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Are You Burned Out?

separator Does it ever feel like you're going on auto-pilot, rushing through the days without any sense of enjoyment? You become used to getting up in the morning and going through the motions simply because you have to, because you've been doing it for so many years that it's a habit, because it's what everyone expects you to do, because it's what you expect of yourself. You don't enjoy what you're doing anymore, but there's no choice; you've got to keep on this way. You've got bills to pay and family to take care of. Got to stay on this treadmill-right?


You may be suffering from burnout. It's time to take stock. Why are you burned out? What effects does burnout have on your life? How can you make life meaningful and enjoyable again?

Symptoms of Burnout

Burnout is a syndrome caused by stress. It affects people differently. Some feel physical effects, others have emotional reactions and others may experience both. In general, people suffering burnout will notice some of the following symptoms:

  • Physical effects: exhaustion, inability to sleep, stomach problems, rapid breathing.
  • Emotional effects: sadness, depression, negativity, easy anger, edginess, tendency to blame others, lack of satisfaction or sense of accomplishment, detachment from co-workers.

If burnout progresses, symptoms get worse. Serious depression can develop. Stomach problems can become more severe. Nerves feel more on edge. You feel exhausted.

You can't go on like this forever, but making changes takes some effort. You don't have to go from working in overdrive to shutting down completely. Finding out why you're burned out and what you can do about it requires a lot of looking inward, and sometimes it requires the help of professionals.

What Causes Burnout?

One of the main causes of burnout is loss of pleasure and satisfaction and loss of control in your day-today work. This can happen in a work setting outside or inside the home. Long hours and pressure to perform well can sap all the joy out of what you're doing with your time for most of the day.

Certain personality types are more prone to burnout as well. Some people are extremely busy, but their active life only seems to energize them. Perfectionists and people who can't bear the thought of letting others down are more at risk of burnout.

Burnout: A Flashpoint for Change

Burnout feels bad, but it can be a great wake-up call. It's the alarm bell telling you to wake up and create a life you love. How do you do that? Here are some suggestions for getting started:

Learn to say no
This applies whether you're a stay-at-home parent, a high-powered executive or somewhere in between. At the office, learn to delegate some work so that you don't have to work late all the time. If you're not in a position to delegate, talk to your supervisor about your workload. If things don't improve, consider looking for work someplace else, where there's an emphasis on work/life balance.

If you're a stay-at-home parent, you too should be able to delegate. If your children are old enough, make sure they share some of the chores. If your spouse seems clueless about everything that needs to be done, it's your job to give him or her a clear picture of how you spend your day and what needs to be done.

Define your priorities
Ask yourself what you expect from your work. Are you getting it? Has it kept its meaning? If not, it's time to re-evaluate. You need to identify what it is that will make your work meaningful, and then find a way to bring that meaning back into your daily life.

Set realistic goals
Look at the reasons you're working so hard, and decide if it's really worth it. Is a bigger house going to make you happier? A new car? The next promotion? Financial stability is important, there's no question about it, but you need to weigh your need for more money against your need to live your life in a balanced way.

Look at your finances.
Are you in over your head? Can't keep on top of the bills? Does your need for money control too much of your life? It's time to get control of your finances.

Learn to "check out"
Find time for some quiet. This can be one of the hardest things to do, but it's as important as anything else. Set aside time on a regular basis for yourself. Take a walk, sit quietly and breathe deeply, swim laps, practice your faith-whatever helps you get to that quiet place in your mind.

Enjoy the small moments
Enjoying life is about enjoying the moment. When you've learned to find quiet time, you see that the small moments hold a lot of meaning. Conversations with your spouse, dinner with a friend, spending time with your child, enjoying nature-all of these things take on more meaning when you have the time to appreciate them.

Keep an eye on yourself
Don't ever stop listening to that voice inside that tells you when you're doing too much. That voice knows when you should say no. It knows when you're too tired. It knows when you need a break. Stay in tune with that voice.

Sometimes you can make big lifestyle changes on your own. But you might also want to consider getting help from outside sources. Reading books and checking out Web sites may be enough for you. On the other hand, investigating possibilities with a licensed social worker or someone such as a career coach may be helpful as well.

For general lifestyle information from books, go to the personal growth section of libraries or bookstores.

For solid financial advice, check out some of the following sources:

To feel contentment, you have to create a lifestyle that reflects your values. It takes reflection, honesty and integrity.

American Psychological Association; L Fortgang. Living Your Best Life. Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam. New York, New York, 10014, 2001; The Society for Professional Well-Being.
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