5 Signs You’re Seriously Burnt Out

Burnout is insidious, seemingly coming out of nowhere it will sideswipe you and take you out of your professional and personal game.

I write this having just spent the past week in bed with my second pretty serious bout of flu this year — both of which left me bed-ridden for a full week! While in this state I have been reflecting on the types of behavior and patterns leads one to unexpectedly find themselves totally burnt out. I quickly realized that there was a score of hallmark signs that gave me fair warning that this was coming over the hill.

Before I wrote this article, I took some time to research the meaning of “burning the candle at both ends” and came up with this pretty succinct definition which I quite like:

Our current understanding of this phrase is of a life lived frenetically and unsustainably — working or enjoying oneself late into the night only to begin again early the next day.

That is pretty much anyone who has a career and life outside of work right?

As the type of person who leads a very full life, I take my job very seriously and enjoy making the most of my leisure time. Embodying the attitude that many do of work hard, play hard, making sure that no opportunities pass me by. At some point without appropriate time for recovery this becomes highly unsustainable and your body will be force itself to take a break. If you are used to moving at fast pace you will be familiar with this state — forced rest periods that your body enforces upon you. This is something I have battled with my whole life and have often dismissed it as just in my nature. I embody the classic burning the candle at both ends.

You’d think it would be easy spot the early warning signs when you’re working too hard — long hours, painful wake-ups and general exhaustion are red flags, right? The funny thing is, our bodies and minds have a funny way of adjusting to the demands we place on them, at least for a while.

As your hours creep up and the pressure gradually intensifies, you may end up feeling like you’re flying (or at least grinding it out) until one day, burnout hits with a vengeance and your health or your sanity crumbles. This is where I have found myself twice now in the same year.

Rather than get to that point, wouldn’t it be great if you could keep an eye out for early warning signs that your schedule and stress levels are starting to get out of whack so you can adjust before you collapse? Finding balance and resting is something many of us speak about but invariably do little to affect in a positive way.

Now I am well on the road to recovery I deiced to do some research in to the matter and found this article written by Joel Peterson, Chairman of Jet Blue Airways about identifying the signs that you are working too hard and how you can stop this pattern. The ones I particularly liked are as follows:

1. You’re not as nice as you want to be

Before your energy levels nosedive and your brain starts meltdown, you may find that you lose your ability to play nice with others, you become irritable and generally not nice to be around, Peterson cautions.

His advice:

“If you find yourself berating waiters, flight attendants, or reservations agents, make a habit of taking an extra minute during every interaction to thank them — and be specific, if possible. In trying to cheer up those who are doing tough jobs, you might also boost your own spirits.”

2. Your mind is always racing

Having plenty of ideas is great, but living on a mental treadmill? Not so much.

“You think the root of your stress is that you spend all of your time in a state of intense focus. But really, most people under stress are re-plowing the same field over and over. They confuse this obsessing with focus, but it’s really the opposite,” Peterson cautions.

If on closer examination you realize your mind is chasing its own tail, get some space to reset, don’t even try and prioritize your to-do list. This is a continuation of this cycle, give your brain a chance to approach problems from a fresh perspective.

3. You throw yourself a pity party

Let’s be honest, if you’re a First World business owner, you might have some serious stress, but you are probably far, far from the worst off on planet earth. If you’re working hard, it can be easy to forget to count your blessings and keep your sense of perspective, however, as Peterson states.

“If you find yourself feeling under-appreciated, change your surroundings — or, at a minimum, change your attitude. Replace self-pity with gratitude, or better yet, find a way to serve those less fortunate than you. In the process, you’ll discover you have a lot to be grateful for.”

Living in an attitude of gratitude sets your sights on the end goal, and inevitably the ‘how’ will solve itself and you will end up at the end of the tunnel in the light.

4. You never take a mental break

For me this is the hardest pattern of all to break, my outs for this are exercise, yoga and food. I find that as I start on my down trend in energy the first two are first to slip, followed by my diet which also rapidly decreases in quality and priority. Take some time to do what you love and keep fulfilled! Peterson recalls a story which goes like this.

“I once had a set of partners who bought tickets for me and my wife to take a week’s vacation and promised that none of them would answer calls from me or report anything to me during the trip. At first, I didn’t know what to do with myself; but soon, I lost myself in a book. When I “woke up” I was in another century, as it were, reveling in language, culture and history — things I love, but had forgotten about. Taking mental breaks every occasionally, creates opportunities for learning and enjoying new things. To incorporate them into your daily life, set up rules for yourself. One of mine is not to work on airplanes — and since I do a lot of flying, I now do a lot of reading.”

Take time to do what you love, at the end of the day why else are you working but to feel fulfilled and to facilitate the life you wish to lead. I am sure we all love what we do but I can whole heartedly say my life with only work would not be as rich and full as the one with the things I love.

4. You don’t live in the moment.

Does this sound familiar? I sometimes feel myself drifting off and day dreaming of the “good times”, fantasizing about my next beach holiday and how when that comes I can finally let go of all my stress. While visualizing a goal is vitally important it is when they start to become a measure of what you need to do to decompress or reset you know something is up. Constantly chasing your past glories is great but too much focus on this is a strong indicator you need change. Find a way of incorporating daily things that bring you the same level of joy, pleasure and reward. I have spent too long being dependent on one objective to get me through tough times — be present and enjoy the moment because that is all it lasts.

Peterson recalls,

“You reminisce, telling stories of past glories. Or you await the future, unable to really start living until a certain goal is behind you. Both of these are signals that you’re living outside the present, a habit that only leads to more stress,” Peterson writes. “Being present in the moment, enjoying the conversation, the meeting, the people and the challenges as they come up will reduce stress.”

5. You’re impossible to please.

Quite possibly one of the most striking and outwardly impactful attributes when you are well on your way to burnout is this one. It exacerbates the overall despondency that comes from being tired and only serves to make you increasingly irritable and harder to please. In your workplace and daily life this has massive implications with your interactions with co-workers, friends and family. With strained relationships, you start to become more and more combative, critical and start to alienate people unnecessarily, in this downward spiral you can easily become isolated and alone only compounding matters and making everything more ‘difficult’ or ‘unfair’.

Peterson sums this up as follows, I for one have said these things and can strongly relate to the way this goes.

“The food isn’t good enough, the hotel’s not convenient enough, your income isn’t high enough. You don’t have enough resources, a strong-enough team, sufficient support from others. The solution to these seemingly external problems is to turn inward and change your mindset. One of my mantras, which I developed when I noticed this warning sign in myself, has become, “I have all I need.””

Over the years, spurred on by the passion of my late mother I have become more and more focused and fascinated by self-development. Trying to take illness and strife as cues to learn more about one’s attitudes, habits and patterns. I cannot say by any stretch I am even close to mastering it as the last week has shown. In addition, I do think that hardship and arduous experience in fact battle hardens us, keeping us learning new skills and alert as Peterson states “it keeps us on our toes”.

However, the key that I have yet to master is the ability to listen to my body in real time, listen to my surroundings, and allow myself time in my daily life to monitor and give attention to what my internal and external environment is feeding back to me. This week has given me the opportunity to take a step back from my normal routine and give myself the chance to recalibrate. It is now on me to take the step forward and embrace this as an opportunity for change and create a positive habit that enables this to flow through every day of my life.

I believe everyone is seeking peace, certainly I am. It is hard to not become fixated on one thing that you believe will bring this to you. For many people, myself included this comes from security and freedom to make choices. This is money, this is work, therefore, this is pressure, stress and burnout.

Peterson’s words sum this up perfectly for me:

“Like a recovering alcoholic, I have to commit every day to smelling the roses. I’ve concluded that to do otherwise will create a form of success at the cost of failing in what matters most: Finding peace from a life well lived — a peace that won’t come from promotions, status, fame or fortune.”

Good luck on finding your peace and try to take time every day to focus only on this and happiness and good health will follow.

You can read my next blog post, How to be More Productive and Prevent Burnout, which dives into how you can do more with less.

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