“Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency.” – Natalie Goldberg
Burnout is common, misunderstood, and completely avoidable.
More and more people are experiencing burnout these days, including me.
Yes, stress causes burnout. Yes, long work hours can cause burnout, and yes, juggling a lot of tasks can cause burnout.
And yet, I remember a time in my life when I was working full time, completing my second undergraduate degree, launching a tech career, managing a household, and raising two young kids after having immigrated to a foreign country.
Was I exhausted at the end of every day? Yes! Was I juggling too much? Yes! Did I experience burnout? No!
Let's look at some symptoms and figure it out:
1: You are Exhausted All The Time
You feel like you can't go another day without collapsing in bed at night. Your energy is drained and you're constantly feeling exhausted. And yet, you have not worked out or done that much physical work.
The thing is, stress has physical implications, but starts in the mind. No one collapses of physical exhaustion due to stress like they might after running a marathon. Conversely, running a marathon might actually make you mentally euphoric.
Shifting from the mind to the body might be key here to avoid burnout. Taking time to breathe, meditate, take walks, or add exercise to your routine shifts your mind to wherever it lives indulging in stress to the here and now. Refocusing the mind away from the stressor can help avoid burnout.
2: You are Apathetic or Lack Motivation
You used to be the life of the party, but now all you want to do is crawl into a hole and hibernate. You barely have any interest in anything else anymore, and socializing seems impossible.
Mental exhaustion can do that. One way to access that energy is to bring curiosity and empathy to the table. Overwhelm robs you of both.
The other way is to focus on what matters. Raising my young children gave me a sense of purpose towards being a good mother and being an example for them. There was no room for apathy. The drive and motivation came from my sense of identity - my commitment to be the person my kids believed I was.
Now, having older kids that don't need me as much anymore, my sense of purpose is focused on helping my clients, and my mentees, and creating the life my husband and I are looking forward to. Clarity creates purpose.
3: You Overindulge in Coffee, Sugars, Social Media
You are checking your phone 10 times every minute, drinking too much coffee, and not eating right.
It is tempting to use shortcuts such as distractions or stimulants to compensate for the negative feelings that cause stress. In the long run, however, these will contribute to burnout, not take away from it.
Distractions or context switching are worse for the mind than being present and taking care of one thing at a time. I remember when my kids were young, once I left work, my focus was completely on my children. It was as if I had permission to single-task - focus. So I did.
Filling out days with low-value tasks and unhealthy chemicals adds to our stressful lives. Removing them will give you more time and energy for those things that matter.
4: You Lack Focus
It feels like every other thought is focused on sleep or your personal problems instead of what you were supposed to be doing. No matter how hard you try, everything feels mentally taxing and difficult.
I know a friend who owns multiple businesses. I often wonder how he accomplished staying on top of all of them. His secret - he assigns one day a week for each business. This way, he reduces task switching, brings his full attention to each business, and has enough energy left over to deal with any unexpected events.
Tackling one thing at a time, paying attention to the task at hand, and making sure that you have a plan for all those other pesky things that need to be done is a great start to having more focus.
The difference between my younger, overworked, exhausted self without burnout and my later burnout self is mental, not physical. Taking care of our minds is as important as working out and eating right. It starts with having clarity, focusing on one thing at a time, noticing the signs of overwhelm, and addressing them.