If you’ve found yourself feeling stressed, exhausted and generally unhappy, it’s possible the culprit is a workload that, over time, has become too heavy. Burning the candle at both ends seems an effective way to produce more light and to get more done, but when those flames collide, it can be an unpleasant explosion.

Having balance in your life is a major contributor to happiness and success, and is often the answer to complaints about the aforementioned fatigue and stress. To that end, it’s not only beneficial for you to manage burnout, but good for those around you, as well. Sometimes that means prioritizing yourself over those you care about, and sometimes that means saying no to a project or event you would normally say yes to.

“It’s important to set and then establish boundaries in terms of what you can and cannot do,” says Dr. Jephtha Tausig-Edwards, a NYC-based psychologist. “If you do not take care of yourself, you will be less able to sustain taking care of others, including yourself.”

By understanding the signs of over commitment and learning how to create and enforce a manageable schedule, you’ll see improvements in your mental and physical health, be better equipped to advance in the workplace, and be more likely to build meaningful, healthy relationships.

Creativity and flexibility are key, as is asking for help when you need it and delegating when you need to

Signs you’re overcommitted

Sometimes the signs you’re overcommitted are obvious. For example, you might feel utterly exhausted no matter how much sleep you get, like there’s not enough time in the day to conquer your to-do list, and have a lower-than-normal frustration tolerance. For some, operating under this kind of pressure turns into the norm, making it difficult to realize when you should step back and re-examine your load. In that case, be on the lookout for other, not so cut-and-dried, signs that point to a full plate.

You may also find that everyday tasks start slipping through the cracks (such as paying a bill or missing an appointment), or that long-term goals are pushed aside. All of the above only further compound the issue. In prolonged or severe cases, you may start to feel down on yourself for not being able to keep up, fall into destructive patterns, and find it difficult to enjoy activities or company you previously treasured.

Creating a manageable schedule

“When we are out of balance and not focusing on the ‘right’ things, we will notice things quickly become out of sorts,” notes Dr. Ariane Machin, a licensed psychologist based in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. “We will not be eating in a nourishing way, we will not be moving in a joyful way, and we will not be feeling at peace with our life and our bodies. This indicates that there is something not aligned with what we are doing and how we are doing it.”

If you find yourself in that place, it’s time to figure out where the imbalance is. Open up an honest conversation with yourself, with friends, family or coworkers, or even with a psychologist, to determine the best way to modify your schedule and, therefore, your behavior. It can be challenging to deviate from what’s become normal. Still, it’s imperative that you set boundaries and realistic goals for yourself.

“Be straightforward, firm, and polite about your boundaries, first with yourself and then with others,” says Dr. Tausig-Edwards. “Be very clear about what you are, and are not, willing to do.”

She says to consider what you need for your own physical and mental health, including exercise, sleep, healthy eating, time with friends, family and loved ones, meditation, and activities that are meaningful for you. From there, adjust the demands of work, family, and significant others so that you are refueling yourself as you go along.

“Creativity and flexibility are key, as is asking for help when you need it and delegating when you need to,” she adds.

6 ways to create more balance in your life

  • Schedule walks, meditations and other nurturing activities. Actually put them in your daily calendar as a reminder to take care of yourself, and so that you don’t schedule something else on top of this important time.
  • Factor in the necessities, too, including work hours, food preparation, grocery shopping, health care, exercise and time spent with friends and community. Really get a feel for how much time these commitments take and adjust accordingly. Consider timing yourself during these tasks, as well. You may find that your grocery shopping trips actually take an hour when you thought it could be done in half that time.
  • Lower expectations for deadlines with your colleagues and boss, especially if you sense you’re overcommitted. The pressure associated with unreachable, looming deadlines can affect your entire to-do list. Adjusting expectations also benefits those you’re working with and for, as it produces better work the first time around.
  • Get support from a psychologist, a trustworthy friend or life coach.
  • Budget extra time for last-minute, surprise commitments. Use the allocation as flexible time when you can say “yes.” Don’t exceed this time.
  • Say no to projects or commitments that don’t further your goals, or that will cut into higher priorities.
The key, then, is to not commit when doing so isn’t in your best interest, even if it’s not an intuitive move.

Dealing with post-“no” guilt

Readjusting your schedule so it’s in line with your needs often means saying no, or at least negotiating terms. For many, especially those prone to burn out in the first place, this can feel unnatural. It may even feel like you’re letting friends, family, colleagues and authority figures down, or induce the familiar tinge of FOMO (fear of missing out).

Saying yes might feel good in the moment, but fast forward even five minutes after committing to something you were unsure about, and you’ll start to face the effects of post-“yes” stress.

The key, then, is to not commit when doing so isn’t in your best interest, even if it’s not an intuitive move.

“We may initially feel as though we have let people down, but if we are in tune with our personal boundaries and know that this will be too much of a time commitment or something we just simply don’t feel like doing, we are creating space for new things to present itself,” says Dr. Machin.  “Trust yourself to know when you feel like you should say no. You have permission to do so.”

Remember, saying no opens up a “yes” opportunity to other commitments that align better with your goals and current time budget. Your ability, or inability, to enforce boundaries will ultimately determine the quality of your life as you relate to yourself, others and the world at large.

The author of this post is an editorial contributor to Headspace. These are their views, experiences and results and theirs alone. This contributor was paid for their writing.