Burningout

The depression experienced recently was most likely due to a burnout. What’s a burnout?

Burnout is a psychological term that refers to long-term exhaustion and diminished interest in work.

Main problems

Burnouts lead to lack of interest and a reduced productivity. Remember what I said about my depression: “lack of desire, motivation and a feeling of indifference”. Yes, the two are very similar and a burnout is problematically close to depressive disorders. What that means is that the symptoms between depressed people and the ones in a burnout state are pretty much the same.

Other symptoms are lack of care for yourself, being preoccupied with work when you are not at work, an overall decreased satisfaction with your work and life at home. Over prolonged periods of time it can lead to obesity, heart disease and digestive issues.

How do you burnout?

Dr. David Ballard from the American Psychological Association says that

A lot of burnout really has to do with experiencing chronic stress […] In those situations, the demands being placed on you exceed the resources you have available to deal with the stressors.

This is very common nowadays as we strive to grow in the careers we have chosen pressed on all sides by competition and demands from whoever is that we are working for. But also we pressure ourselves to be better putting less value on where we are and on what we have achieved to date.

Let me put this into perspective and give you an example – myself.

In the last 3-4 months I have:

  • Changed the country I live in (environment)
  • Reduced significantly my work for one of my clients (financial)
  • Work with clients from different time-zones with each having different meeting times, which at the end affects my sleep (health)
  • Due to changing location I have broken my climbing training schedule which affected my progress – something that gave me great joy and motivation (health, emotional)
  • Have experienced some radical changes in my personal life (emotional)

These are fundamental fluctuations on several fronts, all with their demands and difficulties. Basically stress. That’s how you burn out.

The solution

Have a life outside of work, don’t think that if you constantly put all your energy in your work it will yield greater results. Creativity needs free time. When you have a 1 page long to do list you don’t have time to think and to be creative. Make free time. Do something that relaxes and you enjoy. Take a walk, a hike, do some sport without the added pressure of having to achieve certain goals within it.

Set boundaries by defining times of each day and from the week that work is not allowed in your focus. No messages, emails, “just 5 min” tasks at the end of the day. Leave that time for family and friends, to read. Defend those boundaries. If you receive a work-related email during that time, don’t reply, in fact just don’t keep the phone/computer near you.

What you I find is that even if i don’t know what to do in that time, I become more creative. I find inspiring books to read that give me ideas, or have a walk and let my breathing to relax, to snap out of the shallow-breathing pattern so prevalent during periods of stress.

Sleep. Seriously, I am talking from experience – lack of good and enough sleep can make you more edgy and more vulnerable to stress in intense situations. Instead of doing “just this last thing” before bed, go to bed 30 mins before you had planned. Drop the last thing you wanted to do and just go to bed. No, not with the phone/tablet/laptop/TV. Just go to bed, no gadgets. Maybe read, or just lay and give yourself half an hour to fall asleep. When is the last time you did it? For me it has been too often lately that I go to bed either collapsing or still buzzing with what I read or was working on and my mind races all night.

One useful technique that a friend taught me is to lay in bed, then start flexing and moving each muscle in your body -toes, legs, abs, arms, shoulders, neck – one by one in order to relax them. Muscles can stay tense during sleep, especially after a stressful day. Breath deep and slow. I like the 4-7-8 technique.

Organise yourself. When you burnout it is very easy to become even more stressed that you are loosing control on what has to be done. Put everything out of your head – write it down. I personally use Trello. When I have to do something, even the most trivial thing I put it down as a task. Yes, even “wash the dishes”, “buy food”, “recharge the camera batteries”. That way my mind is completely free and at peace. When I have time after completing one task, I simply go to my trello account and I see all of things I need to do. Some of the tasks involve going out, so I group them and do them all at once, etc.

There’s no comparison to a mind that is free of trying to get deal with “what’s next” or “I shouldn’t forget to do this”. Revise that list, prioritize and get rid of things that are just hanging in there.

Incremental changes. All the changes I have done in the last 3-4 months should have been spread through a longer period so that I didn’t have so much stress packed together. There’s only so much you can manage and deal with. Spare yourself. Life’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Summary

Burnouts and depression will become more common and will affect more people and their jobs, family life and health. It is simple to get a grip and not let the stress get the better of you. Slow down, work will always be work and there is always going to be a lot of it, trust me.

I am progressing, making small changes to put back some stability on the different fronts in my life. It takes time, but the most important is that I am aware and there is a process in place that will get me there.

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