Can’t remember the last time you cashed in a vacation day? Does the after-hours office cleaning staff know you by name? You, my friend, are desperately in need of a break — preferably involving some white sand and a frosty tropical drink.
Perhaps because I work at home full-time with two small children underfoot, I know I get pretty weird when I really need a day off. There was that time I spilled an entire cup of coffee on and around my hard drive as I was fumbling with my keyboard with bleary eyes at six in the morning. (Fantastic news — my computer was OK.) Or maybe all those times I zoned out as I drove to pick up my kids from daycare at noon, wondering how I even made it from point A to point B. Or it’s probably when I snap at my husband for no good reason, all because he dared to leave crumbs on the kitchen countertop again. (Sometimes I’m kind of a jerk.)
Once I enter into this familiar territory, a place I like to call Irritabletown, USA, I know I need to start scanning last-minute deals on Priceline before I lose it. All jokes aside, overworking yourself is not funny. Take it from me, burning the candle at both ends can make you hate yourself every day and even affect your long-term health.
Watch out for these six warning signs. You may be long overdue for a break.
1. You can’t finish your sentences
If you can’t string two complete thoughts together in a meeting, this is a bad sign — a very bad sign indeed. Heather Neisen, HR manager at Nashville-based and Inc. 5000 company TechnologyAdvice, calls being scatterbrained a top sign of employee burnout, along with “feeling tired from the minute you get out of bed and never being able to shake it.”
2. You schedule in your really personal time
With a cram-packed schedule, there’s no chance you’ll make it to that annual doctor’s appointment. But maybe, just maybe, you can run a razor through that rainforest you call a bikini line if you put it on your calendar for 5:45 a.m. Jana Davis, LCSW therapist and life coach, says that when you find yourself scheduling time to shave your legs, you’ve officially gone too far. Davis adds another big warning sign of chronic overwork: “You spray your hair with deodorant and your armpits with hairspray.”
3. You never see your family
Working from sunup to sundown is all fine and good, until you factor in those tiny people living in your house who call you “Mom.” Gaby Merediz, life coach and motivational speaker at Make Your Perfect, specializes in helping mothers find that elusive work-life balance. Merediz says you are definitely working too much if “your kids are wandering into your room at 4:30 a.m. in hopes to catch a glimpse of you before you leave for work.”
4. You’re all business
There’s the old saying that you should leave work at work as soon as you step out of the office, but who really does that? Maureen Murray, PR and marketing consultant, says you may be circling the drain when you start to treat acquaintances like clients. “How about when you pay your cashier at the grocery store, and you shake their hand and say, ‘It’s been a pleasure working with you.'”
5. You get anxious on Sunday nights
I am so relieved to hear that this is a real thing that doesn’t just happen to me once Sunday night rolls around. Health and lifestyle strategist Kara L. Martin Snyder, a self-proclaimed frazzled, type-A woman since 2009, calls these jitters “Sunday Nightitis,” a common sign of burnout she sees in many clients. Snyder describes it as “physically getting sick thinking about the transition from weekend to workweek. Common symptoms are racing heart, gurgling gut, muscle tension and tears.”
6. You hate everyone
Have you been reading my mind? The first and most obvious side effect that occurs when I feel overworked, overstretched and underappreciated is a general disdain for all mankind. Try as I might to hide the feeling, soon enough, everyone in my inner circle catches on that I’m at the end of my rope.
According to Jennifer Owens, integrative mental health and wellness expert, burnout-induced rage is a symptom you don’t want to ignore. Owens tells She Knows, “Burnout at work is a serious issue and can cause mild to severe issues such as depression and a compromised immune system. Some common signs of burnout include: feeling exhausted and fatigued, withdrawal from colleagues and constant negativity or frustration at work.”
What to do when you need a break
Now you get the picture. You’re stretched so thin you can’t remember a time when you actually felt like yourself. If that sounds about right, make a commitment to shoot an email to your boss or HR department as soon as you finish reading this to schedule at least one day off this month.
Owens says, “The first step to dealing with burnout is to recognize the signs. The second step is to recover (take a break — if it can’t be a vacation, then at least a long weekend and reevaluate). The third step is to make a prevention plan (I call this a wellness plan).” At the very least, she recommends, “Take several small breaks throughout the day and practice deep breathing and repetition of a positive word or phrase, such as ‘I am doing good work’ or ‘peace.'”
Career expert Nicole Williams, CEO and founder of WORKS, has a more straightforward approach. Stop kidding yourself. Take your vacation days now, or you’re never going to do it. Williams says, “You get vacation days for a reason. To relax, recharge and reenergize. The office will not collapse if you are gone for a few days. Everyone needs time away from the office to reflect. Over half of Americans do not take their vacation days — don’t be one of them. Break this habit and reward yourself. You will come back to work with fresh eyes and a brand new outlook on the job at hand.”
Once you finally get that much needed break, it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom when you get back to the office. You can prolong your vacation buzz and spill over the benefits into your work productivity by taking the advice of Deborah Heisz, editorial director of Live Happy: “Even a few days off or a long weekend can make a difference and recharge the batteries. Interestingly, a study from the Netherlands found that the length of your vacation doesn’t affect how happy you are afterwards, rather it’s what you do with your time after you return. Keeping the vacation fresh in your mind — by keeping a photo from the trip near your computer or relating stories about the experience — can help prolong all the positive effects of getting away.”