• I’m So Burnt Out. Now What?

    I'm so burnt out. Now what?

    I'm so burnt out. Now what?As we continue to endure a global COVID-19 pandemic and a time of heightened personal and professional demands, many of us are feeling an all-too-common phenomenon: burnout. “People are overwhelmed and exhausted and still feeling like they ought to be doing more,” says Amelia Nagoski, DMA, who wrote the 2019 book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle with her twin sister, Emily Nagoski, PhD. 

    Emily and Amelia started researching the idea that stress can get stuck in our bodies and possibly lead to increased medical problems if not resolved. In their book, the sisters identify the difference between stress and stressors while exploring the cycle of stress. “The good news is that stress is not the problem,” they write. “It’s how we deal with stress—not what causes it—that releases the stress, completes the cycle, and ultimately, keeps us from burning out,” says Emily.

    The Nagoskis reported you can’t control every external stressor that comes your way: “The goal isn’t to live in a state of perpetual balance and peace and calm; the goal is to move through stress to calm, so that you’re ready for the next stressor.” Their book addresses the internal resources we carry to protect ourselves from danger, the sources of danger we encounter in the modern world, and the daily practices that help us build strength to face those dangers and ultimately defeat them.

    First coined as a technical term by Herbert Freudenberger in 1974, “burnout” is defined by three components:

    1. Emotional exhaustion — the fatigue that comes from caring too much, for too long.
    2. Depersonalization — the depletion of empathy, caring, and compassion.
    3. Decreased sense of accomplishment — an unconquerable sense of futility or feeling that nothing you do makes any difference. 

    One of the best ways to keep burnout in check is to know what it looks and feels like before you reach the point of no return. It can be extremely helpful to do a regular self-assessment using the symptoms below; anyone who can check off most of this list is probably experiencing burnout.

      • exhaustion
      • fatigue
      • frequent headaches
      • gastrointestinal disorders
      • difficulty with sleep
      • shortness of breath
      • signs of depression
      • emotional extremes
      • frustration, anger, Extreme negativity
      • inability to accomplish tasks
      • going through the motions
      • lack of patience
      • cynicism, inability to be compassionate and/or empathetic
      • rude or overly assertive behavior

    If you are experiencing burnout, you may be wondering how you can get unstuck. Fortunately, there are a number of things that can help you recover and prevent burnout from returning.

    Prioritize your basic needs. Getting enough sleep, eating healthy food, staying hydrated, grounding yourself in nature, and getting exercise can all help replenish your depleted energy and mood.

    Exercise, in particular, can help you complete the stress cycle according to the Nagoskis’ research. Completing the stress cycle is key to preventing stress from building up in your body to an unmanageable level.

    Shift your perspective. Take time to consider your mindset toward the circumstance that is stressing you out. What are your expectations and assumptions? What changes could you make? What needs do you have that are unfulfilled?. 

    Seek connections. Nagoski writes, “the cure for burnout is instead all of us caring for each other. It is noticing that somebody else is stuck and helping look for ways to clear their path through the tunnel. And it is noticing that you are stuck and being willing to ask for and accept help.” Aim to be surrounded by “the people who will remind you of your value and who you can lean on as you work through your burnout.”



    Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski.

    “4 Steps to Beating Burnout” Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2016/11/beating-burnout.

    Linda V. Heinemann1 and Torsten Heinemann, “Burnout Research: Emergence and Scientific Investigation of a Contested Diagnosis”, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/2158244017697154


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