You’ve got your dream job, and you’re desperate to make an impression; show them they made the right decision; become an inspiration and role model to others; or even prove those doubting inner voices wrong.
Commitment, professionalism and loyalty – sometimes it feels like the best way to demonstrate them is to work longer and harder, to the detriment of your mental and emotional balance, and probably that of others around you too. Sooner or later, you’ll run out of steam; you’ll be all burned out.
It happened to me. Eight years I had been running my own Language Centre. It was doing very well, expanding, thriving, growing and helping out more and more people. However, as it turned out, it was not helping me – or rather, I was not helping myself with how much I worked.
The first time I realised something was not entirely OK, was when I got a voucher for my 35th birthday to a spa. Obviously, somebody thought I needed to relax. They clearly knew better than me, because my first thought was ‘oh my gosh, I’ve got so much to do. When will I fit in half a day at the spa?’
I managed to organise it somehow and went for a full body relaxing massage and god knows what else they were doing to my face and body. Anyway, after massaging me and applying all sorts of creams, the very nice lady wrapped me up in foil, and covered my face with a cloth, and put pieces of cucumber on my eyes.
She said: “I’ll leave you now for 15min, just relax” and dimmed the lights. Relax?! I’ll never forget the feeling of my heart pounding so hard, my blood rushing to my head and not being able to breathe. I was experiencing a fully blown panic attack in the most relaxing place you can imagine.
Unbeknown to myself then, it was the first sign of my burnout!
Burnout can affect anyone, in any situation: it doesn’t have to be work. Anybody who is spreading themselves too thinly across many responsibilities, or giving too much of their time and brainpower to one area of their life to the neglect of others, is at risk of burning out – because it’s not sustainable. Humans just aren’t designed to operate like that, without something giving in, sooner or later.
Let’s look at some of the signs of burnout first, because it can take many forms. Exhaustion is one clear indicator – physically, mentally or both, you just can’t do it any more. Lack of motivation is another sign, and it’s similar to exhaustion, but not quite the same: the things that used to motivate and excite you just don’t wield the same power. Negative thoughts begin taking over, and turn into a negative attitude: you start looking at everything with frustration or cynicism, and feel generally more pessimistic than you’re accustomed to being. You may feel like you’re going at 100 miles per hour, but getting nowhere – giving it everything you’ve got, and not actually achieving anything, or even that you’re not doing a good enough job. (The chances are this isn’t true – but that’s how it will feel.)
Burnout is also likely to cause problems elsewhere in your life, as the imbalance of your time, energy and attention can make those around you feel neglected, and new difficulties in your relationships can be a sign that all is not well. Your relationship with yourself may also take a dive, and the little acts of self-care that are so important to our mental and emotional wellbeing can feel like too much effort – and their many benefits slip away too, and may be replaced with unhealthy coping habits such as smoking, or unhealthy eating and drinking.
So, if any of that sounds familiar, what can you do about it?
1 – Sit down, and take stock
Make a list of everything that fills you with dread, in every aspect of your life – everything that makes you feel anxious, stressed and powerless. Then consider each situation, and write down at least one thing you can think of – within your power to do – that would reduce its impact on you, and start doing it. Begin immediately, but don’t expect results overnight, particularly if you need to get a new habit embedded. For example, if you need to stop checking your email past a certain time each evening, it may take a few days before you notice the impact, but it will happen.
2 – Talk to the people that matter
Your partner, your boss – however difficult it may seem. If you’re the sort person who’s been working hard to show how competent and reliable you are, it will probably feel completely alien to even think about telling them you’re struggling. The important thing to remember is that your past performance and commitment will speak for you, and your boss (and probably your partner too) may be quite relieved that you’ve come forward, especially if they have noticed a change in you. Trust that they will want to help you, and support you in getting back on your feet again.
3 – Make some space for yourself
You can do this in two ways. The first thing to do is to start saying “no” – and if you’ve tried and failed at this before, it’s more important now than ever. You need time and space to find yourself again, and taking on more is the wrong way to do it. It’s very hard for people who want to show how capable and reliable they are; but this is not the time.
The second thing to do is to reorganise your daily tasks – deprioritise jobs according to their urgency, delegate wherever possible (even if it means things don’t get done as fast), and give yourself some space to breathe.
4 – Control your daily flow of information
That means managing your devices better. We’re not talking a total ban, but it’s healthy to set some boundaries, and access information on your terms. That could mean turning off your notifications for emails, texts, social media, news – anything that pushes information onto you and calls for your attention when you’re already busy with something else. Turn your mind to them at a certain time every day, and move on from them for the rest of the time – that goes for work, too. When you take control and compartmentalise your life a little more, you’ll feel more able to tackle things on your terms.
5 – Think about the future
Consider why you do what you do, and think about what drove you to be where you are. Is it still right for you? Has anything changed over time – do you have different priorities, different commitments, different passions? If so, it’s time to think about what you really want from life, and how you want the future to be different. If your goals have changed, then realign what you’re doing now to achieve them. It doesn’t have to be a complete change of career – it could be as simple as taking up a new hobby – but this is an excellent opportunity to take an audit of your life, and make sure you’re going in the direction you want.
My Men’s Programme addresses many issues such as this, and Burnout specifically is covered in Module 6. If you’re feeling burned out and in need of support, find out more about the Men’s Programme by registering your interest below.
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