It’s easy to work too much. Our workplaces encourage it, and our society assigns status to people who are “too busy.” It’s like we’re all trying to earn merit badges for the most consecutive days without a break. But who benefits from this? In short bursts, working extra hard to get the job done can pay off. A proposal gets written, a client is satisfied, a commitment is met. If this intensity goes on for the long haul though, no one wins. If you work or think about work 24-7, don’t take breaks or vacations, can’t find time for family or friends, let alone sleep, exercise and self-care you are working your way toward the emotional and physical exhaustion that characterizes burnout.

Burnout creeps up in response to continual and excessive workplace demands. If you work in human services, if your life includes an array of demands from your personal as well as your professional life and if you get little peer or supervisory support at work you might be especially prone to burnout. You might notice a gradual loss of the passion, commitment and motivation that brought you too the work. In it’s place, there may be feelings of exhaustion, cynicism, and low morale.

It took me years to realize I was  burning out. I didn’t really understand what was happening to me until I got out from under the relentless stress and looked back at what had happened. The good news is that I recovered quickly at that point.The even better news is  that you can stop burnout in its tracks by noticing what is happening, making a commitment to take care of yourself, and by helping to create a workplace that supports it staff.

Taking time to not work can make you more productive in the long run. That might mean a few minutes of deep breathing, 15 minutes for meditation, an hour of enjoyable exercise, or a week or  two of vacation. Time off restores, replenishes and helps you find your way back to the passion and enthusiasm for your work.


First published 2-19-13. Updated 5-14-18

Photo: Nancy L. Seibel, 2018

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