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Wellbeing

5 Signs of Burnout You Can’t Afford to Miss

| 05/24/2022

burnout Illustration by Sara Wong

When burnout rears its ugly head, it can feel like there’s simply nothing to do. You can’t just skip out on all the things that are contributing to burnout. And since 2020, burnout rates have been on the rise across all Americans — but not everyone is feeling the stress equally. In 2021, the Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.org found that 42 percent of women feel either often or always burned out, compared to 35 percent of men. The burnout has gotten so bad that one in three women report either wanting to leave the workforce or downshift their careers. 

The state of work for women has been looking bleak since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but these numbers suggest that things are getting worse instead of better. The answer cannot be to keep pushing through the burnout and simply hoping that what’s happening will improve on its own. But before you can address your burnout, you need to know if you have it. Here are five signs to look out for.

5 Signs of Burnout You Can’t Afford to Miss

  1. Experiencing feelings of sadness, depression, failure, hopelessness, or apathy. In 2020 the International Wound Journal warned of the impending burnout during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the publication’s warnings apply to any form of burnout. One of the warning signs it urges readers to look out for is feeling sadness, failure, hopelessness, apathy, or other feelings related to depression. It’s worth noting that depression and burnout are not the same, but they often overlap. People with burnout don’t always have depression, but having burnout may increase your risk of becoming depressed.
  2. Becoming easily frustrated or irritable.  Another sign the International Wound Journal warned of is becoming frustrated more easily than usual and being more exasperated with others more quickly. There will always be something frustrating about work. No one in the world has a truly perfect job. But if the little things set you off more than usual, like a meeting going a little long or a Slack message while you’re trying to focus on something else, you may be experiencing burnout.
  3. Isolating yourself from others. Burnout thrives in isolation. If you find yourself pulling away from others, perhaps because you’re becoming more frustrated or exhausted by being around people, you could be dealing with burnout. And by isolating yourself, you’re likely making it worse.
  4. Feeling overwhelmed or exhausted most of the time. Perhaps the most well-known sign of burnout is feeling overwhelmed and, well, burnt out. And is it any wonder why this feeling is on the rise? An Indeed-led survey conducted in 2021 found that over half of the respondents are burnt out, up from 43 percent in the pre-COVID era. Considering what COVID-19 has done in terms of job loss, childcare options loss, and life loss, it’s easy to feel constantly exhausted.
  5. Neglecting your self-care and overindulging in harmful coping mechanisms. You may think that you’re not burnt out, but that third glass of wine may be saying otherwise. Think about the last time you did something for your self-care. What effect did it have on you? Did it alleviate stress? Or did it just put a band-aid on it? When we’re burnt out, we often feel like we don’t have time to care for ourselves. We rely on ways to push through the pain, like overeating, drinking, drugs, or even an overdependence on caffeine.

So, What Can You Do About Your Burnout?

The International Wound Journal also offered several strategies to combat burnout, but many of them have an underlying theme — talk to people. With the rise of remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing trend of increased work-from-home opportunities, you may not be getting as much human interaction as you actually need. Make sure that you’re not just dedicating time to work but also scheduling in (and sticking with) time with friends, family, and coworkers.

It may seem silly to schedule time with coworkers outside of your regular meetings, but one great way to combat burnout is to get more involved in your company — on your terms. Thinking a mentorship program could help your new colleagues? How about creating a system where your coworkers can opt into one-on-one coffee dates with people they wouldn’t usually talk to? Feeling more connected to your work and helping to create a positive environment can stave off burnout, not just for you but for your colleagues as well. 

But it’s essential to understand that you can’t expect to enact these plans unless you take care of yourself first. Recognize that you cannot ignore your basic needs. You need to eat, sleep, bathe, and practice self-care. You cannot keep giving to your company if you’re unwilling to give to yourself first. That includes giving yourself time. Take breaks during the day, and ensure that you’re using all your allotted vacation time. 

This is all easier said than done, especially for certain groups, like working moms, who are struggling with childcare on top of everything else.

One of the biggest things that can help fight against burnout is seeking and asking for help.

If you’re struggling to afford childcare, you could consider joining a group dedicated to providing tutors or caretakers for families who otherwise would not be able to afford them. Talk to friends, neighbors, or family members. More people are willing to help than you may know. And again, burnout thrives in isolation.

If your burnout has been hurting you for a long time and you feel like you may have already entered into depression, consider asking for help from a professional source. Taking care of your mental health is an essential part of taking care of yourself. Just like you need to feed yourself to function, you need to take steps to prevent your mental health from keeping you down. It’s hard to recover from burnout when you’re ignoring your mental health. 

Burnout gets the better of us sometimes, and when you consider that the world’s been topsy-turvy for the better part of three years, it’s easy to see why burnout rates are as high as they are. There’s hope that you can alleviate those feelings, but no matter what you do, you mustn’t do it alone. Talk to people, ask for help, and connect with your coworkers and community. The best way to combat burnout is by fighting it together.

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