Written By: Melissa Vitale

Burnout.  It’s an unfortunate reality at work, school, and also in exercise.  Burnout from any of these can have a profound impact on your mental and physical health, so let’s take a look at ways to prevent burnout.

First, let’s define burnout.  What is it?  Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion.  You may feel overwhelmed and be unable to meet constant demands.  Sounds pretty horrible, doesn’t it?  How do you know if you’re burned out?  What are the symptoms?

Stalling/Procrastinating—if you were exercising, but then start finding ways to do anything BUT workout, you might be stalling.  If watching paint dry sounds more interesting than your workout, you might be stalling.  If you pack your gym bag or even put on your gym clothes, but then find other things to do—telling yourself you’ll do it later—but later comes, and you decide it’s too late to go workout, you’re stalling.  As any athlete will tell you, there are indeed mornings where we’d rather stay in bed than get up to run—and that’s fine on occasion.  Sometimes our bodies will tell us that sleeping in is a good idea.  But if you find yourself doing it on a consistent basis, you’re probably stalling. 

You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling—getting up and going for a bike ride was your routine, and you enjoyed it…but now, you have to be talked into going.  And when you do go, it’s not as enjoyable as it used to be.  The idea of putting on that cycling jersey or loading up your bike no longer sounds fun.  It now sounds like a chore.  If you find that your workouts are no longer bringing you joy, maybe you’ve lost that lovin’ feeling.

Constant Fatigue—Sure, you’re probably tired after a workout, but this is a different kind of tired.  This is the fatigue that creeps in even though you just woke up.  A general malaise or general disenchantment.  You may no longer have an interest in keeping your routine, or it may feel like an overwhelming struggle to maintain your current routine.  This kind of fatigue is not only physical, but mental.

Tired Post-Workout—This one is odd to describe.  Workouts actually make you feel energized, not necessarily tired.  Think of it this way:  You just ran 4 miles.  You’re glad it’s over, and you don’t want to do it again at the moment, but you feel like you could take on the day ahead.  We’re talking about that kind of energy.  If you don’t feel like that anymore after your workouts, then you’re tired.

Now that we’ve defined burnout and described the symptoms, let’s take a look at how to find your way out of burnout or better yet, preventing it in the first place.

First, if you are a beginner to exercise, (or even a beginner to a different type of exercise) you need to go easy and set realistic goals.  Accomplishment is a huge motivator, but if you can never reach your goals, it is not helpful.  Think small steps.  If your goal is run for 10 minutes on the treadmill, then make your goal 5 minutes on the treadmill.  You can’t get to 10 without first getting to 5, so start there.  If you have to set it even smaller, you can always do that.  Give yourself a sense of accomplishment to keep you motivated.  If you find yourself stalling or procrastinating—make your goals smaller.  There is no way every person can give 100% all day, every day.  Perhaps today, you’re at 80.  Fine.  Instead of 10 minutes on the treadmill, tell yourself you’ll do 8.  You might find that once you hit 8…you may as well go ahead and do the other 2.  And if you don’t, you still hit your goal of 8.  You did something.  And you can be proud of that.  

Second, you may need to change up your workout.  If you’re running the same routes over and over, it can get pretty boring.  A change of scenery can help.  There is something comforting about familiarity, but there can be something exciting in the unknown.  Check out a new trail or perhaps run in a part of town you don’t normally run in.  You might find a new favorite course, or notice something you’ve never noticed before about your town.  Instead of hopping on the treadmill, take your run outside.  Perhaps even try a new exercise!  Sign up for a spin class or a yoga class if you’ve never done it.  If you’re nervous about going alone, ask a friend to join you.  Sometimes giving our brains something different from time to time energizes us to come back to our familiar workouts…or you may find a brand new passion!

If you find yourself constantly fatigued, remember that recovery is part of the process.  Even professional athletes take time off, and so can you.  As I said above, no person can possibly give 100% all day, every day.  Everyone needs rest and recovery, so that when the time comes to give it your all, you can.  Take a break from your workout routine for a few days, and see if that helps the fatigue.  Use the time you would normally be working out to do something that helps you not feel so overwhelmed.  Perhaps this is an opportunity to catch up on that mountain of laundry or clean out that closet.  Maybe this is a chance to catch up on some reading or just have some quiet time in prayer.  Self-care isn’t just spa days and long bubble baths.  Sometimes self-care is getting things done that you’ve been putting off.  After a few days of this, get back to your workout routine and see if you’re back with some renewed energy.

You might also be the type of person who loves all the data that comes with your workout.  Your steps, your heart rate, your pace, your distance…and on and on.  Data is important, and it can tell you a lot about what’s happening with your body, if you know how to use it.  But if you constantly feel the pressure to perform or to outdo yourself (or someone on Strava), maybe you need to set aside your gadgets for a few of your workouts.  It’s a chance to remember why you got started in your chosen sport in the first place.  For most of us, running is a stress-reliever, not a stress-causer.  For those who know how to use the data—you’ll see when a rest is necessary.  Ditch the gadgets for a week to see if your stress level decreases.

If your workouts are simply wearing you out, you might be doing too much.  Slow down, skip a day, and take a nap.  Check your schedule to see if there is something you can eliminate.  Check your to-do list and see if there are items you can delegate or put off a little longer.  There are tough times in everyone’s life where it feels that if we stop, everything will fall apart.  No one gets through this world alone.  Reach out and ask for help.  Perhaps a friend can run those errands for you.  Ask an older child to assist with the laundry.

Burnout is something we can avoid, if we have the knowledge—and the discipline—to do it.  Workouts shouldn’t be stressful.  Life is hard enough, let’s not add to that.  Take a break, step back…and then come back.  You’ll not only feel better, but be better.