. That also means having your intentions fully mapped out. For example, “stay healthy” is super vague, but “eat veggies at every meal so I get my vitamins and nutrients” is focused. By incorporating some positive rewards for yourself and giving it time, you’ll be on the right track.

    And, when in doubt, reach out for help! While asking our colleagues and family members to give us a hand with tasks is one way to prevent burnout, sometimes we need to go a little more into it. Many workplaces these days have employee wellness programs that give access to counselors and therapists, and loads of affordable online options also exist if you can’t make it to someone’s office or you’re on a tight budget. Just know that you’re never alone!