5 Subtle Signs You’re Close to Burnout

Exhaustion can take many forms, and it’s important you recognize the symptoms before it’s too late.

5 Subtle Signs You’re Close to Burnout
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Exhaustion can take many forms, and it’s important you recognize the symptoms before it’s too late.

I recently quit my job to be a full-time writer. In the first month as a self-employed person, I used to work every day, not even taking the weekends off.

Every hour I spent on my laptop meant I could be earning more money. Taking breaks started to feel like I was cheating on myself.

Work was fun, and I loved being in control of my life.

The irony here is that whenever someone asked me what I was doing, my answer was always the same: “Working!”

The odd hours shocked my friends, but I was ready with a joke, “I quit my job. Now, I don’t work 9–5. I work 24x7.”

They laughed, I laughed, and the situation always dissolved. But after a while, the pace got to me. I felt drained, unable to muster the motivation to write even a single Tweet. I didn’t understand what was wrong. Writing was supposed to be my passion. Why did my brain turn blank the moment I opened a screen to write something new?

At a loss for what to do, I talked to my therapist. We spent hours together, and after intensive journaling sessions, I realized how close I was to burning out.

This came as a shock.

Being self-employed meant I had the freedom to choose my own hours. How did I end up pushing my limits so much that I led myself to the brink of exhaustion?

As I did some research, it turns out burnout is common among entrepreneurs and self-employed people. And its consequences are terrible. According to Healthline, burnout can feel much worse than ordinary fatigue. It makes it challenging for people to cope with stress and handle day-to-day responsibilities.

Burnout is dangerous, even more so because its signs aren’t always easy to spot. This article will help you understand how to identify if you’re close to burning out. It also lists some science-backed actionable tips on how to prevent burnout.

1. You’re exhausted all the time, both physically and mentally

Burnout causes fatigue in adults — a serious problem whose roots lie in overworking. About 6 in every 100 people see their GP because they feel tired. It’s so common that GPs have an acronym for it: TATT, which means “tired all the time”.

If you also feel TATT, this could be the biggest indication you’re close to burning out.

How you can tackle this

The solution is to strike the perfect balance between your work and life. Sometimes we give too much importance to our work and forget we have a life, friends, and family — all of which need our attention.

To avoid falling into the same abyss as I did, dedicate a specific timeframe for your work. No matter how tempting it might feel, don’t stretch it outside of the allocated slot. Else it will cause massive exhaustion and you won’t be able to keep up with both sides of the work-life balance equation.

2. You can’t connect with anyone or anything

People close to burnout often feel so overwhelmed with work that they don’t have time to socialize. This causes immense workplace isolation. According to Jeremy Nobel, MD, MPH, the relationship between burnout and loneliness is a reciprocal one. When people feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and dehumanized, it heightens their risk for isolation.

As your social life suffers, you feel extraordinarily nihilistic all the time. According to research, isolation is one of the root causes of nihilism. You lose all faith in life and start questioning its meaning. This makes you lifeless and depressed.

How you can tackle this

As per studies, the quickest way to tackle isolation is to force yourself into socialization. Try to talk to people around you about how your day went, what’s something different you experienced today, or the new projects you’re working on.

This might sound scary, but with time and practice, you’ll be able to open up and form good connections. When you start socializing, you’ll be surprised how many people share the same ideologies and how fun it is to spend quality time with like-minded people.

Healthy connections and good friends will bring out the best in you. This will help you find a new meaning in your life. Eventually, your social side will take care of your nihilism.

3. You fantasize about escaping

You have escape fantasies at an alarming rate. The never-ending work deprives you of happiness. You feel like leaving everything and going on a vacation. But since work commitments won’t let you leave, you may turn to various addictions to dull your emotional pain.

This condition mostly arises when you’re doing work that doesn’t excite you or drains your energy. That’s why it’s best to work on your passion on the side. Doing what you love will not cause such escape fantasies, though it can still cause some burnout if you’re working all the time.

How you can tackle this

As I mentioned earlier, dedicating a specific work timeframe is the best way to make sure you’re not working round-the-clock and giving enough attention to other aspects of life.

To tackle the escape fantasies, you might need to find something you love and work on it. According to Harvard Business Review, doing a job that doesn’t make you happy will cause you to burn out in the long run.

4. You get angry for no reason

You’re on the edge all the time and lose patience easily. Even simple things like shopping and household chores can cause you irritation if they don’t go as planned. This sudden spike in anger over small things can be a sign that you’re approaching burnout.

Normally, the cause is lack of sleep. You might not be sleeping much to meet tight deadlines and handling multiple projects at the same time. Again, the solution lies in time management. You need to give yourself enough sleep so that your body and mind work at their best level.

How you can tackle this

According to the Sleep Foundation, eight hours of sleep is necessary for healthy adults. It can boost your mood and increase your energy levels for the entire day.

Many people have their sleep schedules messed up, and that is the main reason why they feel fatigued and irritated all the time. So, try to fix your sleep schedule and give your body the rest it needs to meet your work demands.

“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.” — Irish Proverb

5. Your health deteriorates

Your body starts showing signs. You’re unable to sleep, have frequent headaches, stomach pain, high blood pressure, etc. You might even start showing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Whether or not burnout is behind this condition depends mostly on your medical history and lifestyle. But, it can definitely be one of the reasons behind poor physical and mental health. Most of the time, work pressure creates unhealthy lifestyle changes that lead to frequent illnesses.

How you can tackle this

Regardless of the cause, a healthy diet and regular exercise can help you. Eating a healthy diet rich in omega-3s like flaxseed oil, walnuts, and fish may help give your mood a boost. It can also work as a natural antidepressant. In addition, regular exercise or 5–10 min mini walks can increase the oxygen circulation in your body to make it more energetic throughout the day.

Try maintaining a healthy diet and exercise for a few days and you’ll feel how much your mood has improved.

Final words

No matter what your journey’s like and where you work, burnout is real. It has severe consequences if left untreated, like stress, fatigue, insomnia, irritability, and vulnerability to illnesses. Hence, it is very important to pick up the early signs of burnout.

The five subtle signs and their prevention discussed in this article are:

  1. You are exhausted all the time. To prevent this, strictly maintain your work-life balance.
  2. You feel overwhelmed and extraordinarily nihilistic. This can be reduced by socializing more.
  3. You have escape fantasies at an alarming rate. To get rid of this, allocate time for doing what you love. Keep searching for your passions if you haven’t found them yet.
  4. You lose your cool easily. Getting eight hours of sleep every night might solve this.
  5. Your body is showing signs like irregular sleep, frequent headaches, stomach pain, high blood pressure, etc. A healthy diet and exercise routine can be your savior.

I hope this article has made you aware of burnout and its signs. Prevention is always better than cure. So take care of yourself and try applying some preventive measures unless you want to have a mental breakdown like I did in my first month of being self-employed.

If you find these symptoms in any of your family members or friends, don’t hesitate to share this article with them. A helping hand today goes a long way in curing the pain of tomorrow.

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