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Everyone experiences burnout differently: Some people might retreat from responsibilities, while others may go through bouts of intense irritability. But it’s safe to say that if given the choice, we’d all choose to avoid this uncomfortable emotional state.
Avoiding burnout completely sounds like a tall order, but can you be better prepared for it? You bet. We recently sat down with Wall Street Journal bestselling author Mollie West Duffy (and co-author of the recently published Big Feelings) on the mindbodygreen podcast to discuss how to manage negative emotions in a healthy way, including how to recognize burnout before it reaches its peak.
“The early warning signs are really key with burnout,” she says. “It’s very tricky to see how it’s manifesting itself until you’ve hit a wall and you’re completely burned out.” Knowing these just might help you handle this common state with a bit more ease and grace:
Early warning signs of burnout.
In order to catch burnout before it hits the point of exhaustion and all-too-frequent overwhelm, pay attention to the smaller triggers. Specifically, take note of when “everything and everyone feel irritating,” Duffy says.
If you find yourself dreading activities you previously enjoyed (or at least didn’t previously hate), you might be inching toward burnout. Does going to the grocery store feel like the ultimate chore? Are your closest friends bothering you, even if you can’t explain why? When another task gets tossed onto your daily list, does it automatically make you feel overwhelmed? You might be on the fast track to burnout, Duffy says.
As you head farther along this path, Duffy notes that many people secretly wish for a tangible reason to slow down, instead of taking the time they need for themselves. She frequently hears: “I’d really like to get a cold right now and be forced to shut down.” At this point, burnout has arrived. “That’s not a great, healthy mental space,” Duffy says.
If any of the above feels familiar, you might be headed toward a state of burnout. When you notice these warning signs, it may be time to take a step back, take a day or two for yourself if you can, and consider looking at your current lifestyle from a different perspective.
“What do I need to do in terms of restructuring my life to have more downtime or get more support?’” Duffy poses. It could be something you write about in your journal, discuss with a close friend or family member, or ponder to yourself on your next daily stroll.
The important thing, here, is to recognize early signs of burnout and address what you can change to give yourself more rest and support, so that the intense, full-on burnout state doesn’t take over. It’s well worth taking a day or two to prioritize your mental health, especially if it will help mitigate a larger burnout later on that could result in full retreat from responsibilities. Say it with us: A day or two of downtime is productive.
Burnout is a trick nut to crack, but by recognizing some early signs, you can address those feelings before reaching a point of no return. If you notice increased irritability, reactiveness, or feel easily overwhelmed in your day-to-day life, you may be en route to burnout. Take time to acknowledge these feelings, prioritize rest, and perhaps incorporate more downtime into your daily lifestyle in the future. If you want to hear more from Duffy, check out the full episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or check out the video below:
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