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The 7 Habits of Highly Burned-out People


Confession: I’ve never been a morning person. I’ve known this since high school. So pressing the snooze button a couple of times is just a normal part of my morning routine. I’ve accepted it. Embraced it, really.

Then came a time toward the end of my stint in the corporate world when it didn’t matter how many hours of sleep I got or how many times I pressed the snooze button, I still struggled to get out of bed in the morning. I dreaded going to work. Day after day.

I knew something was off, but it took me a while to accept that I was burned out. After all, I was a therapist who had studied burnout for years and helped other people resolve their burnout symptoms. There was no way it could happen to me.

But it did. And that’s what makes burnout so dangerous. It can happen to anyone.

What is Burnout?

Burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion characterized by feelings of cynicism, decreased productivity, and declined performance at work. Burnout occurs as a result of prolonged exposures to stress.

Burnout is not an exact science, making it difficult to predict precisely who will be impacted. Still, certain factors, such as a toxic work environment, can significantly increase your chances of developing burnout symptoms.

However, not everyone who works in a toxic environment will develop burnout, and conversely, not everyone who works in a healthy environment is immune to burnout. And this is due to the human factor - we are each individuals, with unique qualities and habits.

The 7 Habits

By understanding individual stressors that are putting you at risk, you can better target your efforts of preventing or resolving burnout symptoms.

1. You are a high achiever

As a high achiever, you are at highest risk for burnout because you constantly push yourself to go above and beyond - not just at work, but in all areas of your life. You are ambitious and thrive under pressure. However, many high achievers do not consider themselves as such, as excelling in all they do is just their ‘normal’ way of functioning. So here is a quick test - if your friends, family, and colleagues regularly ask you, “How do you have time to do all of that?!” you are probably a high achiever.

It is also important to note that the term “high achiever” is not necessarily tied to your external achievements as much as it is related to your psychological processes, such as your drive. Dr. Braiker, a clinical psychologist and management consultant, explains that “achievement motivation is measured by a concern and desire for excellence, not necessarily by objective standards of attainment, success, or status.”

2. You have a difficult time saying “no”

In 2008, Jim Carrey starred in a film called “Yes Man,” where he played a character who said yes to all requests made of him in hopes of living a more fulfilling life. The reality is that if you go around saying ‘yes’ to everything and everyone, you would sooner be burned out than fulfilled.

If you struggle setting boundaries with people or otherwise asserting yourself, you will regularly overcommit yourself, resulting in a never-ending to-do list and an increased level of stress.

3. You don’t like to ask for help

For one reason or another, you don’t like asking others for help. Perhaps you are afraid of being rejected, you don’t want to trouble your colleagues, or you like to have control of everything. No matter the reason, this can be a dangerous habit, especially when coupled with #2.

4. You (regularly) procrastinate

We all procrastinate from time to time. But if you find that procrastination is more of a lifestyle for you than an exception, you may be causing yourself unnecessary stress. If you regularly put off projects and struggle to manage your time, your workload is likely to pile up, causing you to feel overwhelmed and - eventually - burned out.

5. You are a perfectionist

You have high standards and that standard is perfection. You refuse to accept anything but, and constantly worry about making mistakes or failing. You hold yourself to this standard in all areas of your life - even if it is not something that is personally important to you. Moreover, you hold others to this standard and may find yourself re-doing their work.

6. You are critical of yourself or your work

Even when others commend you on a job well done, you have a difficult time accepting the compliment. You may not necessarily procrastinate or strive for perfection, but you are critical of yourself and your work, regularly being unsatisfied with your work product. You may find that you frequently measure yourself against your colleagues, or compete with others to see how you match up.

7. You fail to engage in self-care practices

You know you are stressed out, but you still fail to engage in self-care practices. Perhaps you regularly don’t get enough sleep, exercise, eat a healthy diet, or - like most Americans - don’t take your allotted vacation days. Self-care is important for a balanced life, and without these (and other) healthy habits, your scales will quickly tip toward burnout.

Now What?

Burnout is not your fault. But it is the result of a lifestyle that is not sustainable in the long term. So if you find that you have some (or all) of these habits, there are things that you can do to reduce your chances of getting burned-out.

One lifestyle change you can implement almost immediately is to make your physical, mental and emotional health a priority. At a minimum, make sure you are getting enough sleep, maintaining a nutritious diet, exercising, drinking plenty of water, and engaging in mindfulness practices (e.g., meditation, yoga, journaling, etc.).

To learn more about strategies to prevent or battle burnout, send me a message to sign up for my free monthly newlsetter.

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