Gini Dietrich

How to Recognize and Avoid Burnout to Better Enjoy Your Life

By: Gini Dietrich | September 6, 2017 | 

How to Recognize and Avoid Burnout to Better Enjoy Your LifeYesterday, Laura Petrolino published one of my favorite blog posts of all time (plus the image is pretty great).

She talked about how we only have so much room in our stress buckets—and ways to drain them to avoid burnout.

If you haven’t had a chance to read it, I highly recommend you do that now and then come back to me.

Like Laura, I’m a big believer in making time to do other things.

I always roll my eyes when someone tells me their job is their passion so they don’t need to take time off.


Riding my bicycle is my passion and there is no way my body can handle rides every, single day.

There are rest days for a reason.

Just like our bodies, our brains are not meant to work overtime.

We all need breaks and time to think and do other things.

Our brains also need rest days.

Is Burnout a Chronic Disease?

A recent New York Times article spoke to this phenomenon—and more.

In today’s era of workplace burnout, achieving a simpatico work-life relationship seems practically out of reach. Being tired, ambivalent, stressed, cynical and overextended has become a normal part of a working professional life.

And it’s getting worse.

In 1996, the General Social Survey found only 18 percent of respondents were consistently exhausted because of work.

That same survey just last year?

It found 50 percent are consistently exhausted because of work.

That percentage is going in the wrong direction.

As a society, we are facing major burnout, which has become a medical condition.

Some are even calling it a chronic disease.

One that vacations and sleep and family retreats and hobbies won’t fix.

How to Recognize You’re Headed Toward Burnout

But how do you recognize the signs that you’re nearing burnout, before you actually get there?

The first thing you have to do is identify the things that could create your burnout.

Laura had a really good list in her article, and I’ve added the following:

  • Scary changes in your job, such as—oh, I don’t know—artificial intelligence and machine learning doing some of the tasks you normally do.
  • Deadlines created for no real reason, other than to have them, and there isn’t enough time to get all the work done.
  • Meetings that you are required to attend that conflict with one another.
  • Heck, I’d even argue meetings in general create burnout status.
  • No regular routine that allows you to accomplish things at work and feel like you have momentum.
  • Added responsibility to your role, without added compensation.
  • A bully at work.

When you have this kind of stress that leads to burnout, it can manifest itself:

  • In outbursts at home and in the office;
  • With a loss of appetite;
  • By no longer wanting to do the things you love;
  • When you take more mental health days than all of your previous career years combined; or
  • Having zero motivation to do the things you love to do.

And I’m not talking about the summer doldrums—we all have those.

I’m talking about not being able to get your work done, at all, because you have no motivation…for many days, weeks, or months in a row.

Do You Have the Burnout Disease?

If any of this sounds familiar, you may have the chronic disease known as burnout.

The problem with burnout is we glorify our busy schedules, our stressed lives, our “having it all,” and work/life balance.

So it’s hard for us to talk about being burned out. It comes across as whiny and wimpy.

But it turns out there is no glory in being busy—it’s a badge we should be mortified to wear.

And yet…

The experts recommend you start with small things, such as focused breathing or meditation.

You also should:

  • Take frequent breaks. If you want to borrow Jack Bauer, I’m happy to loan him to you. That dumb dog has to go outside at least once an hour (though this morning, it was five times in one hour). You’ll get plenty of breaks if you hang out with him for a week. Let me know!
  • Get yourself a standing desk. Or you can do a DIY exercise desk with a treadmill or bike. The idea is to not sit all day long.
  • Find a mentor. Not someone who will listen to you complain and ask you how you feel. You can hire a therapist for that. For work, find someone trustworthy who can help you work through issues and find ways to deal with the approach to burnout.
  • Commit to something outside of work. Maybe it’s an exercise class you have to pay for in advance (SoulCycle, FTW!), a date with friends, a concert, or something else that requires you to leave your desk.

And, as Laura pointed out yesterday, a good diet, sleep, and exercise are instrumental in avoiding burnout.

Stop Wearing the “I’m So Busy” Badge

But what if we did more than that?

What if we all agreed to not wear the “I’m so busy” badge?

What if, instead, we bragged about how much we accomplish in less time?

And then bragged about what we got to do with all our extra time?

Doesn’t that sound like a much better life?

Of course, not all of us are in a position to be able to do that.

If you have a boss, he or she may be more inclined to reward the number of hours you’re in the office versus results.

If you own the joint, you have employees and clients and partners to answer to—24/7.

You might travel a ton and are handcuffed to the airlines and their schedules.

But what if you could create a life where you accomplish what you need to do and then do what you want to do?

What would that look like?

I’d love to hear from you—and how you are going to make small changes to have that life a year from now.

The comments are yours.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Debbie Johnson

    I lost my dad to cancer three years ago. Before he died, he was sick for two and a half years and unable to do many of the things he loved. It made me think a lot about time, and how none of us really have enough of it.

    As a result, I’ve become a lot more thoughtful about how I spend it. When work starts to take priority or I feel like I “don’t have the time” for activities that I enjoy, I take a moment to examine how I’m spending my time. For example, I love to read, but I found I wasn’t doing it. So I cut back on the Netflix binge watching and freed up time for reading. I read half an hour before bed every night. I’ve finished more books this year than I have in a long time, and I’m inspired to start writing outside of work again.

    I no longer am the person who views busyness and stress as a badge of honor or a sign that I’m working hard. My new mantra is “work smarter, not harder.” My focus is on being efficient with my time and making time for activities that aren’t work. I delegate more. I say no more. It’s made all the difference.

    • I love this! Like you, I love to read and have the same bedtime ritual. I also started watching Netflix while I work out—so now I can do both!

    • LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this!

    • Yes, yes, and more yes! Good for you!

  • T60 Productions

    I recently had to shoot video of a brainstorming session by health care leaders about fighting clinician burnout. Pretty eye-opening and scary.
    Me… I’m happy to take time off. 🙂
    –Tony Gnau

    • Or combining a work trip with a family vacation. You’re a pro at that.

  • KensViews

    Great post. You left out one for the Spin Sucks community to consider, and I hope not too self-serving of me to share: Consider working with a certified professional coach. Helping our clients identify the things that cause them stress, and how to choose to respond, rather than react to those stresses, is one of the most important things we do for them. And there are a few things coaches bring that well-meaning relatives, friends, and even mentors can’t: 1) The objective, “outside-in” view, because we’re not part of your story; 2) The processes we’re trained in that help empower our clients; and 3) The nearly infinite supply of tools we have in our coaching toolbox to help our clients prevent or manage burnout.

    • This definitely goes hand-in-hand with finding yourself a mentor. I’m a big believer in paying for these kinds of services because you value them more.

      • KensViews

        Yes, I believe we should all have mentors, coaches, boards of advisors (formal or informal), and peer groups to whom we can turn for counsel and especially for the feedback we don’t want to hear, but need to hear.

  • Stephanie T

    This picture is even better than yesterday’s!

    • I’m kind of proud of myself for that one. It’s a work of glory!

  • Love this, such an incredibly important and very REAL phenomenon. I was literally just having this conversation with a girlfriend yesterday – via email rather than in person with a glass of wine, unfortunately – but I definitely struggle with work/life balance. I think the hardest part is creating boundaries. For me it’s always “another 5 minutes/hours” or “it’ll only be like this for another six months or a year”. Definitely something to think about!

    • I just started watching the third season of Narcos. The cartel’s head of security wants to leave to start his own firm and they talk him into staying for six more months. He has a fight with his wife and says, “It’s only six more months!” I’m sure that’s some foreshadowing, but it definitely goes to what you’re saying. Sometimes six more months can be the worst thing for you.

  • Dawn Buford

    First, who did that to my precious Kermit??? Second, the degradation of happiness, health, and civility in American society over the last twenty years is partly due to people being so stressed out from their jobs, their commutes, and from negative media screaming at us every day. The weight of it is crushing, and that’s why it is so important to take care of yourself. Americans work the most hours and take the least vacation in the ENTIRE world. WHY?? What good is that doing you (or your family)? Break free. Make a small commitment to yourself each day. Take a REAL vacation. Relax, decompress, unplug, and reflect. You’ll be much more positive/productive/creative/content when you return from break. Choose to be happy! : )

    • I found this image and I thought, “THIS IS IT!” I’m quite pleased with my photo research abilities.

    • Liz Reusswig

      It’s no coincidence that stress has risen over the same timeframe as the 24/7 connection technology.

    • That’s why you guys need to move to Spain. We have the most vacation time, MANY holidays religious or not. And if a holiday is during the weekend we move it to the Friday before or the Monday after, because you can’t miss a holiday!

  • Carol Ludtke Prigan

    I really appreciated Laura’s post yesterday, but I’m very glad you took it a step further and addressed the issue of burnout. I find that I have to pump myself up every day to get motivated to do what I need to do in my position. I am surrounded by people who wear the “I’m so busy” badge but don’t accomplish what I do on a daily basis. I stopped participating in their discussions and started focussing on what I could do to help myself. I do take frequent breaks (Yes, having a dog that likes to go out and sniff helps). I do participate in activities that make me happy (just not often enough!). This has kept some of the burnout at bay, but it’s creeping into view again. It’s time to find a mentor who can help with perspective and making the transition to a different position.

    • The most important thing with a mentor is to go to meetings with him or her with an agenda and solutions. If it just becomes a vent session, you won’t get out of the relationship with you need. Not to say you can’t vent—you absolutely should—but it should be focused on solutions after you air your grievances.

  • I agree. Laura’s post really got me thinking. The worst part? I’m not really THAT busy… I’ve got a lot going on, and sometimes it’s hard to prioritize, but compared to many (most?), I’m not busy. I reallllly dislike the automatic “OMG, I’m sooo busy” or “I’m just too busy” replies I often get when I’m talking to people (probably my mistake for asking them how they’re doing, no?). It’s like the whole concept of multi-tasking. Doing more than one thing at once usually means your doing many things poorly, rather than one thing well. Similarly, the “I’m too busy” badge just means you can’t or don’t want to (re)prioritize.

    You’re too busy for what? A walk? Some exercise? Making a meal? Playing with your kids? Or did you decide that you needed to prioritize something over those actions? There’s nothing wrong with that, generally, but all the time? Not so good.

    I’m a culprit. I don’t say “I’m too busy”, but I do make excuses and tell myself the reason I didn’t do this, is because I did that instead. Or I didn’t get up early enough, or…

    That’s another one: “I’m not a morning person.” I’m not a morning person, but I’m also not, not a morning person. I can get up. I can be productive. I just don’t want to most of the time 😉 I can easily get up at 530 and make stuff happen. Instead, I get up at 645, help my kids get ready for school, walk them to school, get down to work, pick them up at 330, hang out, make dinner, put them to bed, and get back to work. That last part, I may not have to do if I got up earlier.

    Wow. I’m on a roll these days. #rantyranterson

    • And is that a screaming frog?

      • Liz Reusswig

        Per my comment…frogs?! Really?! :0

      • HAHAHAHA

    • So much yes to all of this! You go Ranty Ranterson!!

    • Agree 100%..someone once suggested, the next time you’re faced with an opportunity or engagement and have a decision to make, try switching out “I don’t have time” by replacing it with “it’s not a priority” – see how that feels. Would you respond to your friend/colleague/child with “it’s not a priority” quite as often?

    • What I found with the “I’m busy” badge is that it’s just a habit. We got used to telling ourselves that. However, if we understand it’s just a habit that it can be easily changed, our lives will change.

      This awesome book, Laura and I are fans of, “The power of habit” by Charles Duhigg is a game changer. When you understand that everything you do is a habit, you’ll be astonished at how easily you can change things and how your life improves. That said, I should probably be compensated for how much I talk about this book!!

      At the end of the day it’s a matter of priorities. If it’s important to you, you’ll do it. If not, you’ll find an excuse.

      When I realized I was not happy if I didn’t read, learned something new, or did something for myself, I put a stop on excuses. Ever since I get up earlier (like two hours earlier) and have all that time only for myself. #gamechanger

  • Bill Dorman

    All I will say is somehow I found a profession that is very well suited to my personality. Being a producer in sales there is a certain amount of pressure that comes with that, especially if you want to eat, but in my world of insurance sales my customers pay me year after year as long as we keep the customer.

    I can also say a lot of my ‘work’ looks like play so how bad can that be, huh?

    But the people on my team who really do the bulk of the day to day work, I wouldn’t last long in that world. Dealing w/ multiple customers, multiple personalities, deadlines and doing it all with a smile in your voice? Ay yi yi. And I’ve seen them burn out and yes, you have some good ideas to help relieve that pressure.

    Typically, it’s the busiest people who are able to figure out a way to get stuff done; some of our top service people are like that. Little drama and just taking care of what needs to get done.

    If Irma knocks us around I might have some stress next week making sure we ‘shine’ when we are supposed to shine, but I survived the triple punch in the summer of ’04 so I’m ready for this one too. I’ll be angry if it messes up my bike trail though…just sayin’….

    Anyway, that’s all I got.

    • Liz Reusswig

      Keeping a good thought for you and all the folks in the southeast…be safe!

  • I love this! When you read through your list of things that create burnout they all have one thing in common: A feeling you lack control of your situation. That’s where the “I’m too busy” excuses often come from as well. You are only too busy for the things you don’t prioritize. But, it’s especially easy to feel like things are out of your control when you are flat out exhausted….and thus the cycle continues.

    My biggest pet peeve is when I hear people say, “well that’s just the way things are,” “Or that’s just how it’s always been done.” Because that’s absolutely a cop out to not take responsibility to change things.

    Things can change, you just have to make the choice.

    • I want to slap (literally) those people who say, “well that’s just the way things are.” I mean come on, life is more than that. Don’t you get tired of being so pessimistic? Of not fighting for what you want? UGH.

  • Jen Novotny

    Wow, today’s and yesterday’s posts were really eye-opening for me. I have been thinking about all of these topics lately – how to prioritize, maximize my time, STOP multi-tasking, focus, find a mentor. One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is how other PR pros prioritize the amount of marketing/PR newsletters coming in every day. The amount of industry news coming in every day – SmartBrief (social media, PR, advertising), Marketing Pros, Spin Sucks, plus industry-specific newsletters – is crushing. Spin Sucks is the only thing I reliably read! Everything else gets the “delete” button most of the time. I feel like I’m probably missing out on good info, but it’s too overwhelming to me.

    • No, we are all you really need to read 😉

      Really though, I WISH i had an answer to this. It’s why I have about 100 tabs open on my computer at any given time and gazillions of saved FB articles. Lately I’ve been trying to pick one or two articles each day (other than us) and investigate more podcasts I find value from. But it’s sooooooo hard.

      • Jen Novotny

        Facebook saved articles saved my life! I LOVE this feature. And the notifications you get – “You have 29 unopened saves this week.” Oops! My daughters regularly comment on the number of open browser tabs I have. “Geez, mom.” I’m glad I’m not the only one!

  • Susan Stoga

    The struggle is real. I appreciate these posts and have been fighting my own burnout for about a year. Small steps- – walk before working, strict sleeptime, set realistic deadlines, have a coach and a therapist. Serious burnout requires a serious commitment, but recovery can be achieved.

  • Great, great post!

    I like how people say, “I can’t wait for my vacation or this and that holiday to come.” Or “I can’t wait for the weekend to rest.”

    While it’s fine to look forward to your time off, you don’t have to limit your life to weekends and vacation time. Your life happens every day, not only on weekends.

    Hard or not, we need to figure out a way to disconnect and enjoy every single day. That can mean taking breaks, finishing work at a certain time, or maybe waking up earlier to do what you’d like to. Whatever it is, it’s only up to you. Excuses are everywhere and we don’t have to look too hard to find them.

    Spaniards for example, have mastered the enjoying part. After work most Spaniards go out de copas or tapas with friends or colleagues. That’s an almost daily thing. If the weather is good, which is almost 10 months a year, you’ll find all the bars full. I am not an advocate of drinking. I’d rather spend that timing walking or hiking or reading a good book or two, but you get my point.

  • Peyton Rodgers

    This is such a great post! Burnout is an incredibly real thing that people struggle with, yet it seems like no one is talking about how much it affects their lives, both at work and at home. I think a great way to combat this issue is, like you said, committing to something outside of work. Building relationships outside of work with people that you share a hobby with is an excellent way to set boundaries to let work be work and create room for other fulfilling activities.