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By Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C

People use the word “burnout” all the time, but what does it really mean? It’s an umbrella term that includes many different emotions with different triggers and causes. 

Saying, “I’m burned out.” makes it hard to figure out what is really going on. Focusing on your feelings can help determine the cause of burnout and help come up with a plan to move forward. For example, are you feeling anxious, stressed, overwhelmed or exhausted?  Each person is unique and needs skills and tools that will work for them. Burnout can cause issues in your personal life; so the sooner you address the triggers the sooner you can work to resolve them.

Recognizing the signs of burnout is the first step in addressing them. Burnout often develops gradually, and its symptoms can vary from person to person, but some common indicators include:

  • Physical Symptoms:
    • Chronic fatigue and exhaustion, even after a full night’s sleep
    • Frequent headaches or muscle pain
    • Changes in sleep patterns, such as insomnia or oversleeping
    • Weakened immune system, leading to frequent illnesses
  • Emotional Symptoms:
    • Increased irritability and frustration
    • Persistent feelings of sadness or anxiety
    • Loss of motivation and enthusiasm for work
    • A sense of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Cognitive  Symptoms:
    • Reduced concentration and attention span
    • Forgetfulness and difficulty making decisions
    • Negative thoughts and increased self-criticism
    • Cynicism and detachment from work or personal life
  • Behavioral Symptoms:
    • Withdrawal from social activities and isolation
    • Neglecting personal responsibilities and self-care
    • Increased use of alcohol or other substances
    • Decreased productivity and performance at work

If you suspect you may be experiencing burnout, here are some tips that might be helpful:

  • Write down what exactly is causing the burnout. For example, fear of an email at night that you have to attend to, feeling like you are always “on”, going to court, a difficult client, the type of law you are practicing, your teenager, relationship, etc.  You need a different plan to handle these triggers and stressors.
  • I use the word intention a lot. It’s  because it is really powerful and helps you gain control in a stressful situation. Pause and determine why you are doing what you are doing. This helps you slow down and decide the best way to move forward. This gives our mind, and therefore our nervous system, a chance to calm down. This way you are deciding how to move forward and not feeling like you are caught on a treadmill to nowhere.
  • When possible, set boundaries between work and your personal life. Getting out of the mindset that everything is an emergency, and for most of the time setting specific work hours and sticking to them, as well as resisting the urge to check emails or do work-related tasks during your personal time.
  • Make self-care a priority. This includes getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and engaging in regular exercise. Taking care of your physical health can help you better manage stress. Start small and change one little thing at a time and then build on it.
  • Take short breaks during your workday. Closing your eyes for 90 seconds can increase productivity. A 5-10 minute break can help reduce stress. Longer breaks, such as vacations, where you don’t work, can also be essential for recharging.
  • Manage your workload and communicate with your supervisor or manager if it becomes overwhelming. They may be able to help distribute tasks more evenly or provide additional resources. I have worked with a  lot of firms and most of them are very supportive and willing to help. 
  • Don’t hesitate to delegate tasks when possible, and collaborate with colleagues to share the workload. Teamwork can help reduce individual stress and improve overall efficiency.
  • Take things off your plate and learn to say, “No”. Especially in your personal life if you can’t in your professional life. Use my 24 hour rule the next time someone asks you to take something on. Wait 24 hours to think about it and make a decision with intent.  
  • Incorporate stress-reduction techniques into your daily routine, such as meditation, mindfulness, deep breathing exercises, grounding techniques or yoga. These practices can help you manage stress effectively.
  • Spend time outdoors each day.
  • Get support from  friends, family members, or a mental health professional about your feelings of stress and burnout. Having a support system can provide emotional relief and guidance.
  • Set Realistic Goals. Be honest about what you can accomplish within a given timeframe and avoid perfectionism.
  • Pursue hobbies and interests outside of work to maintain a balanced and fulfilling life.
  • Evaluate Your Job and If burnout persists despite your efforts to address it, consider whether your current job is the right fit for you. Sometimes, a change in career or workplace can be necessary to avoid burnout in the long term.

Burnout is a serious issue that can have long-lasting effects on your physical and mental health. It’s crucial to take proactive steps to prevent and address it. If you find yourself experiencing severe burnout symptoms, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.

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