Burnout Explained, and How To Avoid It

Feeling like you’re swimming against a current. Lack of energy. Constantly longing for the end of the day and never feeling like you’ve got enough time. These are all signs of burnout, and they can happen to anyone.

Photo by Lizzie Mayorga

Burnout is a word that floats around in the media, but what does it actually mean? Basically, burnout is a feeling of ongoing frustration and demoralization that comes from being in a situation where you don’t have choices or control. Motivation and focus disappear. You may feel your contributions don’t matter. These feelings mean some part of your life might need more attention and re-balancing.

If you’re nodding along in recognition and can feel burnout coming-or if you’re already there– keep reading for some tips to help you rescue yourself from burnout.

Burnout describes the feeling of having zero control over your work or some other aspect of your life. Not having enough time to complete everything expected of you can also lead to these feelings. Lack of support, unclear expectations, and not getting recognition for your contributions can all lead to the feeling of hitting an emotional wall and wanting to give up. Burnout happens when you’re asked to do too much with too little — either support, direction, resources, or time.

Photo by Humairah L.

Burnout is really common in the workplace, especially in jobs that feel menial or repetitive like manufacturing or call centers. Burnout can happen in any line of work — even one that used to feel meaningful to you. In fact, if you are in a high-stress or high-emotion job, the risk of burnout is high. According to the AMA, 42% of doctors report feeling burned out at some point in their career. Parents can experience burnout when there is not enough time to meet their own needs and the needs of their kids.

The best way to avoid feeling burned out is to choose a job that offers a good work/life balance. When applying for jobs, consider things like flexibility, paid time off, and company culture, and not just pay. Whenever possible, work with purpose. And if you feel your passion for your work starting to slip, take a break to think about your next step.

Taking a break is key. No matter what is causing your burnout, take a break! Take all the breaks you can, and don’t wait for them to just happen. Schedule them and be protective of them. Don’t fall into the uniquely American trap of giving up your paid time off — take every day you have available. Make time for people and hobbies that make you happy. Not enough time or energy for them? It’s time to think about work-life balance.

Separate your time into work and not at work and be protective of your time away. Don’t check your work email frequently. Create an after work ritual that helps you keep your work time separate from your off time. If your work requires your constant attention, think about if that fits your values and your goal of a full, balanced life.

If you can’t change or choose your job, figure out where you could make a change. Could you switch to a new work team? Ask for new or different responsibilities? Is there flexibility on how or where you work? Pulling yourself out of burnout can take some creativity. Don’t be afraid to reach out to understanding coworkers or people you admire for ideas.

Photo by Estée Janssens

Setting a goal and working towards it can prevent burnout, too. If this is truly impossible in your situation, make a personal goal. Growing personally can help you take back some control and inspire new ideas and confidence. Exercise, try a new activity, learn a new language, or volunteer your time and talents.

Most importantly, take good care of your mental and physical health when you feel burnout approaching. When you are stretched thin, keep your stamina and patience high by eating well and getting in some exercise every day. Work with purpose and care for yourself intentionally, too.

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