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How To Recognize And Prevent Burnout Before It Hits You

Burnout is neither a badge of honor nor a sign of courage. Here’s how to recognize the symptoms before it hits you.

How To Recognize And Prevent Burnout Before It Hits You
[Photo: Ryan Cryar/Unsplash]

This piece originally appeared on Shine, a free daily motivational text, and is reprinted with permission. 

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Close your eyes and imagine yourself sprinting while holding your breath.

Sounds tough, right? But that’s what leadership coach Lenore Champagne Beirne used to do when it came to her work–she’d push herself past her breaking point, thinking it’s what “success” looked like.

“I’d tell myself it must be done with no breaks or forgiveness,” the 30-year-old Brooklynite tells Shine. “I’d go totally over the top and make unrealistic demands of myself.”

Sound all too familiar? It’s pretty easy for a balanced hustle to slip into a not-so-balanced endless sprint. And we tend to see giving 110% 24/7 as evidence of working really hard–of pushing ourselves to do our best. But as Lenore learned, it’s really a recipe for burnout, not success.

“If you sprint while holding your breath, you’re never going to be able to run another race because you’ll exhaust yourself,” Lenore says. “You’ll be more effective if you take in your needs to fuel you.”

Burnout As A Badge Of Courage

Whether you’re juggling school and work, balancing family and friends, working on your side hustle, or staying up late to finish tasks you planned to finish hours ago–all of it takes a toll on your body and mind, even if it feels productive or a mark of hard work.

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“Unfortunately, we assume the fact that we’re exhausted means we’re doing something right,” Lenore says. The good news: Exhaustion isn’t the only option. “It was only when I started to see that work doesn’t have to be hard and painful that I started to notice it was more effective to detangle exhaustion as evidence for being on the right track or working really hard.”

You know your work habits and body best–which means you can know exactly when burnout is brewing. And the more you pay attention, the more patterns you can see. Once Lenore got curious, her burnout triggers became obvious.

“I used to often find myself immobilized or unable to continue working,” Lenore says. “It was only after I had perspective to acknowledge burnout that I saw the patterns better and the work style that leads me to burnout.”


Related: The Fastest Way To Turn Around Career Burnout


Predict Your Burnout

So, how can you predict your burnout? Lenore suggests an exercise called the Overwhelm Cycle, which she learned while she was training as a coach at Accomplishment Coaching. It’s a chart you can customize to help you recognize your burnout cycle.

“We each have predictable ways of behaving,” Lenore says.

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Here are her steps on how to create your own Overwhelm Cycle:

Step 1: Grab a sheet of paper and something to write with.

Step 2: Draw a circle that represents a clock. Start at 12 o’clock, which represents total burnout.

“Own whatever that looks like for you,” Lenore says. “Whether it’s being unable to do anything but lay down and binge-watch TV, or being hospitalized for exhaustion.”

Step 3: Go back to 11:30. Think about what happens right there, before you hit total burnout mode.

“For me, that could be taking on one more commitment than I know I’m able to take on, or agreeing to do things I’m not excited about doing,” Lenore says.

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Step 4: Work your way backward around the clock.

This predictor wheel shows you where you stand in your personal cycle of burnout. When you see that you’re at 6, you can make note of that and try to get yourself back to 1, instead of moving forward to 7.

“If you know your cycle, you can change it rather than go back to the patterns you’ve always had,” Lenore says.

And if you start to see yourself slipping toward burnout o’clock, here are three tips from Lenore on how to treat and beat burnout.

1. Find Your Support System

“We can feel like we get tunnel vision or like we’re going through this alone,” Lenore says of burnout. “Getting the support you need, whether it’s sharing a couch with a friend while you watch TV or something more formal is a major thing.”

Lenore coaches people dealing with burnout all the time. Her first suggestion: Get a support system in place.

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“Support gets a bad rap,” she says. “People think something’s wrong with you if you need help, but I don’t think that’s true.”


Related: Stress is Making You Micromanage, Which Is Making Everything Worse 


Be flexible with what “support” means–perhaps you’d prefer just hanging with a friend and not even mentioning burnout rather than sitting someone down to specifically discuss it.

“Connect with someone who knows you’re valuable regardless of the results you produce,” Lenore says. “Burnout is related to our habit of telling ourselves we have to demonstrate value by doing something extraordinary. Instead, be with someone who gets that you’re awesome for who you are.”

2. Build In Breaks

If you do nothing else, at least give yourself a break!

“A huge part of burnout is mental, so if you notice you’re getting yourself to create results by being rude to yourself–your inner critic is really loud and you’re being your own drill sergeant–noticing that and easing up on it when you hear it can change the way you experience work,” Lenore says. “You can do the same amount of work and get burnt out or not based on the internal dialogue you’re having or not having.”

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3. Make A List

When we’re on the path to burnout, we can feel like we have to do all the things at once–and they’re all high-priority tasks. One of Lenore’s favorite things to do: Get someone to help her make a list of things that really have to get done and what may not take as much precedence. She emphasizes the importance of doing this exercise with someone you can be honest with, like a friend, family member, therapist, or coworker.

“Half the reason you landed here is because you’re in an extreme situation and have tunnel vision of what’s required of you,” Lenore says. “When you burn out, you have a hard time separating what’s factual versus what that means.”

For example: If you miss a deadline, that’s a fact. You might interpret that as a failure, but someone with another perspective can help you see that you can ask for a deadline extension or that you may have just taken on too much at once.


Related: How Employee Burnout Became An Epidemic And What It Might Take To Fix It


“A partner is a fact checker for you to make sure you got your eyes on what’s real, rather than negative inner dialogue that comes through when you’re burnt out,” Lenore says.

Ready to put down that burnout badge and focus on more self-care? Trust us,  you’ll get more done in the long run.

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