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8 Ways to Avoid Burnout

Written and medically reviewed by Dorcas Morak, Pharm.D

Burnout is severe physical and mental fatigue that can cause you to lose interest in previously enjoyed activities and can make you feel overwhelmed in your job and personal life. Read on to learn what can cause burnout, what it feels like, and how you can avoid it.

What is burnout?

Burnout is stress-related physical, mental, and emotional weariness. People with burnout feel helpless, exhausted, and less inspired to accomplish the things they used to like. Sadly, burnout isn’t self-resolving and if not treated, it can lead to significant medical and mental conditions including anxiety and depression.

Who is at risk of burnout?

Burnout can occur in anyone who is regularly subjected to high levels of stress. Those who experience demanding work or family obligations, stressful life events, or feel a need to be perfect or take on too much responsibility are particularly vulnerable to burnout.

What are the signs of burnout?

Knowing the symptoms of burnout will help you recognize it in yourself or your loved ones. The signs of burnout include:

  • exhaustion: burnout will make you feel emotionally, cognitively, and physically depleted
  • social withdrawal: you may feel overwhelmed and want to isolate yourself from socializing with friends and family
  • escape fantasies: burnout can cause you to think about escaping or taking a solo trip
  • irritability: people suffering from burnout can be irritable and easily angered by trivial things
  • frequent illness: burnout can weaken your immune system, leaving you more prone to illnesses like the flu and the common cold; prolonged burnout can cause anxiety and depression

How does burnout occur?

Burnout happens gradually and can be marked by the following events and behaviors:

  • excessive ambition or pressure to take on large amounts of responsibility at work and home
  • expending extreme effort to keep up
  • ignoring your own needs and self-care, including sleep and nutrition
  • not allowing time for breaks or leisure activities
  • perceiving others' behavior as incompetent and lazy rather than seeing your behavior as abnormal
  • feeling inadequate when you become overwhelmed
  • behavior changes like irritability or, in extreme cases, substance abuse or an impulse to get away

How can I prevent burnout?

Stress is a part of life, but you can prevent burnout. These tips will help you manage stress and stop burnout in its tracks:

  • Regular exercise helps you stay healthy physically, psychologically, and emotionally. Moderate exercise for 30 minutes a few days a week can help keep stress under control. To increase the likelihood of sticking with an exercise regimen, choose activities you enjoy or find relaxing, like walking, dancing, or yoga.
  • Eat a balanced diet to manage stress and enhance your mental and physical well-being. For instance, foods high in omega-3 fatty acids like fish, walnuts, and flaxseed oil may improve your mood and alleviate symptoms of depression.
  • Get enough sleep to allow your body time to recover and recharge. Also, practice good sleep hygiene by avoiding caffeine-containing beverages and other things that can disturb your sleep before bed.
  • Ask for help! Find a support system of people who can offer personal and professional help when you feel overwhelmed. This can include friends and family, medical professionals, or mental health professionals. Even online support groups can be a great way to vent and connect with others.
  • Engage in mindful meditation. Mindful meditation helps manage stress and calm anxiety.
  • ** Reevaluate your goals**. Everyone wants to do well and achieve their goals but taking on too much can cause you to become overworked eventually burn out. If you are beginning to feel overwhelmed, look for ways to make your goals more attainable and periodically review them to make sure they are reasonable.
  • Redefine success. By including wellness in your definition of success, you will create time to rest in your plan and eliminate feelings of guilt when you need a break.
  • Manage your time more realistically. For many people, meeting deadlines at work is a major source of stress. A solid understanding of time management will help you set more realistic deadlines for each project and know what to prioritize. Communication is also key; talk with co-workers to find common ground on setting realistic timelines and workloads whenever possible.