Burnout is an insidious partner of success. For high achievers, giving it your all can be just the norm: The late nights, the focused attention, the adrenaline high, the crashes — all culminating with the pinnacle moment. The exhilaration of turning and finishing in your masterpiece.
For most of my life, I gave everything my all. That was how I operated. I was addicted to leaving it all on the field. In school, it led to high grades and test scores. On the field, it meant the winning goal, securing the championship title, and beating my time. At work it was the killer presentation, passing difficult interviews, traveling when sick to make an important meeting, hitting an impossible timeline, delivering more than expected, and pacifying an unhappy customer. At home, it was the big parties, packed social agendas and moves from one city to another.
To support this fast-paced life, I was meditating, exercising, and eating healthy. But, I began to wonder about burnout when despite these practices, I started getting sick constantly. What was wrong with me?
I began googling and reading about burnout. But what I was reading was mostly about people that ended up in the hospital with panic attacks or exhaustion from extreme fatigue. I knew I wasn’t there yet, but I was out of balance and heading downhill fast.
While I was aware enough to pull myself back from the extreme scenarios, I didn’t see or want to accept that there was a pattern emerging over the course of my life. A pattern of working in intense jobs where I would be in a high stress situations for a prolonged period of time – usually more than 2-3 weeks, and then getting sick.
I would sacrifice sleep in order to do the work, and then spend my days filled with the pressure of getting said work done. There were multiple times when in the span of 6 months, I would have multiple bouts of sickness ranging from fevers to UTIs and bronchitis.
Slowly, I was witnessing that there was a difference between the natural peaks and valleys of any major project and the consistent slow burn of burnout. I went back and reread the Psychology Today article I had discovered in the midst of burnout, and these words hit home this time: “chronic stress”.
Somehow, I had missed this the first time I read the article. I was probably too tired to see the words clearly and perhaps in denial of the fact that I had let myself head down this path once again. While stress is a normal part of life, chronic stress, where the stress endures for two or more weeks, can erode your health and well-being.
HOW TO KNOW YOU ARE IN BURNOUT
According to this Psychology Today article, burnout is a state of chronic stress which leads to:
Physical and emotional exhaustion, whose symptoms are fatigue, insomnia, increased illness (hello getting sick!), anxiety, depression, and anger
Cynicism and Detachment, whose symptoms are loss of enjoyment, pessimism, isolation, and detachment
Feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment, whose symptoms include feelings of apathy and hopelessness, increased irritability, and lack of productivity and poor performance
If you are like most high-achievers, you are going to look at this and say, “That sounds so depressing. It’s not me”. I know I did the first time I read this. I, like most achievers, can rationalize anything, and felt ungrateful for wanting things to be better when I had it pretty good.
But, I urge you to reconsider rationalizing chronic stress. To look long and hard at those negative feelings you have about your work, whether it’s in the office or at home, and identify if these feelings are a result of chronic, prolonged stress, not just the stress of a few extra hours of work in one day.
HOW TO ADDRESS BURNOUT
There is no immediate fix for burnout, but there are some steps to take to start to recover.
Identify the why. Why are you in burnout? For example, is this due to workaholism, achievement addiction, perfectionism, or a co-dependency?
Use tools for stress reduction. Incorporate meditation, exercise, eating healthy, and sufficient sleep into your daily regimen.
Address the root cause for burnout. This is not easy. It may mean changing jobs, changing people, and asking for help via therapy or coaching.
Create self-care practices. Find what works for you to relax on a daily basis. It can look like salt baths, massages, use essential oils, writing, or listening and singing to great music.
It’s taken a lifetime for you to get where you are. If you are in burnout, you will have to practice and utilize your self-care muscles daily to break free of these addictive patterns. There are many moments, even throughout a day, where I find myself still wanting to give it my all, but through these practices I now pause before I act. I check in with myself and ask “ is this for my highest good?”
I’ve decided to seek the help that I needed to recover from burnout and to consistently put my recovery from burnout before everything else. While I am still a high energy and passionate person, interested in exploring, doing, and giving it my all, I now remember what my spiritual teacher, Gabrielle Bernstein, said to me. “Anything you put before your recovery, you will lose”.
You Are Your Most Important Work
You are your most important work. I’m asking you to explore the possibility that the work you do in the area of burnout recovery is going to transform your life more than another all-nighter. It takes courage to show up perfectly imperfect and say, “I choose me”.
The information contained in this blog is intended to educate, inspire and entertain you on your personal journey toward health and happiness. It is not intended to replace care best provided by qualified professional and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.