The term ‘burnout’ was originally used by the novelist Graham Greene back in 1961. His book outlined the life an over-worked, weary architect who was described as being burnt out. Over the years the phrase has latched on and today we interpret the meaning as something which causes ill health from exhaustion.
For many of us, the pressure is on the moment we walk through the office door. Suddenly we have to be here, there and everywhere, able to keep several plates spinning at the same time as we multitask our way through the day. All of these duties have to be completed with a spring in our step and a smile on our face. Whilst it can make the hours appear to turn into seconds, this level of heightened pressure will slowly take its toll and before we know it, little tell-tale signs will begin to surface to advise us that we should slow things down a bit before Mother Nature decides to stop them altogether!
Many of us will read this and think “but I thrive under pressure”. This may be true but no matter how physically strong or emotionally stable you are, there will come a time in your life when you need to pull in the reigns. How can you tell when you have had enough? The most obvious sign is when your productivity starts to dwindle. Those plates you have been spinning start to become wobbly until they are no longer under your control and you cannot maintain the momentum. You constantly make silly mistakes and that fuel which once spurred you on has turned into a flickering ember as you become unreliable, unresponsive and uninterested.
When you reach the point where nothing matters anymore, you will find it is not just your work performance which takes a nose dive, you will also struggle to maintain personal friendships and the relationship that you have with yourself could become troubled. When you find it hard to look at yourself in the mirror each morning, you may start losing respect for yourself. This melt down lowers the immune system and leaves you susceptible to all sorts of illnesses. Suddenly even the smallest hiccup will cause that once cool and collected exterior to disappear and be replaced with someone who is short-tempered and cold. A life which was once glittering with endless possibilities now looks as though it has been bombed and all you can see are the tatters of a once bright and healthy future. Nothing excites you anymore, there is no-one that matters and there is nothing to look forward to. All you want to do is draw the curtains, dive under the duvet and shut the world out.
Some may view this behaviour as laziness others will see it as depression. Parents may say you are stressed out; friends will think you are suffering from burnout but what is the difference between being stressed out and burnt out? The only way to truly tell is to examine the triggers which take you over your emotional threshold. Whilst a small amount of stress is actually good for the soul, a constant bombardment of the stuff can cause serious damage. This is when people need to be very aware. It is far better to put on the brakes before burnout is recognised.
Common symptoms associated with stress:
Feeling weighed down and fatigued.
Tearful, sensitive and anxious
Pains in the back neck or muscles
Feeling lighted headed, dizzy and faint
Extreme levels of panic and dread
Frequently needing to visit the ladies
Common symptoms associated with burnout:
Becoming introverted, preferring to be alone
Showing lack of interest in anyone or anything
Wanting to sleep for hours on end
Becoming highly depressed
Displaying a morbid interest with death
Feeling emotionally and physically drained
Eating too much or hardly anything at all
Relying on drugs or alcohol as an emotional crutch
We commonly assume that burnout is the direct cause of work overload but it can affect anyone constantly exposed to an environment where they feel unappreciated, undervalued and over worked. When we stop feeling like a human being and more like a zombie our connection with the universe starts to diminish and we slip more and more into a world of our own. Very often, it is the people who appear most able to deal with such pressures who suffer from burnout. We are all different and some can cope better than others.
Those who tend to aire on the side of perfectionism could become susceptible to burnout. These are the people who make every task ten times harder simply because it has to be 100% perfect. They put constant demands on themselves and thus pile on the pressure.
Some think that if a job is worth doing, they are the only one who can do it properly. They bite off more than they can chew and take on more tasks than they can comfortably cope with. As such, they run themselves ragged.
If you recognise the symptoms of burnout, do not to ignore them. This is a sure-fire sign that something is seriously wrong. You need to prevent the onset of a full-blown nervous or mental breakdown and the only way to do this is to take life down a gear or two.
Press the reset button because you are about to make some significant changes to your life. From now on you will face every morning, calm and collected. You will allow yourself a full eight hours sleep along with fifteen minutes ‘wake up’ time to gently coax yourself into the land of the living. During this time you will sit quietly in bed and meditate, read some positive affirmations, listen to soothing music or partake in some gentle exercise. Whatever you do, it will be gentle, calming, slightly invigorating and always positive. The aim is to keep everything as peaceful and tranquil as it was when you were in the land of nod half an hour ago.
The same principle will apply when it comes to lunchtime. From now on, you are going to look after yourself and enjoy a little pampering. Choose a healthy meal which will provide the energy to make it through the day. The aim is to add sustenance not to overload your body with heavy, fat loaded calories which will only make you feel sluggish.
If people are pulling at you from all directions you need to find the word ‘no’ in your vocabulary. Politely decline work, chores or inconveniences which will spill into your personal life., only say ‘yes’ to things which will make your free time enjoyable, invigorating and fun.
Many suffer from burnout simply because they have found themselves on a treadmill of repetition day in day out. Years of performing the same tasks could take their toll. They may question the meaning of life as they run through the motions, almost like a hamster on a wheel, working hard but never really getting anywhere. If this sounds like you, it is never too late to shake things up a little. Why not ask if you can be transferred to a different department, perhaps you could try your hand in sales or marketing. You could ask to be trained on a new machine or study for a possible promotion.
If work is the major pressure in your life it may be time to dig down deep and seek out a copy of your job description. Take a look at the list of duties you are expected to perform on a daily basis and compare it to the tasks that you currently complete. Are you taking on more duties than you are meant to? If so, point this out to your superiors. This could lessen the weight that you carry around with you each day as those extra tasks could be delegated to others or worked into your schedule at a more manageable pace.
Technology has one important advantage over mere humans, it never needs to rest. Whilst we require a good six to eight hours sleep to recharge our batteries, our mobiles and computers run continuously when connected to a power supply. The only way that they will physically stop working is if we shut them down. “Why would we want to do that?” I hear you say. So as you can look forward to thirty minutes per day where technology does not exist. This could be during your lunch break or when you head home after a busy day…promise yourself that for half an hour each day the phone will be silent, the world wide web will not exist and it will be just you and the sound of your breathing without any interruption or direct exposure to electromagnetic radiation.
If life has become a case of all work and no play, it is time to resurrect that youthful inquisitiveness you had as a child. Remember all those things that you wanted to do and see? What were your deepest desires, what interests did you have? Think hard because it is time that you had a hobby…yes something which stirs the senses. It could be gardening, singing, acting, writing who knows? As long as it makes you feel alive and has nothing to do with work.
Nestle into the bosom of your family for now is the time that you will need them the most. You will trust some family members more than others, so pop the kettle on and have a little tete a tete with your cousin or big sis. Within no time at all you will be knee deep in conversation, the coffee will be flowing and you can put the world to rights. Sometimes all it takes is a little chatter with someone close for the clouds in that black and white outlook to lift and be replaced with a rainbow of colourful optimism. This is a great way for two people to share their thoughts and feelings and help each other in the process.
If you are teetering on the edge of desperation it might be time to pack up your troubles and take a week or two off. If you have any sick days left, use them to get away for a day or two. You may benefit from a change of scenery or a few days in bed. When you remove yourself from a situation, you allow yourself some breathing space. Here you can discover where your biggest stresses lie and find ways to resolve them.
If you are heading for burnout, this is a silent cry from your inner self. Basically, it is a message to say that you need more happiness in your life. Your body will help you achieve this by insisting that you slow down. In this quiet place of recovery and recuperation you can evaluate those areas which need addressing so as you no longer run on empty. Your body will expect you to think about yourself a lot more so instil those things in your life which bring you true inner pleasure. This will ensure that you maintain a healthy balance of both work and play.