How would you describe life? Many of us these days wouldn’t do so in a super favorable way. That’s because life is demanding and asks a lot of us. It can feel like we’re juggling professional, family, and personal commitments on a never-stopping Ferris wheel while someone casually throws water balloons filled with hot distractions at us from somewhere on the shadowy sidelines.
Sounds insane? Chances are, if you’ve ever suffered from stress or burnout, you’ll be able to identify with this analogy just fine. And, according to Gallup, 76% of employees experience burnout on the job at least sometimes, with almost 30% being always or very often in the zone.
More research is also being done in the area of parental burnout as well, which is important because it can result in emotional distancing from children and a sense of ineffectiveness as a parent. The consequences can have huge impacts on our families and homes.
In this article, we’re going to chat a little bit about how to recognize signs that you’re suffering from burnout and then delve into some tips on how to reduce and prevent it. We’ve separated our suggestions into what you can do daily, weekly or monthly, and big-picture ideas so you can tackle this issue before it affects you too seriously.
How to Recognize Burnout
It’s important to recognize the signs of burnout. Some are subtle and easily ignored, while others are going to pop up as big red flags. Be on the lookout for the physical manifestations of burnout. Frequent headaches and muscle pain are sure signs that your body is feeling constant stress and pressure.
And if you find yourself always sick, it means your immune system could potentially be suffering as well. Last, if you’re exhausted in the morning when you try to start your day, but you can’t fall asleep at night due to a racing mind, you just might be burned out.
Burnout also affects us emotionally. We could be afflicted with a severe loss of motivation to do just about anything and feel a complete lack of satisfaction or accomplishment. This can affect us at work, at home, or both. And, when things get severe, we might start feeling completely detached from our colleagues and loved ones, overtaken by hopelessness and failure. These are some of those red flags we mentioned.
Also, keep an eye on your behavior. You may find yourself withdrawing or self-isolating when previously you would have otherwise engaged with colleagues, friends, or family. It could also be skipping out on work or missing important family events. And, of course, frequent use of food, drugs, or alcohol to cope is another one of those red flag signs that things aren’t alright.
Preventing and Reducing Mental Burnout
People are complicated, and so are our lives. A solution that works for one person might not for another and, often, we need a combination to overcome the beast of burnout. We suggest trying at least one thing from each of the categories below that both appeals to you and fits into your life. You might not do them 100% all the time but, remember, it’s all about progress, not perfection.
Daily Burnout Prevention Tips
- Physical Activity: According to the Mayo Clinic, adults should aim to get a solid 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day. And this should be a mix of aerobic activity and strength training. Some activities may count as both, while some are one or the other. And it doesn’t have to be a 30-minute block, either. You can break it up into 10- or 5-minute intervals. The point is, get moving, and sit less.
- Gratitude Lists & Journaling: Practicing gratitude can bring gratitude, and this helps keep us out of the negative mental headspace that burnout often finds us in. But, according to Lyubomirsky and colleagues, expressing gratitude once a week may be enough. On your other days, you might try some stream of consciousness writing to work out the mental fog, as suggested by teacher and creativity expert Julia Cameron.
- Drink Water: Chances are, you’re one of two-thirds of Americans who are not drinking enough water, according to a report from ABC News. Being dehydrated is going to impair all kinds of important functions, from cognition to digestion. And this will directly contribute to energy and feelings of fatigue, which is all a part of burnout. If you’re having trouble tracking liquid intake, use an app to help you out.
Weekly or Monthly Burnout Prevention Tips
- Meal Plan & Prep: Eating a healthy, balanced diet is incredibly important when we lead busy lives that make us prone to burnout. But who has time to eat healthy when life is busy? Well, as the saying goes, if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail. Using a calendar to plan the month’s meals (and snacks!) will help not just with deciding what’s for dinner, but will save time when you’re grocery shopping and allow you to prep full meals or parts of one when you have the time.
- Solo Dates: Spending some time alone and thinking of it as a beneficial and important thing can go a long way toward improving our mental health, according to one study. Remember, being alone is different from being lonely or feeling isolated. And a solo date — whether it is a movie with snacks at home or a trip to an art gallery — can be a great way to both disconnect with the stressors in life and reconnect with yourself. Carve out the time, whether weekly or monthly and make it special.
- Be There for Someone Else: As the adage goes, filling the cup of others helps keep ours full. When we reach out, absent of selfish motivation, and make it about meeting the needs of another person, we, in turn, increase our sense of self-worth and strengthen our connections, which keeps many of the emotional effects of burnout at bay. It can be as simple as lending an ear to a frustrated spouse or your expertise to a perplexed co-worker. Be on the lookout for opportunities to show up for others, and you’ll be doing yourself a favor.
Big-Picture Burnout Prevention Tips
- Set Goals and Stay Accountable: Napoleon Hill, author of “Think and Grow Rich,” one of the 10 best-selling self-help books of all time, famously said, “A goal is a dream with a deadline.” Goals give our life direction and purpose, and achieving both intrinsic and extrinsic goals has been studied and shown to increase happiness. They’ll also keep you from wandering aimlessly in the fog of burnout.
- Routine: The importance of routine for an individual’s meaning in life cannot be understated, and even mundane and ubiquitous aspects of our routines have been shown to have a positive impact, according to research from Samantha Heintzelman and Laura King. From sleep schedules to mealtimes, it’s something we always talk about in connection to our kids and pets, but we are so willing to diverge from it for ourselves. Too often, it’s just one more email or just one more hour of chores before bed. The result is a lack of sleep, deeper exhaustion, and one step closer to burnout.
- Get Help from a Professional: It cannot be stated emphatically enough that we all need help sometimes, and occasionally that help must be from a trained professional. According to NAMI, one in five U.S. adults experiences mental illness but only just under 44% received treatment in 2019. Seeing a counselor, therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist can go a long way to avoiding burnout because you’ll be better positioned for success in life when you’re not trying to do it all alone.
A Few Final Thoughts on Mental Burnout Reduction and Prevention
These are just a few ideas to get you going on your self-care journey that will help with reducing and preventing mental burnout. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, so if you have other things that work for you, that’s fantastic! It could be a weekly massage with essential oils or CBD oil drops or taking up a new hobby. The opportunities are endless.
Just remember to be patient and gentle with yourself, especially if this is all a bit new for you. Go slowly and add the suggestions here and there. And keep in mind that what you’re after are lasting lifestyle changes, so whatever you add should be enjoyable and sustainable over the long term.