We hear about burnout a lot, but do you really know what it is? I didn’t and it cost me dearly. Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged and excessive stress. It can affect anyone at any point in their life and can leave a lasting impact on their mental and physical health. Looking back at my experience with burnout, there are several things I wish I’d known before I reached that point.
Primarily, I wish I’d known the importance of setting boundaries. When I was burning out, I constantly committed to overwork myself, saying yes to every task or request that came my way. I wish I’d realized what to say no to, and set limits on my time and energy. This didn’t just happen at work, but in my personal life too, making it hard to recognize (and change) the habit of over-commitment.
Secondly, I wish I’d known the value of emotional self-care. At the time, I saw my emotions as being in my way, and I had no idea how to take care of my feelings and emotional needs – I saw “emotional hygiene” as a luxury, rather than a necessity. While I’d prioritized activities like exercise and eating right, I didn’t have the energy for meditation or hobbies, and work often ate into quality time with loved ones. Knowing how to better meet my emotional needs could have helped me understand the risks my stress levels presented to both my physical and emotional health.
Thirdly, I wish I’d known the importance of sharing what I was going through, with my family and my doctor. I was reluctant to reach out to others for support, because I didn't want to burden them - because I didn't want to seem like I was complaining. I also didn’t know how to describe what was happening to me until it took a physical toll on my body that I could explain to my doctor – and by then it was too late. Looking back, I can see this was a way to avoid working with my emotional needs which only made my situation worse. If I had known and understood the signs of burnout, I would have sought help earlier, before I became physically ill.
Lastly, I wish I’d known burnout is a serious issue that requires attention and care, not a sign of weakness or something I brought on myself. At the time I thought I just needed to push through the stress and that it would eventually pass (thinking everyone hits a rough patch, right?). However, burnout can have long-lasting consequences if not addressed, which is why it's important to take it seriously and seek help when necessary.
What I now know about burnout seems so simple and obvious, but that wasn’t clear to me before I had to step back from work for my health. The biggest “ah-ha” I’ve had is that burnout is 100% PREVENTABLE, but only if you know the risks and signs. Burnout is a serious health issue facing professionals today that can have lasting effects on mental and physical health. Setting boundaries, prioritizing my emotional self-care, seeking help, and taking burnout seriously are all important steps I now use every day to prevent another occurrence and enjoy the work life I’ve created.