Busting Through Burnout

The World Health Organization has defined burnout as a syndrome resulting from chronic stress that has not been successfully managed. Nowadays they actually call it an occupational phenomenon...a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by extreme and prolonged stress.

A healthy body and brain can recover from acute or episodic stress rather quickly. It's when we get into the territory of chronic stress that burnout occurs. Here, the body struggles to produce the stress hormones that help us recover from stress resulting in adrenal fatigue, chronic anxiety, panic attacks, or depression.

If you've experienced it, you probably have your own definition of what it feels like. It's not fun. I've been there more than once in my life. Exhausted, depleted, irritable, and frustrated would describe how burnout feels to me. Uninspired and flat would describe the quality of my work when I've hit that wall. It seems like everything takes twice as long to accomplish. It feels like I'm dragging a gargantuan anchor behind me while trying to swim against the current. Working this way not only reduces my ability to work creatively, effectively, and efficiently, but it also saps the joy from whatever I'm doing. And all that negative energy can then spill out into my personal life affecting those folks in my orbit.

I truly love what I do. I'm very fortunate to feel inspired and excited about my work; most days I have a hard time even calling it work. Yet, if I'm not careful to manage my energy, I can find myself in the throes of burnout and all that goes with it. However, burnout can actually be a great catalyst for change if you are able to catch it and direct that energy differently. If you battle with burnout, your inclination may be to drive just a little harder or work just a little longer. When in that mode, sometimes thinking can become hyper-focused on the task at hand. We lose the woods for the trees. I know I’ve experienced that.

Sometimes I just want to get whatever task is at hand DONE. This kind of overdrive typically results in lackluster quality work I’m not proud to publish and further contributes to my exhaustion and frustration. It can be a vicious cycle.

You see, burnout brain is actually a thing. The brain gets locked in overdrive and the nervous system has a response to that. Burnout has a physical impact on your brain causing a reduction, expansion, thinning and premature aging in the areas of your brain that regulate stress response. Who wants that?!

So what’s the answer? Well, there’s more than one...

1. Walk away  Yes! Walk away. Not for good, but for a long enough period of time that you can allow for deep relaxation, self-care, and a little fun. That could be a vacation getaway, but it could also be a mini staycation in your own home or community. It can even be just a day off filled with things that bring you joy. To avoid getting burned out at all, take daily lunch or exercise breaks. Avoid sitting for prolonged periods of time.

2. Identify the specific factors causing your stress and do your best to remedy those situations. Is your workload too heavy? Do you have the necessary support to perform your duties and tasks? Are your working relationships negative? Do you feel free to communicate clearly with your coworkers and supervisors? Perhaps your computer is poorly performing and needs to be replaced; maybe you need an assistant or to delegate tasks to others. Do you need a one-to-one check-in with someone who can help affect changes?

3. Improve your self-care Having a daily routine of self-care is SO important. How do you start your days? Do you make time for proper nutrition, hydration, and exercise? Do you make time for relaxing activities and to do nothing at all? Do you carve out quality time for important relationships that are reciprocal? Do you have a regular hobby that brings you joy?

4. Do something - anything - different Clean off your desk and put a plant on it. Move your workspace in front of a sunny window. Ask a different colleague to lunch. Take a walk instead of a coffee break. Take a class and learn something new. You get the picture; change anything in your physical space or in your daily work routine that can brighten your energy and shift your perspective.

5. Make a Change  In cases of chronic burnout in circumstances where change may not be within your personal power, consider changing jobs or even your career path. Reinvent yourself. Chase that dream job you’ve had in your mind. Many people are not able to see what possibilities exist for change in the midst of burnout, but change is always possible. Sometimes seeking professional support can help you see possibilities and opportunities you may not have previously imagined.

Remember, millions of people experience burnout. You are not alone. Know that this too can pass, and you can get on the other side of it to a place where your work excites and inspires you once again.

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