signs of burnout
Reading time: 3 min

In a 2020 press release, the American Psychological Association described stress as a national mental health crisis.1 For those working demanding jobs, completing programs of recovery, or juggling obligations at home, burnout has become a very real threat. Today, we’ll explore this increasingly common mental health issue. We’ll also give you some guidance on how you can relieve stress before burnout sets in.

What is Burnout?

Burnout is a stress-related condition affecting more and more people each year. What may begin as occasional irritability and demotivation can evolve into an issue affecting your physical and mental health. The mind and body can only deal with so much stress before problems arise—typically, symptoms begin to manifest after weeks or months of burdensome responsibilities.

Early signs of burnout include:

  • Having “one of those days” more and more often
  • Losing energy and failing to participate in activities you enjoy
  • Disconnecting from friends and family
  • Putting your recovery on the back-burner
  • Becoming more cynical and negative about your work or home life
  • Feeling overwhelmed by how much you need to do
  • Turning to unhealthy habits like drinking and drug use to escape

You might also experience physical symptoms, like shortness of breath, headaches, insomnia, unexplained aches and pains, and muscle tension.  

What Causes Burnout?

Initially, most mental health experts saw burnout as an occupational hazard. They believed that long hours, short deadlines, and emotionally challenging professions put people at risk for a host of symptoms. Today, we know that burnout can affect anyone who is under a great deal of stress for a prolonged period of time. This can include caregivers, college students, people with addicted loved ones, and parents.

Frequently, people with this condition are high achievers. They believe that they have to “do it all” and struggle to take breaks. They may pick up others’ slack and refuse to ask for help. While this dedication is usually appreciated in the moment, it is often unsustainable. To prevent burnout, it is important to prioritize your physical and emotional well-being.

How to Prevent Burnout

Set Boundaries

To prevent burnout, you have to know your limits and stay within them. This means saying no instead of always accepting every task. If you’re feeling more strained at work, for example, you’ll need to set clear boundaries with your employer and coworkers about what you can and cannot do. Even if they push back, remain calm and professional. It’s okay if you need to practice what you’ll say beforehand. Boundaries at work may sound like:

  • “I can’t stay late today; I have to take my daughter to her dance class.”
  • “Thanks for reminding me. I don’t have time to finish this today, but I will look at it first thing in the morning.”
  • “I appreciate you thinking of me for this conference! Unfortunately, I do not have the bandwidth to attend right now, but Charles has expressed interest.”

If things don’t improve after you’ve set boundaries, or if you receive backlash for doing so, it may be time to find another job.

Find Time to Unwind

While many people think of relaxation as a luxury, it’s really a necessity. If you’re constantly jumping from one stressful activity to the next, your mind doesn’t have time to slow down and rest. Here are a few ideas for de-stressing.

  • Take a vacation or book a “stay-cation” at a local hotel
  • Go on a long walk without your phone
  • Read a book while sitting in the sunshine
  • Spend time playing with your pets
  • Hop on a video call with friends
  • Watch a comedy special
  • Visit somewhere beautiful, whether it’s the beach or a local park

Take Care of Yourself

Finally, burnout prevention requires self-care. When you’re exhausted after a long day, it can be tempting to eat unhealthy comfort food or skip your workout routine. Remember to put yourself first and prioritize your well-being in the following ways.

  • Eat balanced, nutritious meals
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule
  • Do a moderate level of physical activity each day
  • Spend time with your loved ones
  • Avoid using drugs or alcohol to de-stress

Addiction Treatment in California

Burnout is a distressing condition that often leads to substance use disorder. If you’re concerned about stress-induced drinking and drug use, help is available. Hope by the Sea offers accredited programming for adults throughout California. Our treatment center provides residential and outpatient treatment options for addiction and co-occurring mental illness. To learn more, please contact our compassionate admissions team.


1. American Psychological Association