It’s midnight and you have finally put your head on the pillow. As you start to count sheep, the millions of unchecked items on your to-do list float by and you realize that you forgot to do something.
Many times in our lives, especially during transitions or when we have a lot on our plates, we realize too late that we might just be doing too much. It isn’t easy to say no and saying yes can quickly add up to needing 32 hours in each day. Suddenly this feeling of exhaustion begins to negatively impact us mentally and even physically.
Burnout - Warning Signs
Restlessness and Insomnia - two signs that may signal that you are taking on too much. Decreasing our sleep, either consciously or subconsciously is one of the first things that we do when we are stressed and overwhelmed.
Lack of sleep is also one of the things that can feed the problem. Stay well rested and your thinking and mind will be clearer.
Sickness - According to the American Psychological Association, there is a correlation between our state of mind and our state of health. Your immune system can weaken as you become more stressed and burnt out. This can easily result in the coming down with something or getting sick.
Changes in Your Eating - Yes, stress eating is a real thing. Generally, the more stressed you are, the more your body craves food that we commonly call junk. It’s easy and fast and it offers instant gratification. That said, it also makes you feel crummy and doesn’t provide the fuel you need to get through an intense time. On the other hand, some react to high stress situations by losing their appetite altogether which can present problems in getting your body the nutrients it needs.
Decreased motivation - While we might have been gung ho about taking on all of the tasks in the world, when the reality sets in, a sense of being overwhelmed can take over. From feeling like you can take on the world, it comes crashing down and now the desire just isn’t there.
Low Energy - The longer stress goes on, the more fatigued you can feel. Increased stress can take a toll on your mental and physical energy and leave you feeling sluggish.
While these can all be signs that burnout is on it’s way, you can still get back on track.
How you can fight burnout and get back on track
Make a list of everything that is on your plate. Then put them in order with those items at the top being the highest priority. Be realistic about how much time you have in your day and what you can accomplish. Those things at the bottom of the list may just not be feasible at this time.
Learn to say no
Easier said than done, but it is better if you don’t overcommit yourself. It is okay to say no. Remember - doing one thing really well is better than doing 30 things poorly. Say yes to the things you know that you can take on and do it well.
Put sleep, health and exercise at the top of your list
While they may not seem like they are top priority, nothing will get done if you are sick or exhausted. These three things are essential in keeping you healthy. They deserve attention. As the saying goes - “Put your oxygen mask on first.”
Add an activity of mindfulness into your day
Just a short 10 minutes can go so far - listen to calming music, practice some yoga moves or aa mind-clearing walk. Just be. Rejuvenate! The Penn Program for Mindfulness offers classes as well and might be a great place to learn some strategies for this.
Making small changes and taking a step back to look at what is really important can help you reevaluate the activities and things you are doing in your life. However, if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed and struggling to cope, there are resources available. Friends and family can be helpful, but sometimes they are overwhelmed too and aren’t particularly objective about your situation. Speaking to your primary care provider may be the first step. Alternatively, if you belong to a religious organization, your community leader, pastor, priest, rabbi or imam may be a place to start.
If your symptoms of feeling overwhelmed and depleted are associated with feelings of sadness, hopelessness or guilt, lack of interest or pleasure in activities and difficulty concentrating or being productive, it is time to seek professional help from a behavioral health care provider. You can contact your insurance provider for names of clinicians in your community or contact the Employee Assistance Program at your place of employment.
The bottom line: don’t suffer alone. Stress is a normal part of everyday life, but it can get you down.