A Guide to Surviving Burnout, Part 1 – Learn to Identify Burnout

As an infinitely curious person with a (sometimes not) healthy dose of perfectionism, I often find myself taking on a bit too much. This eventually leads to a feeling of burnout. Over the years, I’ve learned that I’m not alone. In fact, in a recent Gallup study, 44% of people reported feeling burned out sometimes.

Today, I’m going to tell my story of burnout and how I know when I’m reaching my limit. In the next two posts, I’ll explain some techniques that have helped me recover and share how I avoid sliding back into burnout.

My Relationship with Burnout

As a kid, I took art lessons for nearly ten years. I went every single week — until I turned seventeen, that is.

At seventeen, I was taking AP classes, dual-enrolled in the local community college, on my high school’s debate team, taking horseback riding lessons, working a part-time job, and still going to my art lessons every week. I had overloaded myself so much that everything I once loved felt like a chore. I was so exhausted and overwhelmed that I simply stopped going to my art lessons. I didn’t call and explain the situation. I didn’t say goodbye to the instructor I had spent the last ten years with. I just stopped showing up.

I am not proud of seventeen-year-old Sarah’s actions. However, it was an important life lesson for me. It turns out I can’t do everything. And when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I need to intervene and make a change for myself. This was the first time I experienced burnout.

I’d love to say I figured out how to avoid burnout altogether after the “art lesson incident,” but that would be false. I’ve experienced it time and time again. It seems to be a cyclical pattern in my life.

Because I’ve dug myself out of burnout more times than I’d like to admit, it’s become a strange skill of mine. I’ve picked up some techniques for reclaiming my life after experiencing burnout. More importantly, though, over the past few years, I’ve focused on how to avoid falling into burnout altogether. I’ll talk about those in the next two posts.

Today, I’ll describe how I identify burnout.

My Four Signs of Burnout

The following are the signs of burnout that I keep an eye out for. When I see them, I know I need to make a change. Hopefully, these tells will resonate with you as well.

1. Feelings of Irritability

When I’m burned out, I’m not the most pleasant person to be around. I tend to get irritated at things no human honestly should. I have a harder time regulating my emotions and generally feel uncomfortable for the majority of my day.

This is when I find myself fantasizing about spending large spans of time completely alone.

2. Feelings of Dread and Lethargy

I like to be busy. In fact, my friends and family have been joking about my inability to sit still and relax for as long as I can remember. However, when I’m feeling burned out, I start to dread the things I once looked forward to. Fun hobbies start to feel like an irritating chore.

This is when I find myself longing to sit on the couch and do absolutely nothing.

3. Feelings of Entrapment

Like most humans, I prefer to be in control of my life. I get frustrated when I feel as if I don’t have the ability to choose my own path or even influence it. When I’m feeling burned out, I feel trapped — as if I have no way out of the non-ideal situations I find myself in.

This is when I feel like a victim instead of a player.

4. Lack of Sleep and Chronic Headaches

Burnout impacts me physically as well as mentally. I’ve never been a great sleeper. When I’m feeling burned out, this problem is exacerbated. I often find myself waking up at odd hours of the night, worrying about things that are not even significant or in my control.

Additionally, high levels of stress coupled with less sleep is a surefire path to headaches. For me, these headaches typically manifest as tension and pressure around my eyes, jaw, and forehead.

This is when I want nothing more but to sleep all day.

My Signs May Not Be Your Signs

Every person experiences life differently, so of course, each person’s experiences with burnout will vary as well. Maybe some of my telltale signs of burnout resonate with you. Maybe yours are completely different — if so, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

In my next post, I’ll talk about how to pull yourself out of a state of burnout.