Your Burnout is Real: What It Feels Like, and What You Can Do About It

Burnout is real. Sometimes people don’t recognize what their burnout is. If you’re feeling cynical, bored, and exhausted, like you just can’t muster the creative mindset you once had, focus on anything for very long at all…you’re probably in the midst of experiencing burnout. This kind of exhaustion or dullness can be debilitating, and is usually kept secret from employers until the damage has been done.

If this sounds like you, trust that you’re not alone. A Gallup poll of 7500 employees found that 23% of participants feel burnt out all the time, and 44% feel burnt out at least some of the time. Other studies cite that as much as 60% of workplace absenteeism is related to stress and burnout, with 40% of employees considering quitting their jobs because of these feelings. This is a BIG problem and if you’re avoiding looking at it, it’s only going to make it worse. Not doing something about burnout is only taking you, and your creativity and productivity further down a hole.

I decided to write about this topic now because I talk to so many people – women and men – who are creative, productive, responsible people who love to achieve, see results, be known for doing a good job…but they are burnt out to the point that they’ve had to step away from their work all together. The work they once loved took over their life, their sleep, their health so that they literally had to leave the workforce to heal. Lack of sleep, inability to sleep, irritability, hormone imbalances, anxiety and depression led these great people to a place they weren’t sure they could come back from. The people I’ve worked with have come back from this place on the edge, but would they say it was worth it to get to this place? Nope.

Burnout Symptoms Are Sneaky

We all experience burnout a little bit differently and depending on messages you get from your bosses, colleagues, family and friends, it can be easy to think the experiences you’re feeling are just your issues, your lack of being able to ‘step up’ and do what everyone else can do. Acknowledging your awareness of these symptoms is key to being able to see what’s happening so you can take care of yourself before your physical and emotional health has taken too much of a hit. Sometimes, also, burnout shows up for people who aren’t in a traditional workplace, but are caretakers of children, or elderly, or others who are ill. If you think you shouldn’t be feeling the way you feel, you might want to take a break from that ‘shoulding’ and instead take some time to simply recognize what’s happening for you.

1. Exhaustion

There are plenty of reasons to feel tired, especially in our overworked, over-achieving, often perfectionistic society but if you find yourself feeling exhausted every time you sit down to do your work – no matter how well you’re sleeping or what other steps you’re taking to maintain your energy – you might be suffering from burnout. A great cup of coffee is a staple for most of us, but if you’re depending on several cups of joe or other energy drinks, or other supplements, then you know something’s up. Burning out your adrenals – keeping your level of adrenalin for too long every day – results in a deep, abiding kind of exhaustion. That drained kind of feeling that steals your focus, makes you wonder if you’re losing your mind because you can’t retain thoughts or find words, may have you wondering how you’re going to change your life because you don’t have the energy to look for a job or get clear about what else you can do with your life. You forget why you ever liked this work, and lose confidence that you know what you’re doing at all. You look at all the work coming your way, a never ending pile-on of projects and deadlines and well, you get the idea. It just doesn’t seem possible to tackle it all.

But who do you turn to? Your boss? Your colleagues who are similarly stressed? Your family? How do you get out?

2. Poor Performance

When it’s hard to focus, it’s hard to do good work. Maybe you notice the quality of your work (whatever that work may be) just isn’t that good anymore. You’re taking longer to get things done, you’re missing important details, falling behind on deadlines, and simply not taking the amount of care you normally would. While no one is perfect, and even the best of us make mistakes, burnout causes another level of inefficiency entirely. And if you’re an achiever this compounds your own feelings of inadequacy and frustration. The cycle is in full swing.

3. Cynicism

One the most insidious symptoms of burnout is a slow creeping feeling of cynicism. You start to feel these negative feelings about your work, your career path, your team, your boss and you’re a bear to be around at home.  You may find yourself doubting the validity or your work, and your ability to get it done in the first place. You start to feel some contempt or hostility toward your boss(es), your clients, and anyone else pushing you toward the work that has you feeling burnt out.

Your loved ones are probably worried about and for you; encouraging you to make a change of some sort. But you’re in the hole, not enough time to do the things you know will make you feel better – a good walk or run in the mornings, going to the yoga classes you always loved, the family dinner time you’ve missed for too long.

What Can You Do About It? Four Steps to Alleviate Burnout

You can make a new choice, and take actions that can turn this situation around. Here are four steps you can take to recover, reframe your attitude, and reprioritize so you can get back to feeling like that person you like to be at work and at home. But keep in mind that this stuff can take time, so be patient with the process…

1. Recognize What’s Happening

Just being honest with yoursel,f and others, about what’s happening for and to you can offer relief. Recognizing that you do have choices – even if you don’t think you do – puts you back in control of your life. Take a real look for ways to make changes and take the Yea Buts out of the conversation. There is always a way.

2. Get New Tasks

Part of burnout comes from repetition. If you work for someone else, discuss new possible responsibilities, suggest new ways to shake up your day-to-day. Look at what others in your office are doing and see if there’s a way to transfer to another area if possible. If you work for yourself, spend time developing new or different areas of your business; look for interns or others who can take on the most draining aspects of the business. If you’re a creative – your creative output is how you make a living — then you know you have to feed your inner landscape in order to get that juice to create…look to #3, below…

3. Reprioritize

You won’t be able to get that juice back if you aren’t making some sort of time for your healthy mind and body. Period. Look at your diet – if you aren’t eating nourishing food your body will let you know. If you aren’t getting the exercise that will help you to sleep, your body will let you know. If you aren’t managing your stress with periods of being in nature, or at least outside, in a surroundings that brings some sort of pleasure, your body and spirit will let you know. Ask yourself what you need and listen. While a couple of weeks in Hawaii would be great, you can get small doses of nature or calm, to get a bit of peace that can help you with a perspective. Scheduling quiet breaks – especially if you’re an introvert – can go a long way to recharging during your day.

3. Say No (When You Can)

We can’t be all things to all people. Find out if meetings are essential for you to attend…If it isn’t critical, say no! Protect your time and your priorities by being honest about your workload, delegating tasks as you’re able to, and standing up for yourself when another project threatens to pile onto your already overloaded plate.

4. Do What You Love – I  know, I know…

This may be easier said than done, but if you aren’t doing something you care about, the potential for burnout is sky high. If things are bad enough, maybe it’s time to consider a new profession (or at least a new place of work). If that’s just not an option, think about ways you can invest your time into more fulfilling projects. You may find a new side hustle that blossoms into a career of its own.

If you’ve been feeling burnt out, the first step is to be honest with yourself. Acknowledge that things aren’t going well (and how common that is??), and don’t beat yourself up for it. Instead, start with small steps, focus on doing what you love, and gradually adjust your day-to-day to reclaim your well-being, your passion,  and your sanity. If this sounds like you, and you want and need help figuring out next steps, let’s have a short call. Having a third-party expert —  someone who isn’t a friend or family member — can help you gain perspective and see options you can’t, and find the action steps to take to change things up for more a more satisfying life that supports your goals.