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Burnout 101: Know the signs of burnout and how to prevent it

June 7, 2023
6 minutes
Lifestyle Health & Wellness
Mental health

Modern life is stressful. The COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath have added to that stress, leaving society at the highest risk of burnout than we’ve had in decades. Financial stress is also at all-time highs, adding to the problem.

According to the American Psychological Association, 79% of employees are experiencing high levels of work-related stress. Nearly 3 out of 5 report negative impacts from this. A surprising 44% of adult workers report physical fatigue and 36% report mental fatigue due to stress.

What do these numbers mean? They mean that burnout is a serious concern for the modern adult, and it isn’t just a risk for people in the workforce. People from all walks of life can face stress that can lead to burnout. The statistics also show that most of us don’t know how to manage the stress that causes it.

What is burnout? How does it affect you? Keep reading to learn about this common issue and what you can do to spot it, prevent it, and heal from it.

What is burnout?

The term “burnout” was coined by Herbert Freudenberger, a psychologist who practiced in the 1970s. It refers to severe stress that leads to complete physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion.

Burnout goes beyond just feeling tired or fatigued. When someone’s in burnout, they might struggle to handle their daily responsibilities. They often feel as though they can’t give anymore, and they can feel hopeless about life.

Unfortunately, burnout is not a temporary problem. It doesn't go away on its own and can severely impact a person’s physical and emotional health. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to prevent burnout and overcome it if you do experience it. That’s why understanding burnout, its causes, and good prevention steps is so important.

Common causes of burnout

Stress is the underlying cause of burnout, but stress can come from many areas of life. Here are some examples:

  • A nurse faces high stress on the job as they deal with increased demands and nursing shortages.
  • A CEO of a large corporation must manage the demands of growing a business and increasing the bottom line while keeping employees and shareholders happy.
  • A stay-at-home parent faces stress from the daily tasks of parenting combined with the lack of social interaction.
  • A newlywed couple finds it difficult to afford their household needs while starting out in their careers, leading to high emotional and financial stress.
  • An adult child who works a hard job comes home each night to care for their elderly parent, meaning they never have time to relax.
  • A recent high school graduate finds it necessary to work multiple jobs to pay their bills, and this creates a stressful schedule on top of financial strain.

The stress in each of these people’s lives is different, but the end result’s the same: exhaustion and apathy. This is burnout.

What are common signs of burnout?

Burnout looks different from person to person, but some common signs of this problem include: 

  • Exhaustion – This common symptom of burnout makes working productively challenging. It derails concentration and enjoyment in life.
  • Cynicism – When someone is experiencing burnout, they become increasingly cynical about life and its challenges. While most people will be cynical occasionally, if it’s becoming a habit, you might be experiencing burnout.
  • Inefficacy – This term refers to a general feeling of incompetence or the lack of achievement in life or work.
  • Changes in eating or sleep habits – According to Eastern Washington University, many people find their eating or sleep habits changing when they experience burnout. They either eat and sleep too much or too little.
  • Physical symptoms – Headaches, immune system concerns, and muscle pain can all occur due to burnout.

How to prevent burnout

Modern life has many stressors. When possible, we should try to take measures to manage that stress in a healthy way to prevent the negative effects of burnout.

If you’re wanting to prevent burnout, there are some proactive steps you could take. 

1. Try adding some self-care to your routine

One way to reduce stress and prevent burnout is to make taking care of yourself a priority. You could use tools like Evidation to track sleep, eating, and exercise, and make sure you’re caring for your body.

Make time in your week for activities you enjoy that feel relaxing. When possible. When you start feeling stressed and worn down, find ways to engage in activities that help you reset.

If you’re pressed for time or resources, self-care can be simple. Instead of a shower one night, consider a warm bath to relax your muscles. This doesn’t take much additional time or cost anything, but it could end up being a great self-care addition to your life.

2. Look for ways to reduce exposure to stressors

While you can’t eliminate all stress from your life, see if you can reduce some exposure. For example, if work is stressful, you could limit your exposure by having set times when you do work activities and set times when you focus on your non-work life. Even if you’re working multiple jobs, you can learn to walk away from work responsibilities when you clock out from each one for the day.

It’s not always work that makes people feel stressed. If you have people or activities in your personal life that are stressful, limit your exposure to them or plan to do something less stressful after you spend time with those people to combat the effect of the stress.

3. Find meaningful ways to connect with others

Healthy interpersonal relationships can help you overcome the symptoms of burnout. Your friends and family can encourage you to slow down when you’re taking on too much.

Once you have those people in your life, you could grow those relationships by dedicating time to them. You’ll need that support system when life gets stressful.

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How to recover from burnout

Most people will experience burnout from time to time, even with the best possible plan. When you find yourself in that position, try to take steps to recover. Here are some tips that can help:

  • Rest – When you find yourself in full-blown burnout, see if you can take some time off. Your body and mind need time to rest and recuperate. If you can’t take time off work, find other places to carve out time for rest. Going to bed earlier some nights or making time to sit and watch a movie with a friend are examples of restful activities you can do when you have some extra time.
  • Improve your personal care – Eating well, sleeping, and exercising are often the first things that stop happening when we’re stressed. Find ways to add these back in. If you can’t make big changes due to your schedule or budget, start small. Swap out a bag of chips for an apple for your snack, and start going to bed just 30 minutes earlier. You can add exercise by taking the stairs instead of the elevator, even if you can’t carve out time or money to go to the gym. Use tools like Evidation to track your new habits.
  • Ask for help – If your workload’s overwhelming and you have a support system around you, ask for help managing it. If you can’t get help, consider reassessing your goals and determining if you can cut back somewhere while still meeting your needs and achieving your goals. Asking for help could also look like reaching out to your doctor or a mental health professional for guidance. 
  • Reduce your stress – The human body wasn’t designed to handle extreme stress for endless weeks and months. Learning to either reduce stress or manage stress more effectively may help avoid burnout. If you’re able to lessen your responsibilities, that may help, but if not, activities like meditation, yoga, and walking can release the hormones that counter the stress hormones.
  • Learn a new perspective – There will be situations where you can’t reduce your stress. In these, learn a new perspective. Decide what you can and can’t fix, and stop taking responsibility for the things you can’t change. This mental shift in perspective may help you recover.

Reward yourself for less stress with Evidation

Preventing burnout relies heavily on self-care, and there are many tools available to help. Evidation is one of them.

With Evidation, you can reward yourself for making better health choices. Simply pair your favorite health-tracking app with Evidation, and earn rewards for every healthy choice you make.

Keep track of your health as you strive to manage stress more effectively – download the app today!

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