The Scary World of Burnout

Burnout - it's not fun, it's not enjoyable, and it's something every athlete and coach needs to be mindful of. Overtraining is another common term you'll hear associated with burnout ... a lot of times overtraining is what leads to burnout, however, burnout encompasses much more than just the physical side of training.

Burnout is defined as a "state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress." (PubMed Health). As mentioned above, burnout is much more than just physical exhaustion and often effects all aspects of an athlete's life. Our body's are incredibly smart and often show us signs and symptoms early on that something is out of whack and something is not right. Symptoms of overtraining are often the first red flags that you could be headed towards burnout and you should listen to your body when these things arise.

Here are some signs and symptoms of overtraining to be mindful of ...

  • persistent muscle soreness
  • irritability
  • increased risk of injury
  • increased risk of illness
  • elevated resting heart rate
  • trouble sleeping
  • loss of motivation

If you're noticing that you aren't recovering well from workouts (you've been sore for more than 72 hours), you're having trouble sleeping at night on a frequent basis, you're feeling extra moody, and losing your motivation to continue training, then maybe it's time to take a couple rest days to reset and allow your body proper recovery time.

When you feel as though your mental and emotional health are beginning to be compromised by your training is when you need to really take a step back to give your body and mind the rest it's asking for. This means stepping away from the weight room, the court, the ice, the field, and spend time doing things to relax your mind (meditation, yoga, spending time with family and friends).

I always take pride in the fact that I am very honest when I write. I want to speak from experience in hopes that someone reading can relate. Growing up in sport there were times I probably thought I was overtrained or burnt out, but it was most likely being tired from not sleeping properly or drinking enough water. I didn't know what "burnt out" felt like until it started to affect my mental health. When I was working at WLU with over 450 athletes for two years, I hit my breaking point in my last months there. I woke up every morning with a pit in my stomach and immense sadness. I would burst out in tears for no reason while running on the treadmill, I was extremely fatigued regardless of whether I got a full night's sleep plus a nap. I had constant muscle soreness, was very moody (sorry to my family and friends), and was sick for the better part of a month. The absolute worst part of it all? I started to lose my love for what I was doing. I dreaded waking up to my alarm each morning and that's when I had enough.

Now, I am not telling all this for pity or to shed a bad light on my position at the time - I share this in hopes that it will help someone avoid burning out themselves, and to give insight on how to read the signs. Dealing with burnout looks different to everyone, but here are some of the things I did to help myself get back on track.

  • changed my environment (chose to pursue my masters at a new school)
  • travelled (a week in Mexico can help with just about anything)
  • took a break from work (no agenda, no computer)
  • REST
  • yoga
  • rearranged my priorities
  • surrounded myself with good people and good vibes

Take time to allow your body to recover and reset. Know your body and know when something is up or something is out of whack. Finally, don't be afraid to talk to someone - a friend, a coach, a teammate, a family member; find your support system and lean on them when you need to. Mental health is just as important as your physical health, and you need to make sure that everything is in-tune to be your best.