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Burnout has become a worldwide phenomenon over the years. It's one of those things that if you're not on the lookout for, it can creep up on you seemingly out of nowhere.
It often affects high achievers who push themselves too hard. They think they can do anything and everything as long as they keep going and push through. Since you're here to obviously improve and better yourself, chances are you're just as susceptible to burnout as I was a little over a year ago.
What is burnout?
Burnout is typically defined as a mental state of exhaustion whether it be physical, emotional, mental or all three at once. It can become a very serious issue if not taken seriously. You become disinterested in your daily life and have an overall negative outlook on the world.
You become cynical, develop a detachment from your daily life and nothing seems to really matter to you anymore. You also feel tired all the time, which is what happened to me. No matter how much I slept, I was still exhausted, forgetting stuff all the time, which exacerbated the problem.
And to make things even worse, no matter how hard you push yourself, you feel ineffective and unaccomplished. It's basically a vicious cycle that has no end in sight until you begin to deliberately take action and improve your situation.
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- Why Burnout Happens and How to Take Preventative Measures
- 20 Things You Can do to Improve Your Life
- How to Escape the 9-5 Grind and Find Inner Happiness
So how does this happen?
Typically burnout happens to people who are working too hard and too long. This is why this happens to overachievers because they burn the candle on both ends and before they know it, they completely shut down.
People leave no time for themselves to enjoy the activities they like. They spend their days only commuting to work, working in a cube and well, that's pretty much about it. It's just a constant dose of stress on stress on stress. But like I said before, it doesn't suddenly happen to you. It develops day by day.
Think of it as a really small hole in an inflatable raft. At first, it's no big deal right? You don't even notice a difference at first, nothing seems wrong. You can go the entire day floating away on it without having to worry about any ramifications.
But after days and weeks go by, the raft gets worn out and is almost completely deflated after an hour of use. It's impossible to effectively use. That's what happens to us when we burn out; we become gradually, but effectively ineffective over time.
My personal experience
When I first started the job I'm at today, I felt fine, even great! I was really excited I landed the job and just like any go-getter, I was ready to take on anything. Big mistake. What I didn't realize was how in over my head I was when I first started out.
First of all, I had no experience in insurance (I'm an insurance broker). I only knew what a deductible was because of my co-pay I would dish out for a visit to the doctor as a kid. On top of that, I didn't know the systems the company uses, my department was behind in paperwork which naturally got dumped on me even though I had no idea what any of it meant and they provided zero training.
I'd say that's a solid start if I'm trying to burn out as fast as possible.
Sure, there's a learning curve for every job when you first start, but this one was pretty brutal for me. No big deal though, everyone goes through this when first starting their career or job or whatever.
But in addition to all of this, I was taking the country's worst transportation system ever, NJ Transit.
So on top of all the job stuff, I had to worry about what train I was going to take home so I wouldn't get home at 8:30-9:00 every freakin' night. Every afternoon I was checking my phone for updates in case a train shut down, got derailed, ran into platforms, etc. It's basically a commuter's version of Russian roulette. You never know if your train is gonna be the one canceled, but there's probably a 1 in 6 chance it will be.
So already my blood pressure was rising as I cursed out Chris Christie every day.
Now I'm thinking, I'm so exhausted by the end of the day, I don't even wanna workout when I get home. I've read enough morning routine stories of high-level executives for a lifetime and saw most wake up early to do the things they want to be done without interruptions throughout the day. Hell, Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple wakes up at 3:45 am, why can't I wake up an hour later to get a good workout in? What a great idea!
Dear lord, and in addition to waking up at 4:45 am to workout, I was still living at home while all my friends moved out of town. Rushing to get a train two departures earlier than I would need to with a reliable rail line along with my 4:45 am workouts was the final straw for me.
I was completely burned out. I was forgetting things at work, not talking to my girlfriend about what was going on at work and how terrible I feel, because I figured she didn't wanna hear about it since it was the same old song every day. But then she tells me she felt so bad for me that I wasn't talking about it and she felt she couldn't do anything to help or say anything to make me feel better, because I was so irritable and stressed.
It wasn't until weeks later I realized I was actually burning out. I got my health checked at work (it was an optional thing to do if we wanted to lower our insurance, I didn't think I was dying or anything) and they told me I had pre-hypertension and that I should get a physical to make sure everything was okay.
That was when I realized I should probably do some research on the symptoms of burnout and take better care of myself.
That's how crazy burning out can be. To others, you're clearly in a terrible state of mind. But it happens so gradually from your point of view that it seems like the norm. It becomes your daily life and everything seems like that's just the way it is.
I'll never forget I ran into one of my college friends on the train and he asked me how it was going and what I was up to. When I finished he was like “wow dude, that sounds so depressing.” I didn't even realize it! I was like, “oh, what? I don't know man, that's just the way it is what am I gonna do?”
Be on the lookout for signs you're heading towards burnout before it happens to you
Here are some typical workplace stressors:
- Overcoming challenges associated with new software (or also terrible software like at my current job in the outdated insurance industry)
- Unrealistic deadlines (basically any job in NYC)
- Frequent scheduling conflicts or interruptions (Also another day in the life in NYC)
- Physical demands like exposure to weather or heavy lifting (N/A for the cube life over here)
- Added responsibility beyond the initial scope of your role while not being compensated for the added tasks
- Interpersonal demands such as interactions with colleagues or customers
All of these stressors combined can cause a lot of internal stress. It can even cause you to have an outburst at work you'll later regret.
The worst and most perverted part about this is people view stress as a badge of honor. This is such a pet peeve of mine. It's the most stupid thing I've ever seen. I see it at my job all the time.
You ask the standard “how's it going?” and people talk about how stressed or busy this time of the year is and how they can't catch a break this month.
Like, cool, what am I supposed to be, impressed? I don't care. Don't bring me down with your stressful mood because you think it's cool, I'm good. It's like the more stressed you are, the better job you're doing because you're making more of an effort. If you're not stressed or reacting accordingly, people think you either aren't doing your job, you don't have enough work to do or you don't care about your job.
It's literally the most stupid thing I have ever seen. Glorifying stress causes people to bottle everything up to not appear weak.
This is what happens:
- Chronic fatigue
- Impaired concentration and attention
- Chest pain, shortness of breath
- Increased illness
- Loss of appetite
So what should you do to treat burnout when it happens to you?
Well for one, you can give meditation a try. But like I mentioned, it tends to not work for those who are trying to escape the problems of burnout. It definitely didn't work for me. If anything, it made it worse because I was getting more and more impatient with each attempt. Meditation usually works best when you're not burned out. It helps prevent you from ever getting there in the first place.
You can also get a mentor you trust at work who you can talk to, to deal with the things that are causing you the stress at work. Get advice from that person on what works best for them.
Also once you've identified what's causing you to feel burned out, create a plan to take action. Develop a plan to get yourself out of this funk.
Maybe you need to spend more time on yourself. Schedule time on the weekends to do something you enjoy. Maybe it's joining an adult softball or soccer league, maybe it's going for a hike, or reading, playing video games, whatever it is that interests you, make sure you take the time to do it.
A really great book I read to help myself let go of feeling so terrible was Rest. The book places a lot of emphasis on sleep, taking naps, letting your mind wander, deliberately schedule chunks of time to do things you like, basically everything that goes against what you witness going on in an office in an environment like New York City.
It was really interesting reading how the world's most creative people go about their days, especially when you realize they work 4-5 hours, no more. They spend almost more time creating excuses to avoid work than actually work!
It feels reassuring that the book essentially gives you permission to rest every day without any guilt. It's a necessity to rest if you want to perform to your optimal level.
And while you're at work, if your boss or anyone else is the source of negative energy, don't go out of your way to interact with that person. Walk the long way if you have to, to get a cup of coffee or have to go to the bathroom.
That's literally what I do every day. It's not that I'm being a coward or afraid to confront the guy. It's so he doesn't bog me down with his disorganized, useless thoughts that come up to make me do things that aren't even necessary, making me waste an entire afternoon or sometimes the whole day.
I'm so much more productive the less I interact with him. I really do get more done the less time I spend talking to him and it feels great!
Also, take a break from technology when you're not at work. This was another stress point for me. I was constantly either staring at the computer screen or looking at my phone because of the text conversations I was having with my friends and family.
I started putting my phone away for 30 minutes each night. I noticed how much better I felt almost instantly. I felt more relaxed, my eyes felt better, it was really great. Now I don't need to do it as much to not feel exhausted, but when I remember to take a break, it does still work. I get in a better mood too I think.
Another super important thing to do is take a vacation. And when I say take a vacation I mean really take a vacation. Don't leave yourself available to be contacted by your coworkers and clients. Disengage completely from your work so you can recharge your batteries. Make sure all important tasks are assigned to your colleagues accordingly, so you don't worry about anything when you're on vacation.
This is the biggest mistake I see people make. They bring their work with them when they go on vacation. They do that and feel like they never left and the whole vacation, or at least the idea of it, is defeated. They're no better off now than before they left.
For example, the guy that sits behind me at work actually brought his laptop to Mexico with him. He was working on a PowerPoint presentation while he was at the beach. Who are you trying to impress? He came back to work all pissed off because of something that happened with his client. The guy ruined his vacation for something that easily could've waited 5 days.
And last but not least, make sure you're getting enough sleep. One of the worst things you can do is keep running on low battery. It's a trap too, because you won't even realize you're running on 50% capacity until you really get a full night's sleep. Which you also may not have gotten in months or even years!
I was also a victim of that. Before I moved, I was finally falling asleep around 11:30pm and waking up at 4:45am. That's only 5 hours and 15 minutes. That's not even close to enough. But it felt like the norm to me since I was doing it for so long.
When I moved, I was going to sleep around 11:00pm sometimes 10:30pm, falling asleep probably around 30 minutes later. But I was waking up at 7:00am, over two hours later! I was getting back 10 hours of sleep a week and I immediately noticed how much more alert and refreshed I felt. Not to mention I was catching up on sleep on the weekends too sleeping for almost 9 hours.
Very few people can get by on little sleep, so make sure you're doing everything you can to prioritize your rest.
So I hope this was somewhat helpful, I know it was for me when I was going through a burnout phase.
Have you had this happen to you because of work or something else? What are you doing to improve your situation?
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Peter Horsfield says
In life I believe we are given signs.
In fact I literally saw mine walking to work. “Better, Not Bigger” flashed before me as the bus turned the corner and speed off.
Since then this “simple” message changed my perspective of life to its core; rippled through my business dealings, relationships, health, experiences and goals, to what I believe and doing so helped me to reveal the more authentic me.