Three Signs of Burnout

The last five months have been difficult. It started with stress headaches at the beginning of November 2022, a culmination of pushing too hard for too long and putting work stress above all else and heightening anxiety that grew by the day. Then, those stress headaches morphed into piercing migraines that bounced between my temples to the crown of my head to right behind my eyeballs, rendering me essentially useless in my daily Type A functions. That added to my anxiety, because if I’m not performing at 100 percent, then what am I worth?

Neurology appointments, a cocktail menu of new prescriptions, and a lot of frustration later, it’s now April 2023, the second quarter of the year, and I’ve barely made a dent in my 23 in 2023 goals. I’ve lost my motivation and I’m desperate to get it back. So, in an effort to regain my mojo, I’ve decided to first identify three signs of burnout that I’m currently experiencing.

Sign 1: I’m Not Accomplishing My Weekly Goals

Beginning in January, I set a list of 23 goals to meet this year. To keep me on track, I keep a weekly checklist in my Notes app. For weeks I was diligent in reviewing those to-do activities and evaluating my progress at the end of the week. After all, checking off a to-do brings me a pleasure unlike much else. Until now. I’ve barely glanced at that weekly note over the past three weeks, and I’ve resigned myself to not accomplishing those activities. My rationale includes: There’s always next week and I’ve been sick; I deserve to take a break.

Sign 2: I’m Not Taking Care of My Physical Health

The migraines are nearly under control, thank God. My body seems to have adjusted to the medication, and this week was a milestone as I was able to go four days without the painful feeling in my brain that makes me want to drive a pencil through my left temple. Even yesterday, as I felt the pain start to radiate against my skull, I was able to sleep it off and function as an adult for the rest of the evening.

So that’s the great news. The bad news is that I’ve let the progress I’d been making for my health has gone to the wayside. I’ve gone from a regular 45- to 60-minute daily workout to a half-hearted five-minute yoga practice. I’ve cut my step count by half, and my resting heart rate is in the mid-60s compared to the mid-50s that it was in December. To top that off, the last two weeks are the first time in the years that I haven’t been drinking 128 ounces of water a day.

The result of all of these changes? I’m sluggish despite not having white-hot pain in my head every day. I’m exhausted every day despite not being active like I used to be. And, it’s no surprise that my weight change continues to bounce around the same five-pound range, and I’m burning fewer calories during the day. I’m shortening the runway to reach my goal of losing 50 pounds by the end of the year. This burnout is affecting my physical health, and it’s beyond frustrating. It’s bringing on a sense of failure because I’m not perfect and not motivated, which feeds into the cycle of not feeling good enough to do what I need to do and then being paralyzed to make the changes that I need to do and then beating myself up because I don’t do what I need to do.

Sign 3: My Attention Span is Nonexistent

One of my 23 in 2023 goals is to write three pages in my journal every day. I was on a great trajectory to really nail this goal, and I was seeing an impact on my life. For the first time in my life–after all the mental health therapy and the self-help books and plans to improve my world–I saw the value of writing down my thoughts, documenting the day’s activities, and capturing my emotions. I was reflecting on things and releasing pent-up feelings that would have likely erupted like a volcano otherwise.

But now, writing three pages feels like a monumental task. I’ll write a paragraph or sometimes just a few sentences and stop, turning to my phone to scroll through social media, check the news, find new Pinterest pins. I’ll resort to repeating myself just to fill the page. And it’s not just in my journalling practice. My attention span is nil when I’m trying to think through tasks and attack projects that need to be completed. Everything is taking twice as long because my thoughts feel like they’re planted in moors of dense, soupy fog that I can’t break through.

How Do I Beat the Burnout

I haven’t found the solution of how to resolve this burnout. The easy answer, the cliched advice is to just start doing the things, to attack it with the mindset that I have to do the things and by doing the things I will feel better. Do I know that this advice will likely work? Yes. But it feels so daunting, and frankly, I’m tired. So, here is my mini-list of the things I’m going to try to overcome this burnout:

  1. Take a few days off from work. I was honest with my boss. Work has been a marathon since January, and I’ve pushed myself to the brink. I’m grateful that she was understanding and encouraged me to take time off next week.
  2. Keep a gratitude list. I started this in March alongside my daily journalling practice. Writing down one thing for which I am grateful is important because I’m able to see that there are good things in the world, and I am looking at the big and small reasons to be grateful.
  3. Just do the next right thing. I have my weekly to-do list that’s related to my 23 in 2023 goals, but I’ve started writing down my daily to-do list as well. This helps delineate what has to be done today versus what could be done or what can wait. And, by telling myself that I just have to do the next right thing, whether it’s just taking a step outside and then walking a mile after I put my shoes on, that’s a win because it’s a mile that I didn’t walk the day before.
  4. Realize that it’s okay not to be perfect. I’m learning a lot about the downfalls of perfectionism, and I can see how it affects my life and my approach to the world. My need to be perfect is a key part of why I’m feeling burned out. Reminding myself that no one is perfect and that good enough is okay too can be a great achievement.

Do you ever feel burned out? How do you deal with it?