First of all, what is burnout?
Burnout is defined as a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. The problem is, if you’re an entrepreneur, or you’re juggling family and work responsibilities, or you’re driving yourself hard to achieve something difficult, prolonged stress is a common part of the package. The issue isn’t just the existence of stress – that can also be a sign of ambition and preparedness to go beyond your comfort zone – it’s how you relate to and manage this stress.
In other words, it’s all about how your practice self-care to balance and release your stress, to maintain healthy rhythms and to enjoy life!
If you don’t manage your stress you may end up burning out, which is where your ability to cope declines and the impacts spill out into other areas of your life.
So if you’re dedicated to doing something that is hard, your self-care practice is a core part of your journey.
But the first step to making changes is recognising you have a problem, so here are seven signs you may be at a risk of burn-out and quick and simple things you can try to shift your energy!
1. You are having trouble sleeping
You struggle to give yourself permission to go to bed – there’s so much to do – but even when you do, exhausted, you find your mind racing, preventing you from sleeping. You replay the day and what you wish had happened differently, or worry about things to come the following day or beyond. You go forward and backwards in time, everywhere but calmly in the present, which is where sleep happens.
Something you can do: Try yoga nidra guided meditation when you go to bed, which gives your mind something else to focus on.
2. You are having trouble not sleeping
Or, conversely, all you want to do is sleep. You are run down and lethargic. Demotivated. You wish you could spend all day in bed. You drag yourself out of bed but never really feel awake. You feel like you might have burnt out your adrenals, it’s so hard to get excited about things that used to motivate you. A lack of motivation for work you care about is a strong warning sign of burnout.
Something you can do: Daily exercise. This can be as little as a 7 minute workshop (download an app) or a twenty minute walk. Get your blood flowing. Yoga is great for this of course.
3. You are obsessively multi-tasking and having trouble focusing
Dangerous chronic levels of stress can begin to impair your cognitive functions, making it impossible for you to concentrate. Combine this with nervous anxious energy and a feeling that you’re not getting enough done and the likely result is flitting from thing to thing, opening up more and more windows as you think of more things you need to do, start them, then think of and move on to another, making almost no progress.
Something you can do: Get offline. Take your laptop to a café without internet access and turn off the social media on your phone.
4. You are procrastinating chronically
You are working longer hours but getting less done as you shy away from the hard work that is depressing you. You are spending more and more time on social media, chasing the dopamine rush of engagement or browsing only tangentially—relevant, at best, news and information.
Unlike the above scenario where you are over-stimulated, trying to do a lot but failing for lack of focus, here you shy away from your to do list. In either case, very little is achieved, and this drains your energy further.
Something you can do: Try the Pomodoro technique. This involves setting a 25 minute timer and trying to get a single task done in that time. Then taking a five minute break and doing it again. After four you take a longer break. You’ll be amazed at what you can get done in 25 minutes of focus.
5. You are cutting yourself off from your community
You have trouble sharing your struggles with anyone, thinking no one will understand what you’re going through, and daunted by the effort of explanation. Unable to really tell people how you’re going, distracted and anxious about work or chained to your desk you stop seeking our social contact, and become distant from people you care about. You may feel you just don’t have time, and that you will catch up with people when things slow down.
This becomes a vicious cycle however. The longer you go without seeing people the more daunting it is to “catch up.” Meanwhile your internal voice goes around in circles, with no-one to bounce off, making you more confused.
Something you can do: Seek out a friend you trust and tell them what’s going on. They don’t need to fix anything, just listen. Opening up to others won’t make you a burden, people will be flattered that you confided in them and it will make your friendship stronger. And crucially it will allow you to get out of your head and explore some of your challenges out loud.
6. You cannot switch off
Even when you’re doing something with family or friends, your mind constantly returns to the source of your stress. You might duck into the bathroom to check your phone at a social gathering, or ignore your kids at the park. You try to squeeze in a few minutes of work whenever possible, unable to enjoy the time away from it, scared of the consequences of any missed chances to make progress.
Something you can do: Take relaxation seriously. One of the best ways to create breakthroughs when you’re stuck is to step away from what you’re focusing on. By allowing your mind to wander you are more likely to find alternative ways of getting something done or innovative break-throughs. But even if you don’t your mind will be better-rested when you return to it.
7. You are unusually negative and cynical
You are beginning to feel like nothing you do is working, and so nothing you do matters. You feel more pessimistic than usual, and cynical about your own capacities and the possibilities of change.
Everyone gets down from time to time, but try to notice if this is becoming unusual for you, with these negative thoughts sticking around more persistently than usual.
Something you can do: Spend time with positive people. You don’t have to talk shop, just have fun and enjoy their energy.
If you need help establishing a self-care routine you are invited to join Radical Self Care Project starting February 1. Registrations close January 25th. Get more information and sign up here.