Decoding the what, why and how of burnout.
There was a time back when the lockdown had just begun and the line between my professional and personal life was
blurred nonexistent. My days would begin with the thought “oh no, here we go again”. My to-do list was begrudgingly ticked off and professional objectives were met. Yet through these accomplishments, I felt a void where my enthusiasm used to be. This constant state of exhaustion and overwhelm was written off as work stress.
Through conversations with my therapist, I realised that I was burnt out (to a crisp, honestly). The sad part is, I know I am not the only one.
Predominantly these are the signs that surface when one is burnt out:
Feeling tired or drained most of the time
Feeling helpless, trapped and/or defeated
Feeling detached/alone in the world
Having a cynical/negative outlook
Procrastinating and taking longer to get things done
To delve deeper, Psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North, observed and described a12-stage model of how burnout manifests, they are:
Excessive drive or ambition (feeling an obsessive compulsion to prove yourself)
Pushing yourself to work harder
Neglecting to care for yourself (minimising sleep, eating badly, etc.)
Displacing conflicts (dismissing real problems in life, sweeping them under the rug)
No time for non-work related needs (exercising, socialising or recharging your batteries)
Denying that there are any problems arising from our own behaviour, and blaming things on our teammates or work
Withdrawing from social life, maintaining very little social contact with the outside world
Exhibiting behavioural changes that are obvious to both friends and family
Depersonalising, and feeling like neither you nor others are valuable
Feeling empty inside
Feeling depressed, exhausted, and disheartened towards the future
Experiencing burnout, collapsing both mentally and physically
As you see, burnout is insidious and you may recognise it only by the last stage. However, it is not a medical condition — it’s “a manifestation of chronic unmitigated stress”. Burnout cannot be “managed” by t aking a vacation if you’re coming back to the same working conditions. Consider the scenario like a messy wardrobe, just because you lock the doors do not mean that it will automatically organise itself. You need to take the time and effort to sort your cupboard out. How do we sort out this proverbial mess then? We dive head first into the cause, instead of just managing the symptoms.
💫 Acknowledge the fact that that you’re burnt out
Busy is a badge of honour for a lot of us, so we often write off symptoms we face as work-stress and an occupational hazard. However, as they say, the first step towards change is acceptance. When you do acknowledge that you are burnt out, you are shifting your mindset and become more cognizant of when your “plate is full”.
💫 Switch your work brain off
When you switch off your laptop and you’re done for the day, are you really truly done? Or does your to-do list run in the back of your mind no matter what you’re doing. It’s no wonder you’re exhausted—life can feel like it’s a hamster wheel of constant professional to-dos and obligations, with almost no breaks. To mentally detach yourself from work, you could try a bunch of things. It could be removing your work email from your personal phone, organising your desk or making yourself a cup of tea once the work day is over.
Author’s tip: I go for a walk soon after my work day ends, I not only get fresh air but the activity also helps me clear my mind of my professional obligations.
💫 Know when to say “no"
More often than not, managing your routines and mindset will not move the needle as much as managing your workload will. Obviously, you can’t always drop items off your to-do list on your own, especially if you work on a team. However, if you do believe you’re stretched too thin, list out your to-dos and discuss with your team which of them should be prioritised. You can also take it one step further and have a conversation with your team leader.
💫 Embrace dolce far niente
Which translates to: the essence of doing nothing and enjoying it. Like really nothing. It does not mean switching on the tv, scrolling on your phone and then zoning out. Nor does it mean hanging out with friends. It certainly does not mean doing household work. One of the best things you can do for that brain of yours is, well, nothing at all. That’s right—enjoy some dedicated quiet time where you simply sit and focus on your breath.
When you’re burnt out, your mind and body are trying to tell you something, it is important that we give it the attention it demands.
Burnout may seem daunting, and overcoming it seems more so, but just small adjustments (that may have teething pains) puts you on track to being your enthusiastic, authentic self again!