Signs you are burning out and what to do about it

Image of a caucasian person laying their head on the backs of their hands on a desk next to a computer and four cups of coffee indicating this person is beyond exhaustion.

Last week, while staffing my business’s booth at a conference (only the second time I’ve done that since the pandemic began), I noticed some pretty strong reactions to my invitation to sign up for my “Burnout Proof Life” mini course.

Some people furrowed their brows in confusion. Others skeptically rolled their eyes. Some let out one of those guttural laughs from the back of their throat as if to say, “Are you kidding me?”

Not having seen too many real-time reactions to my offerings during the pandemic (and being an extrovert), I engaged a few of these skeptics in conversation. I downshifted to my conversation starter, “What is zapping or sapping your energy these days?”

These people (mostly people identifying as women, as far as I could tell) explained that they were trying to give energy to other people who weren’t doing anything. Their resentment at having to expend this energy rolled off them like sweat on a hot summer day.

Their reaction was a little jarring. LIke I said, I haven’t seen too many real-time reactions in the past three years. But, as I dug a little deeper in myself, I know I’ve been there. I’ve been that person who wears their exhaustion like a badge of honor and then blames everyone else for not doing their share. I could have always chosen to prioritize my own well being instead of trying to do everything for everyone else, but I didn’t do that until more recently.

I’ve been reading Drs. Emily and Amelia Nagoski’s book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, and one of the first things they do in the book is define ”burnout,” affirming what most of us already know intuitively about it.

Herbert Freudenberger coined the term in 1975 and listed the signs of burnout as: 

  • Emotional exhaustion (fatigue from caring too much, for too long)
  • Depersonalization (depletion of empathy)
  • Decreased sense of accomplishment (feeling like nothing you do will make any difference)

Whether they knew it or not, the people who scoffed at my offering are probably burned out. Based on what I heard from our brief conversations, they probably have what the Nagoskis call “Human Giver Syndrome.” In the simplest terms, our culture creates a “Giver Class,” whose entire role is to sacrifice themselves so that the “Human Beings” can be fully realized.

Although these role distinctions are more complex in real life, we are largely socialized into these roles based on our perceived gender. Those who are born and raised to be women are the givers; those born and raised to be men are the beings. There it is: The Patriarchy is at it again!

None of us escapes these roles. It’s not your fault.

It takes some time and practice to prioritize yourself and your rest so that Human Giver Syndrome doesn’t eat you alive. But the syndrome is NOT inevitable. Kind of like weight lifting reps or a well-laid training plan, I have been developing some easy tips to get you started on your new burnout-proof life, which includes that strange and unfamiliar thing called “rest.”

I’ve been offering practices to my regular yoga class to address burnout. Now, I’ve developed a mini course that I hope will help even more of you. Sign up to get the free, five-part “Burnout Proof Life” mini course, which is full of tips and resources for getting more rest and smashing the patriarchy all at the same time!