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  • Shelby L. Graves, MPH, CHES

Rolling Your Eyes Every Time Your Phone Rings? You’re Probably Burning Out.


We’ve all been there.

I’m talking about burnout.


The feeling of not being able to offer one more “quick favor” or take one more phone call. The dread of setting your alarm to prep for your commute. The absence of all motivation to keep up with your projects.

The Help Guide defines “burnout” as “a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.” Students, workers, and parents can experience burnout within their day-to-day lives. The process is typically gradual, building over a longer period of time.

Whether you’re a full-time professional with kiddos at home or a student taking on their first semester of grad school – your burnout is valid. Read ahead for more information on burnout and burnout recovery.

Image © sasha.bezverkha

Causes of Burnout

There are many different causes of burnout. Most periods of burnout can be traced back to high levels of stress and jam-packed schedules. However, there are other sneaky ways your professional life can lead to burnout in the long run.

Common causes of burnout include:

  • Heavy workload. Are you doing the job of three people? Taking a few extra credit hours? Maybe you are so committed to your work that you take the lead on every additional project that comes your way? A heavy workload leads to burnout, no matter how much you love the work you’re doing.


  • Not setting boundaries. Is your agency undergoing transition, requiring you to be available around the clock? Do you have trouble saying “no” to the boss you want to impress? Find yourself picking up the slack when your group members drop the ball on an assignment? Not setting boundaries for your time, effort, and capacity at work or school will inevitably lead to burnout.


  • Not being rewarded. Do you go above and beyond for a subpar salary? Have you been told to “wait” on that promotion you deserve? Do your professors withhold positive feedback? A lack of reward can make you feel as if you’re investing too much in your work. And this also leads to burnout.


  • Feeling isolated. Who celebrates your milestones? Who compliments you on a meeting well done? Who can you commiserate with after a brutal exam or project? Having a sense of community or camaraderie can prevent burnout and help you to work through it. Feeling isolated from coworkers or classmates does quite the opposite.


  • Toxic environments. Have you witnessed unfair treatment of employees? Are the policies of your workplace or school rooted in injustice? Do the people within your agency or cohort gossip like they’re in high school? If you feel that your agency or university is unfair, inequitable, or unjust, then you will likely experience burnout. This is typically due to a growing sense of distrust in the organization.


Signs & Symptoms

Most of us have key “tells” that warn us when we are burning out. For me, I begin to struggle with patience. And I also start to withdraw socially from friends and coworkers. I know that when I’m feeling antsy and ignoring calls and texts – I need a little R&R – stat.

Watch out for the following:

Emotional Signs:

  • Lack of motivation

  • Negative thinking or getting stuck in a negativity spiral

  • Feeling like a failure or imposter syndrome

  • Feeling detached from your work, friends, or accomplishments

  • Experiencing increased symptoms of mental illness

Physical Signs:

  • Recurring illness or depleted immune system

  • Frequent headaches or neck and jaw tension

  • Feeling physically exhausted and drained

  • Trouble sleeping or difficulty staying asleep

  • Significant change in appetite

Behavioral Signs:

  • Using drugs or alcohol

  • Missing deadlines or pushing off responsibilities

  • Missing work

  • Getting into arguments with partners or loved ones

  • Not engaging in hobbies


Preventing Burnout

The good news is that you can prevent burnout. If you set up your work-life balance for success, you can better manage daily stress and long-term burnout.

Try the following:

  • Build a community. Make friends at work or within your program. Set up a positive support system where you can celebrate one another’s accomplishments and lean on one another when things get tough.


  • Set boundaries. Learning to set appropriate boundaries is a process. But these boundaries enable you to maintain healthy relationships with your coworkers and classmates.


  • Use your time off. Your vacation time, comp time, and sick leave won’t do you much good just sitting in your leave bank. We all need to take breaks. Whether it’s a staycation, skipping town, or just shutting off your notifications for a full day off – you need to use your paid time off. Schedule days off so you have something to look forward to in the busy season.


  • Take breaks throughout the day. Hon, take your lunch break. I’m notorious for standing at my desk popping snacks into my mouth all day without ever taking a real break. It’s something I’m working on. Taking your lunch break and building smaller breaks into your day is important to preventing burnout. Are you given 10-15 minute breaks during the day? Use them. Read, listen to music, take a walk, stretch it out – just do something other than staring at your computer screen.


The Road to Recovery

Already feeling burned out? That’s okay – you can recover. We all can.

If you’ve noticed signs of burnout in yourself:

  • Take care of your health. Getting back on track with your sleep, exercise, and eating patterns will do wonders for recovering from burnout. Am I recommending starting a new fitness routine or changing your diet? No. I am recommending looking at your patterns and trying to get on track with what makes YOU feel GOOD. If you need additional help with this, you might want to see a professional. I am not qualified to do this for anyone but myself.


  • Find support. Finding your best fit for counseling or support group services will do wonders for your mental health. Not only can it help you to recover from burnout, but it can also help to prevent burnout altogether. Students can reach out to campus services for mental health resources. Professionals may want to check with their HR or insurance group to find additional mental health resources.

  • Take time. Maybe you didn’t schedule a vacation and now you’re faced with burnout. Fortunately, you can still take time off. Look for upcoming gaps in your schedule or use a mental health day.


  • Get creative. Feeling uninspired and disconnected? Tapping into your creative side can help to bring you out of a lull. You don’t have to be an artist to do this. Need a little inspiration? You can look for free writing or drawing prompts online, dust off your art supplies and go wild, or even try to learn a TikTok dance.


  • Turn off your tech. You might benefit from a social media break or a tech-free weekend. The constant headlines, hateful Internet trolls, pressure to respond to all DMs, and habit of refreshing your feed can really take a toll on your mental health. Disconnect and come back feeling refreshed.


Moving Forward

Remember, that finding purpose in your work will not protect you from burnout. You can love what you do and still become exhausted by it.

Take the time to reflect on this article and write down 1-3 things that you can use in your daily practice to prevent burnout. It will help you down the road. Now that I’ve gone through the list, I think it’s time I dig my old art supplies out of storage.

Want more on professional development? Subscribe to my blog. I’ll never send you spam. I pinky promise.

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