Are You On the Road to Burnout?
Burnout: a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, brought on by long periods of stress without any breaks or recovery time. Seems like we’re all talking about it, and too many of us are suffering from it. You probably know someone who has dealt with burnout in the past, or is facing it now: your college roommate the investment banker, your cousin the veterinarian, or your entrepreneurial neighbor.
In a world of constant connectivity, when ‘work-life integration’ often means ‘your company, family and friends expect you to be available 24/7’ it’s easy to over-commit. By the time you realize that you’re exhausted, it’s too late. Recovering from burnout can take years, and drain your financial resources. What can you do to protect yourself from it?
Burnout Danger Signs
Preventing burnout is far more effective than recovering from it. Here are some warning signs that you are on the wrong road:
- Changes in eating or sleeping habits: You begin eating or sleeping more, less, or on a different schedule than your natural pattern. Making poor food choices, like candy and coffee for lunch.
- Frequent illness: You catch every cold or flu that goes through the office. Rather than taking time off to recover, you keep working.
- Feeling worn down emotionally: You don’t have the energy to laugh out loud, every effort seems pointless, and you can’t imagine things getting better.
- Memory problems: You are so focused on work that it forces all other thoughts out of your mind. You miss appointments and deadlines, even birthdays or anniversaries.
- Chronic moodiness: The smallest thing going wrong makes you angry or upset. Your outlook becomes increasingly cynical and jaded.
Break the Cycle
Fortunately, the road to burnout has exit ramps. If you recognize yourself in the list of warning signs, it’s time to intervene. Before you slide into burnout, take these simple steps:
- Establish boundaries for work and non-work times. Remember, the company existed long before you arrived, and will continue to survive without you. You, however, have only one life. Make it a full one.
- Create ‘technology-free zones.’ Set times of the day or week when you turn off all connectivity, and do something with your hands, body, or mind that has nothing to do with work or other commitments. Prioritize the healthy basics. Practice good sleep habits (see my blog on this). Eat balanced, tasty meals. Include a bit of physical activity in your day: take a short walk at lunch, use the stairs, or pull down the blinds at home and dance like mad for 10 minutes. These short breaks help you develop resilience – the ability to handle life’s challenges and come back stronger.
- Feeling sick? Give yourself permission to stay home and recover, without working. Drink tea, drink chicken soup, and sleep. Even if it takes a week. Taking a few days off now will prevent more serious sickness. There are no bonus checks for getting pneumonia!
- Do at least one thing each week that is purely for you. drink a hot chocolate at your favorite café, read a book, take a bike ride, go to the climbing gym…whatever it is, do it for yourself. Making time just for yourself will recharge your mental and emotional batteries.
Working hard can still be fun, and doing well at your job can be truly, deeply satisfying. Just keep it all in perspective. Your career will be a long and winding road, with many ups, downs and turns. Don’t use all your energy at the beginning. Develop habits now that will help your energy last!