Pay Attention to These Unexpected Early Warning Signs of Burnout
Your body is trying to tell you something
I don’t like to say “no.” As a freelancer, I don’t make money unless I work––so when editors reach out with potential assignments, I typically say “yes” without a second thought. The extra money in my pocket is always helpful, but honestly? It’s more about FOMO. I’m worried work won’t keep coming to my inbox if I don’t say “yes” every time––even if I don’t have the bandwidth to do the work I’m agreeing to.
Here’s the problem: On fear-of-missing-out autopilot, I often don’t notice I’m approaching burnout until I’m already crashing and burning. As the work piles up and my stress increases, my mental strain usually turns physical: I start to get debilitating neck pain and headaches, I become crabby and detached, I have trouble sleeping, and, you guessed it––sooner or later, I can’t work at all.
As I’ve worked through my anxiety in therapy, I’ve gained a new resource for preventing burnout: detecting when I’m inching toward an emotional spiral by paying attention to the subtle signs my body gives me that it’s under stress.
Plenty of research suggests stress isn’t just an emotional experience, but a physiological one. You experience the effects of physical stress every time your heart races during an intense conversation or when you battle a tension headache after a long day of work. Evolutionarily speaking, your autonomic nervous system––the part of your brain and body that triggers the fight-or-flight response under acute stress––exists to keep you safe from harm (and, ultimately, alive).
Long-term, though, chronic stress can take a major toll on mental and physical health. That’s why it’s so important to practice mindfulness. Tuning into the more subtle, physical cues of stress can help you adjust your pace before the stress becomes chronic and harmful (and in my case, before I have to start saying “no” retroactively).
I love how my friend Aundi Kolber, a Colorado-based therapist and author of Try Softer, explains it in a recent Instagram post offering up wise advice about how to be more in tune with your body. Rather than barreling forward mindlessly, she suggests “Beginning to notice when something is uncomfortable so…