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Feeling burnout? Here are the symptoms and what you can do about it

Posted: 9:19 AM, Jan 21, 2019
Updated: 2019-01-21 09:19:00-05
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In our world of 24-7 communication, demands and pressure, everyone seems to always be run-down or overwhelmed.

But feelings that go even beyond that, making it hard to do even the simplest of tasks, may be a sign of burnout.

"It means we’re over-allocated," Bea Arthur, a New York City-based licensed therapist, said of how she defines burnout.

"In your mind, and perception is reality, it feels like you can’t drop any balls," she said, adding that you can visualize burnout when you think of your life as a pie chart with everything from work to kids and family taking up all the slivers of the pie.

Burnout is just a "matter of degree" difference from the chronic stress that so many people feel, according to Amy Kurtz, author of the bestselling book “Kicking Sick: Your Go-To Guide for Thriving With Chronic Health Conditions."

"We’re told to always be performing at an A+ level but we aren’t taught, I don’t think at all, that you have to put in ways to unplug and have rituals for yourself or you will burnout," she said. "It’s an epidemic happening especially to millennials because the world is getting faster and faster."

Burnout among millennials was put in the spotlight last month in an essay written by BuzzFeed reporter Anne Helen Petersen, who described how she could excel in her job and some parts of her personal life but felt paralyzed in others.

"I’d put something on my weekly to-do list, and it’d roll over, one week to the next, haunting me for months," Peterson wrote of what she labeled "errand paralysis."

"They are seemingly high-effort, low-reward tasks, and they paralyze me," she wrote.

Ann Shoket, author of "The Big Life," said the millennial women she meets are often fixated on small things that distract from their bigger lives.

"The kind of burnout I'm seeing is a fixation on little things making high-achieving, high-performing women with passion projects and side hustles feel overwhelmed," she said. "We feel ashamed that we can’t keep up. To say that's what embarrasses us, it puts us in a dark corner."

Other signs of burnout can include insomnia, chronic fatigue, difficulty concentrating, apathy, irritability, anxiety and getting sick more often.

While burnout is not a medical diagnosis, it can have physical consequences that include everything from respiratory problems to gastrointestinal issues, according to ABC News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton.

Are you suffering from burnout?

There are four questions you can ask yourself to determine if you are suffering from burnout, explained Ashton.

Rate yourself on each question using a number one through four, with one being never, two sometimes, three often and four always. Then total your points from all four questions.

1. How often are you tired and lacking energy to go to work in the morning?

2. How often do you feel physically drained, like your batteries are dead?

3. How often is your thinking process sluggish or your concentration impaired?

4. How often do you feel emotionally detached from co-workers (or customers) and unable to be sensitive to their needs?

If you scored less than nine, you are not suffering from burnout.

If you scored between a 10 and 12, you are on the verge of burnout.

If you scored between a 13 and a 16, you are suffering full-on burnout.

How to help burnout

It is up to you to make changes in your life in order to prioritize yourself, experts say.

"Be intentional and force yourself to stop if you’re living on one of these never-ending rides," Arthur said. "It’s not going to stop for a while or just fix itself, so you have to do it."

Arthur recommends starting by removing the urgency from things in your life that are truly not urgent.

"You know what is urgent in your life, like seeing your family and friends more," said Arthur, who tries not to answer work-related emails and calls past 7 p.m. because she knows, in her work, nothing tragic is going to happen if she answers in the morning.

She also schedules her vacations three and six months in advance, which lets her know that she can take a pause.

"Even if the work is still there when you get back from vacation, you’ll come back better," she said.

Shoket recommends being intentional about the type of self-care you give yourself.

"I don't mean get a mani[cure] and facial," she said. "It’s about putting yourself first once in a while. Turn off your phone. Leave work at a reasonable hour. Draw boundaries between your life and your work that allow you to succeed in both.”

Accepting that your life can be big and messy is also good way to move forward, noted Shoket.

"You have to embrace the mess," she said. "Don't get caught up in the idea that things have to be perfect or there has to be a balance. A big, ambitious hungry life is a messy life."

Kurtz, also a health and wellness coach, works with her clients to "flip the script" on burnout by establishing personal rituals.

The rituals Kurtz recommends include everything from practicing meditation to getting exercise, eating a healthy diet, getting proper rest and setting boundaries on your apps and phone.

She also stresses the importance of saying no.

"If its not a heck yes, its a heck no," Kurtz said. "If you’re not totally jazzed about doing something, just say no."