How to Know you Need a Break

Burnout has been a hot topic in the past few years, with a renewed focus on prioritizing self-care and mental health. But what exactly is burnout? Burnout can be most easily described as when we are pushed so hard, physically, emotionally and/or mentally that we reach a point of total exhaustion. This state of exhaustion causes us to lose our sense of identity, which in turn causes our productivity, both personally and professionally, to plummet.

Signs of Burnout:

  • It is one thing to feel tired, and another thing entirely to be exhausted. Exhaustion is when you’re constantly tired, and you can feel it in every inch of your body. Where you can’t find the energy to do things that you normally would love to do, but can’t seem to be bothered to do anymore.
  • Loss of Focus. When you’re burnt out or in the process of burning out, your brain becomes scattered because you have so much going on, you literally don’t have the mental capacity to handle it all. When you stretch yourself too thin, you’re unable to focus on one thing at a time because you are constantly thinking of all the other things you have to do. This directly relates to the next sign.
  • Reduced Productivity. If you are stretched so thin that you can’t focus, your productivity will dive into a bottomless void. Suddenly instead of writing (and meeting the deadline for) 10 articles a month, you can barely finish two, and they are late. Or maybe you’re struggling to keep up with your email correspondence when previously you were the queen of responding in a timely fashion. This lowered productivity can then become another stress point which has a Catch-22 effect of exponentially growing your stress and burnout level.
  • You Smell. Okay, so suddenly becoming smelly isn’t actually a sign that you’re careening towards burnout; however, a disinterest in grooming is definitely a sign of burnout. If you don’t remember the last time you showered, it’s time to take a step back.
  • Colds Last Forever. Extreme stress can significantly reduce the efficacy of your immune system, so when you get sick, you can be down for the count for way longer than usual. If you catch a cold and are still fighting it a month later – it’s time to re-evaluate what is going on in your life.

Okay, so now you know that you are either moving towards burnout or already burnt out. What can you do about it? What the heck does “take a step back” even mean?

Schedule some time for yourself to really evaluate (step back emotionally) what is taking up your time and mental energy. Did you sign up for a PTA committee that is taking way more time than you anticipated it would? Have you taken on more than you can handle at work? Are you trying to make gourmet meals every night even though it causes you to not eat until 8:30, and you’re crying by the end of it because you’re so overwhelmed? These are the kinds of things you can take out of your everyday life.

Resign from the committee. The PTA will survive without you. Talk to your boss about your responsibilities and together tackle where you can streamline to work smarter, not harder. Acknowledge that you don’t need to eat orange-glazed Cornish game hens, sautéed fresh asparagus, and creamy hand grated manchego orzo every night. The world will not end if you eat frozen chicken nuggets or even (gasp!) get takeout. Make time for self-care, and remember that just because you are burnt out now, doesn’t mean it’s un-fixable. You can, and will, find the balance and rest that you need.


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