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Illustration by Ping Zhu

How did we get here?

Working longer hours now practically feels like a necessity. Millennials, especially, tend to think about work beyond their job descriptions and even forget to take their vacation time. But the gains can often be minimal, while the consequences can have long-lasting effects on your career.

With stagnating wages and rising housing prices, it’s easy to see why 96% of millennials report job burnout affects their lives. They’ve even been dubbed the Burnout Generation.

How to tell you’re burnt out

Is burnout just a fad, or is it real? As an HR manager, I’ve seen the effect of over-working firsthand. Look for these tell-tale signs to spot burnout in your own life.

You’re low energy

One of the main symptoms of burnout is psychological exhaustion. You feel like you don’t have any energy at all during the day. You might not be enthusiastic about things you once enjoyed, and your mind is constantly preoccupied with thinking about work.

You’re losing productivity

If you notice that you spend a whole day to finish the same task that took you two hours a year ago, that’s not you being bad at your job. That’s burnout.

You’re self-sabotaging

You know when you’ve missed a deadline and the manager tells you to do another task ASAP, and you feel so overwhelmed by all the things you should be worried about that you end up doing nothing at all? That’s called self-sabotage.

If it feels like you’re actively sabotaging your productivity, it can mean you’re burned out.

You’re full of self-loathing over work

As your productivity decreases, you start self-loathing because you feel like an underachiever. The more you self-loathe, the less productive you are. Working more doesn’t end this vicious circle.

You feel guilty for relaxing

Your to-do list is so full, and you’re doing what? Watching Netflix? You tell yourself you could put in some work, go for a run, or find a side hustle. You feel like you should be doing something productive instead of just chilling.

If you think that you can only relax after finishing your current project, it’s a big warning sign.

If the points on this list resonate with you, you have to know you’re not a bad person. You’re likely just burnt out.

How to prevent burnout

Understanding your problem is already a great leap towards solving it. But if you think that the only solution is to start putting in more work, that’s your burnout cynicism showing. Here are some alternative solutions.

Reduce your workload

This may feel like quitting, but it’s not. It’s treating your situation rationally. You have to understand that your productivity only decreases as your work hours grow.

Cut down on the side hustles to take back some time each week. At work, it might be time to have a discussion with your managers if your tasks are expanding beyond a 40-hour workweek.

Detach from work

Being online and ready for overtime 24/7 only leaves you stressed. Mute work contacts when you’re out of the office and try to relax instead. This is especially crucial for careers that require intense mental activity.

Some companies are switching to an employee-friendly approach and ban work-related texts after a certain time. The company Tax Defense Partners instituted a cut-off for 7pm. "Professional burnout is a common problem in the financial sector so we try to be proactive and protect our employees from it," says director of operations Shelly Murad. "It's not always possible to detach from work after office hours but we strive to draw a line between job and personal life.

If your office isn’t able to enact their own cut-off time, try to set your own boundaries and choose a time when you will officially “turn off” every day.

Have a break

If you’ve been feeling burnt out for months, simply managing your workload may not be enough to help. You might need a big break from work — like an actual vacation.

You don’t need a ton of money to have a good time; there are plenty of affordable destinations out there. Remember that the point is to recapture the feeling of not being stressed every day, not to shoot Instagram-perfect pictures.

Talk to your managers

Being misunderstood at work and not feeling that your contribution is meaningful is a huge part of burnout. It’s time to have a serious talk with your managers. If they refuse to listen to your problems, it’s one of the signs you should look for a better job.

Prepare for the change financially to make sure you have a buffer sum of money. This will ensure you can safely spend the next couple of months looking for a job.

Get some happy hormones

Some studies suggest that burnout and depression are indistinguishable. Engaging in activities that curb depression may help you as well. Here are some ideas:

  • Get at least 7 hours of sleep
  • Get more sunlight
  • Exercise lightly
  • Go for a walk at least once a day
  • Spend time with friends and family

You can’t underestimate the last point on the list. Young people are extremely lonely, and if burnout is leaving you with little time or energy to talk to your friends, you can become isolated.

Take it easy

Whether you choose to stay at your job or find another one where your efforts are appreciated, there’s one crucial thing you should do to fight burnout: You should stop being so hard on yourself.

No burnt out brain ever created a brilliant business idea, but with a well-rested one, the future is yours.