Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.
Here is a good visual for burnout. Imagine a house that looks solid from the outside but has been gutted on the inside. Very little is holding it up or together or from falling apart. A wind storm could reduce it to a pile of boards and rubble.
Burnout occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to meet constant demands.
How do you know when you’re burning out?
Here are the easy ones: when you’re exhausted all the time, you lack motivation, you’re frustrated constantly or filled with negativity.
These are the signals that things are a little more serious: when you can’t focus or remember things and have to have details explained to you over and over. “I’m sorry to ask again, but …” This all leads to failing at your job, whereby you are unable to create work that you would be proud of.
These are the signs to let you know to brace for impact: You’re agitated or annoyed constantly. Speaking personally, I know I’m in trouble when I start to drop the f-bomb so often I sound like an AK-47.
Your coping strategies ramp up off the charts – you eat too much or too little, drink too much, abuse drugs which can be over the counter or under the table. Your regular sleep habits are non-existent, you stay up way too late and wake up too early. Conversely, you can also go to bed really early to avoid the world but you wake up exhausted anyway. You never stop thinking about work, even when you’re not working and you are not happy, even though you should be. You notice that it requires a herculean effort to think/create anything when it normally would have been easy and enjoyable.
How does this happen?
The same way everything does. Gradually, then all of a sudden.
How do I fix it?
The hardest part is admitting it to yourself because after all, you have been a superhuman for so long you actually started to believe your own press.
Stop. Do not tell yourself to just push through. This is how you got here in the first place. You kept pushing. Don’t. Your health is on the line and whatever damage you feel you have done is nothing compared to what will come if you keep going.
Take things off your plate. Restore flow to your life. Go easy, get some wins, get some momentum. Say no to anything anyone asks you to do for a while. Take a break. Delegate as much as possible.
This is critical. Take breaks between big projects. Burnout weakens you. Avoid at all costs jumping from one stressful, time-consuming, difficult project to the next so that your brain and your body can recover.
Control the flow of interruption into your head. The incessant chimes, beeps, dings, dongs, alarms, buzzes etc. will drive you mad. Turn it all off.
Resist the urge to take work home.
How will you know when you are turning a corner?
You’ll feel better and you’ll start to feel the familiar passion you have had for so long for the work you do.
You’ll never recover until you take a time out.
Because after burnout, the next step is a breakdown, which is what your body does when it ignores the serious trouble you’re in.