Burnout is real. It’s that feeling you have when you’ve been pushing yourself too hard for too long, and you just can’t do it anymore. In today’s world, overachieving is no longer a pleasant surprise to teachers and employers, it’s an expectation. And this comes at a price: our mental health.
There are several signs that you might be headed for a burnout, including physical, mental, and emotional signals. The ones I mention here are some of the major ones, so if you’re showing any of these worrying signs, you should probably consider if your lifestyle is benefiting or hurting you. I will also provide a Quick Fix for each sign to provide an option for helping you start to improve how you are feeling. Keep in mind that these Quick Fixes won’t work for everyone and they’re not always permanent solutions. But hopefully, they will give you a jumping off point when brainstorming ways to help yourself!
1. You can’t remember the last time you weren’t stressed
One of the cornerstones of burnout is experiencing high levels of stress for a prolonged period. This stress could come from your personal, professional, or academic life—sometimes even multiple sources. Over long periods of time, stress actually starts to physically affect your body, not just mentally affect you. Neither mental nor physical decline in health lead to a productive and happy life, so be sure to monitor your stress levels closely!
Quick Fix: Take a Mindful Minute. As I enter the stressful professional world of teaching, mindfulness is something that has become increasingly important in my life.
There are several great tools and tricks out there to help you with becoming more mindful, but my personal favorite is investing in a Spire Mindfulness and Fitness tracker. I have previously written about my Spire in this article. I highly recommend investing in one; it will change the way you think of mindfulness! The Spire app (which is free!) has some tools you can use to take a mindful minute, including breathing exercises. Use these to momentarily reset your stress levels and tend to your body’s needs.
Buy a Spire on Amazon here.
2. You’ve abandoned self-care
Self-care is an incredibly important and often overlooked part of life. Unfortunately, some people even make fun of those who prioritize self-care, claiming that it’s overly indulgent and unnecessary. That is so not the case!
I was taught to look at self-care in this way: Imagine you are a bucket of water. Every time you are selfless, you lose some water. Every time you give your time to others, whether at work, school, or otherwise, you lose some water. Every time you are stressed or worried, you lose some water. You can replenish your supply of water by practicing self-care. If you don’t fill your bucket with more water, eventually you’ll have nothing left to give.
In this metaphor, the water is your emotional health. You have to make a habit of doing things that replenish your emotional health to give your all in life. If you have an empty bucket, you can’t dedicate your time and energy to important things such as your job, studying or parenting.
Quick Fix: Be a little selfish. Take time to practice self-care. It might seem like this is impossible because of your busy schedule, but trust me. You need to do it. Personally, I like to give myself an at-home spa day. There are so many ways to do this on a budget, including making your own face masks with ingredients from your kitchen. If you want to treat yourself, though (and you should!), I recommend buying an at-home spa kit. You can get them for less than $30 on Amazon, and they include all the fancy products you would get if you spent $100 at a real spa.
Buy an at-home spa kit on Amazon here!
3. You don’t have time for friends or family
You should never be so busy that you don’t have time to call or hangout with the people you care about. Taking this quality time with friends and family is a form of self-care. Plus, reinforcing those bonds will remind you that you have a support system comprised of people who love and care about you. If you’re headed for burnout, you might have forgotten this. Lean on your supports where you have them; they will be incredibly helpful during this difficult time.
Quick Fix: Call a loved one and talk for at least five minutes.
4. You’re always tired
Exhaustion is a tell tale sign that you’re headed for burnout. This can be for a few different reasons. For one, insomnia is a sign of being too stressed. If your mind is moving at a hundred miles per minute, there’s no way you can, relax enough to fall asleep peacefully. On top of that, mental restlessness might make staying asleep more difficult. Either way, you’re not getting the quality sleep that you deserve.
Another issue is that you may think you do not have enough hours in the day to sleep enough, or at all. When you’re in the grind, you might prioritize perfecting a project over sleeping. That might be acceptable for one night (though never preferable), but certainly not for several nights or weeks in a row. Sleep deprivation is a serious issue and will actually detrimentally affect your performance.
Quick Fix: Prioritize sleep. I know it probably doesn’t seem that simple, but it really is. Just do it. To help you out with this, we have actually published several articles about the importance of sleep, so be sure to check them out:
5. Your diet has changed
…and not for the better. If you’re close to burnout, you might not feel that you have time to cook gourmet (read: healthier) meals at home, and instead, you’re picking fast food. The convenience doesn’t make up for the fact that all this unhealthy food is holding you back, both physically and mentally! Your brain and body need proper nutrition to operate at optimal levels.
Additionally, one manifestation of stress is either over or under eating, neither of which are healthy choices. It’s important to monitor your portions and frequency of eating in addition to what you are eating.
Quick Fix: Stop going to the drive-through line and hit up the grocery store instead. Plan at least one day of healthy meals that you prepare at home, and you will see what a difference it makes! There are so many cookbooks out there that have recipes for simple and healthy meals that you can make on a budget, like this Superfood Cookbook. It has easy recipes that are all based on quinoa, a budget-friendly super food!
Buy Superfood Cookbook on Amazon here.
6. You don’t work out anymore
First came less sleep, then the change in your diet, and now you don’t have time to workout anymore. The trifecta of physical health markers has all fallen thanks to your workload.
Quick Fix: Schedule at least 30 minutes three times a week to go for a walk, bike ride, or hit the gym.
7. You don’t enjoy work or school
Another sign that you’re headed for a burnout is if you don’t enjoy how you’re spending your time. Maybe you used to really love your job, but that’s changed now that you’ve overloaded your schedule. The same might happen if you have packed your course load in school. That sense of dread that you feel when fulfilling your personal responsibilities, instead of finding joy in checking off your to-do list, is a sign that it’s time to reevaluate things.
Quick Fix: Remind yourself why you love what you do. If you have trouble thinking of something, that might be a sign that it’s time for a big change. Big change can be so you might want some resources to help you through it. I recommend reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. It has some wonderful advice on how to be courageous when changing course in life.
Buy Daring Greatly on Amazon here!
8. You haven’t taken a vacation in forever
Do you remember the last time you took some time off? If not, then you could be headed for a burnout. There’s a reason most college professors allow students a certain number of skip days and companies grant paid time off to employees—no one can keep going forever.
Quick Fix: Go on a short vacay, even if you can think of excuses not to.
9. You don’t want to get out of bed in the morning
Pressing snooze several times in the morning can be a sign of several different things. Maybe you’ve exhausted and needed to savor every minute of shut eye you can squeeze out of your schedule. Maybe you aren’t excited to jump out of bed and start your day. Maybe you want to curl up under the covers so your responsibilities can’t catch up with you. Or maybe it’s something else entirely. Whatever the reason, you deserve to have a more positive start to your day!
Quick Fix: Give yourself a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I have written an article in the past about tips and tricks to help you wake up in the morning, so that’s a great place to start. But maybe you need a bigger why. One thing you can do is write yourself an encouraging note the night before and leave it next to your bed. When you wake up, read the note out loud to yourself and then get going.
10. You’ve lost motivation
Loss of motivation is a huge red flag, as it can be both a symptom and a product of mental and physical exhaustion.
In addition to being a sign of burnout, loss of motivation can point to bigger mental health conditions that you might want to seek guidance and help to tend to. Take the time to talk to your doctor if you think you might need more official treatment for how you’re feeling.
Quick Fix: Remind yourself why you do what you do. You can start by reading my article “Finding Motivation When You Feel Like a Loser,” and there are also several great books out there that you can read. One book I’d recommend is You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero.
Buy You Are a Badass on Amazon here!
11. You feel detached
Feelings of detachment often accompany a loss of motivation. If you’re not motivated to keep pushing, you probably also feel detached from the work you need to do. This could also mean detachment from people who are important to you. If you’re headed for a burnout, you might isolate yourself from friends and family and, as a result, feel very distant from them. Or, even if you see loved ones on a regular basis, you might not feel as close to them anymore.
As with the loss of motivation, feeling detached from things and people around you can also be a sign of a larger mental health concern. Please talk to a health professional if you are experiencing detachment because you deserve to get the help you need!
Quick Fix: Reach out to a friend, family member, doctor, or therapist. Talk to someone about how you feel so that you can create a plan to remedy the issue. Reconnecting with a loved one will also remind you that you’re not actually alone, which can go a long way. This might be a scary time in your life, and you absolutely shouldn't go through it alone! There are also great books out there that you can use as resources, including Resilience from the Heart by Gregg Braden. It gives both a scientific and spiritual angle on how to pursue through life's most difficult moments.
Buy Resilience from the Heart on Amazon here!
12. You aren’t proud of your accomplishments
When you meet a personal, academic, or professional goal, you should be proud of yourself! However, if you don't feel that your accomplishments mean much, this could be a sign that you’re headed for a burnout. It’s a result of working so hard for so long that, in the end, you aren’t even excited about the product of all that work.
Quick Fix: Share your accomplishments with others. The people who care about you will be excited and proud of what you’ve done, and hopefully, some of those positive vibes will rub off on you!
13. You are simply #done
You know the feeling.
Quick Fix: See any of the Quick Fixes mentioned above!
If you identify with any, many, or all of these signs, it’s not too late to make a change. I included a quick fix to attend to each sign of burnout on this list, but the key word here is quick. These tips will not sustain you forever, though they certainly can become part of your daily routine to create lasting change.
If you feel that you might be headed for a burnout, the best thing you can do is take a step back and talk to someone. You might have to make some major life changes to get yourself on a better path, or you may only new a few small adjustments. Either way, it can be scary to ask for —that something needs to change. It’s so worth it though. Make yourself a priority again; you deserve it!