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The Not-So-Obvious Signs of Burnout

burnoutWe are amazing — adapting to changing demands on a moment’s notice, taking on extra tasks and absorbing more than our fair share when the situation calls for it. We are, for all intents and purposes, superheroes. But when we try to juggle more demands than we have resources to handle for an extended period of time, we eventually burn out.

It’s true — too much for too long is our kryptonite.

But because we’re so incredibly adaptive, the burnout process usually takes a while as we fall into the trap of mistakenly believing that since we muscled through yesterday we can do it again today … and tomorrow … and the next day.

I know how it goes. I did it for two years straight — convincing myself that I could handle it, insisting that it was “temporary” and “absolutely necessary.” You wanna know what happened? I slowly, steadily, and systematically came unglued until one day I ended up in the hospital with shingles at age 34.

I’m a pretty smart gal but somehow I’d missed the signs.

The most obvious sign of exhaustion was easy to spot but it was even easier to rationalize — I was physically, mentally, and emotionally wiped out constantly but who isn’t, right? The other signs were less obvious.

5 Burnout Red Flags

1. You’ve got no routine. If you find yourself skipping workouts, not eating well, not resting enough, avoiding your social support or keeping a schedule that’s all over the place, you may be experiencing one of the first signs of burnout — self-care goes out the window.

2. You’ve become super cynical and negative. If you routinely feel like nothing you do matters or can change your situation, you may be developing a burnt-out attitude. It can begin as joking and then humorous social media posts/shares but ultimately it can take over your whole outlook.

3. You’ve got the attention span of a toddler. If you can’t focus on one thing at a time or complete a task without ending up surfing the web or picking up another project midstream, your body’s natural stress response may have halted your brain’s concentration process. It does this when you’re under stress in order to make your senses hypersensitive to what’s happening around you — helpful when you’re in actual danger but otherwise it causes a mean case of overstimulation.

4. You’re numbing the pain. If you’re drinking more alcohol, eating more junk, or sleeping too much, you could be trying to satisfy your body’s natural needs with cheap, unhealthy, and readily-available crap. For example, when you drink a gallon of coffee each day instead of resting and eating well for energy, your body cries out for one thing but you give it something else to make it shut up.

5. You never stop. If the only time you’re not busy is when you’re sleeping (aka passed out from complete exhaustion), you may be depriving yourself of much-needed decompression time and preventing your brain from relaxing the stress response. An inability to just sit and relax without expending mental energy stewing about something or having your face stuck in a computer or mobile device all evening is a sign that you don’t know how to shut down.

We all have our days (or weeks) when we experience one or more of the above, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Instead, look for patterns that are not normal for you. Compare yourself today to where you were six months or a year ago and look for patterns.

Notice any of these red flags in your life? Maybe it’s time to make a change. —Alison

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