If you’ve ever wrestled with stress to the point of feeling defeated, encountered brain fog, struggled to find motivation, experienced consistent sleep deprivation or lethargy, combatted restlessness, life dissatisfaction and fatigue, and found a lull in your everyday patterns, then you’ve probably dealt with burnout.
Psychology Today describes burnout as “a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.”
Burnout can manifest itself in a variety of ways, but it can lead to unpredictable consequences for an individual’s well-being when one remains in a prolonged state of enervation without recovery.
Burnout challenges us to commit to self-care and offers an opportunity for us to reenergize our bodies, take valuable breaks and confront dread.
If you’re feeling at odds with your current life path or loathe getting up in the morning only to launch into a sinkhole of despair and resignation, you’re most likely exhibiting signs of severe burnout.
Here’s how to identify the signs of burnout.
1. You feel the demands of your life are more than you can bear
You can’t coast through life anymore. You feel like you’re going through the motions, except you can’t keep up, like a runner in a sprint falling behind to last place. You used to be able to power through that pinch in your side, but not anymore. Something’s nudging at you, something’s eating away at you — you can’t shake the feeling that you’re running out of time. You’re using all your strength to develop an inch of resistance to the forces that are pressuring you to slow down when you want to go, go, go, but you’re reaching your maximum energy output, and your reservoir is going down the drain.
You don’t think you have the capacity to keep living the way you do — something’s got to give — but you don’t know what to give up. All you feel is the weight of immense pressure on your shoulders and back, and you keep dragging your feet on the way to the finish line. You’re not sure you want to cross that line anymore. Your final destination no longer looks how you envisioned it. It isn’t a victory lap. It’s a surrender.
You keep saying you just need more time, but the clock’s running out. Are you going to make it?
That nagging feeling of depletion tells you no. All you need is more time.
2. You’ve reached the climax of your career and you don’t know where to go from here so you’re immersed in self-doubt
You’re directionless. Your mission has already been accomplished, but something prevents you from feeling proud of your successes because your achievements are tainted by an unrelenting cynicism. You feel stagnant. You don’t know how else to prove yourself, and while you’d like to let your abilities speak for themselves, part of you feels like you owe it to yourself, your colleagues and bosses to surpass the markers you have already set. But a deep part of you fears shattering this precedent, because once you’ve attained the highest honors and climbed the top of the mountain or hill, you can only go downward. There’s nowhere else to go. There’s only so much prestige you can amass, only so many rewards and accolades.
You doubt your ability to defy your own limits, and wish to test them just as much as you fear them. Your fear of complacency rattles you but worse, switches to resentment when your distrust transforms into self-doubt. Consequently, you begin to question the validity of your own worth, accomplishments and abilities. You second-guess yourself.
Maybe you were at the top of the field because of luck. Maybe your success wasn’t the result of hard work — maybe it was just a fluke.
You can’t shake the feeling that you should be lucky, grateful that no one else knows your secret — the fact that your prowess is defined by an illusion of confidence and in reality, you’re an imposter, hiding the secret of your incompetence with acts of faith and divine will.
But what if your luck runs out? Will the success give way too?
You feel like a fraud. You are dealing with impostor syndrome, a persistent, internalized fear of self-inadequacy. You tell yourself it will get better in time.
You need a reason to care. Rather than dealing with compassion fatigue, you are struggling with the opposite — a dearth of compassion, for yourself and others. Every day you strive to form some semblance of interest for anything tangible in your life.
Everything feels listless. Life just is. Work is work. School is school. Your relationship is unchanged. The spark is gone. Maybe it isn’t the relationship that’s dying — it’s you.
Where has the passion gone? The feeling? The joy? You used to get an incredible thrill from your projects at work, laugh hysterically at your partner’s antics, take the dog to the park without being asked. Now everything feels like a chore — setting the table for dinner and hearing your partner say, “Honey, what’s for dinner? What do you want?” only to respond, “Whatever’s in the kitchen. Pizza is cool, I guess.” You’ve ordered in the last four nights in a row — setting the table is all about preserving the pretense of caring, preserving the ritual.
Your mother asks you how you’ve been — you haven’t seen her in a while — you shrug and say “Fine.” She asks you why you’ve been avoiding her phone calls and you tell her you’ve been busy. She says, “Busy with what?” You respond, “The usual.”
Your partner asks you if you two are still on for date night. You tell her you’d rather have a night out with the boys. This is the fifth time in two weeks that you’ve taken a raincheck.
When you’re not apathetic toward your usual day-to-day routine, you’re pessimistic about your life’s possibilities. You’re less engaged with the present moment, trying to escape the gloom that settles into your depressing routine.
You’re skipping on lunch dates with your buddies, passing on meals, sleeping in during work hours, staying home on your off days.
You alienate yourself because you feel empty inside, drained beyond measure. Something compels you to isolate yourself, deal with your frustrations alone.
You draw inward, pushing the people who could help you away. They don’t understand how tired you are. They don’t understand you are attempting to cope the best way you can. You just need time.
You don’t know who you are anymore, and neither does anyone else. How did you get here?
You’re lost. You’re wondering how to find yourself again, wondering whether you can even be found.
You reach out, for the first time in a long time, to the people who haven’t yet abandoned you. In lieu of offering them an explanation for your odd behavior, you tell them you just need more time.
You always need more time. Time away from work. Time away from yourself. Space in your relationship. Just for a while.
“Please,” you plead to your exhausted loved ones, “just a little more time.”
They don’t tell you what you already fear. You are running out of time to change your life.