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Why You’re Not Incapable, You’re Just Burning Out

Why You’re Not Incapable, You’re Just Burning Out

Living in this fast-paced society, we are vulnerable to burnout. Yet, if you can spot out the early symptoms of burnout, you can nip the bud and prevent a complete burnout, which otherwise is going to hinder your personal and also your professional life.

Have a look at the following list of early signs of burnout. If you have got some of these, very likely you are experiencing a burnout which you have not yet noticed!

Some obvious signs of a burnout

  • Difficult sleeping: you have trouble falling asleep; or worse, you stay awake all night.
  • Loss of appetite: you find yourself skipping meals as you do not feel hungry.
  • Negative feeling: you occasionally feel hopelessness, sadness, guilt, or self-worthlessness.

Some lesser-known signs of a burnout

  • Repulsion of social situation: you feel uneasy or even angry when someone is trying to talk to you.
  • Loss of enjoyment: you feel not wanting to go to work or to school; you even no longer enjoy spending time with your friends and families, or doing the things you once liked to do.
  • Underperformance: when failing to carry a project or to finish the task on time, people tend to think they are incapable. However, apart from low ability, it may be you are dragged behind by the burnout. The chronic stress is hindering you from being as productive as you were.

If you are having one or more of the above symptoms, you may be amid the middle of a burnout without your notice.

How burnout is defined from a medical perspective

A burnout is not just an emotional state, but it is actually a medical syndrome.

According to Dr. Ruotsalainen and his colleagues, a burnout is a type of psychological stress. It is characterised by exhaustion and lack of enthusiasm, and reduces efficacy within the workplace.[1]

And according to the doctor of psychology, Sherrie B. Carter, a burnout can cause the following three problems:[2]

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  • Physical and emotional exhaustion
  • Cynicism and detachment
  • Feeling of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment

The causes of burnout

A burnout very often stems from one’s job. However, besides the career, other aspects of life can also contribute to a burnout.

The following list tells all the possible causes of a burnout: [3]

Job-related causes of a burnout

  • Doing unchallenging work
  • Working under a high-pressure environment
  • Facing demanding expectation

Lifestyle causes of a burnout

  • Lacking supportive relationship
  • Lacking sufficient sleep

Personality traits that cause a burnout

  • Perfectionist
  • Pessimistic about yourself and the world
  • The need to gain control

Dr. Ruotsalainen and his colleagues summarize that a burnout is a consequence of one’s inability to fully cope with a stressor; a burnout is not easily recognized, and will grow slowly, until it becomes severe.

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To tackle burnout, try to identify the root cause of it first.

A burnout after all is the signals sent by your body to remind you that you need some rest. Before it is too late to prevent a burnout from getting serious, it is best to recognize the root cause of a burnout.

5 whys is a helpful tool at hand.

5 whys, developed by Sakichi Toyoda, is a an interrogative technique aiming to explore the cause-and-effect relation.

The primary goal of this technique is to keep asking the questions “why” until one reaches the heart of the problem. Each answer of the previous “why” provides the foundation of the next “why”.

For example, you may start the practice when you recognise the burnout stems from your job.

Problem: My job causes the burnout

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  • First why: why my job causes the burnout?
    because it is too stressful!
  • Second why: why is my job stressful?
    because the deadline of the project is due this Thursday.
  • Third why: why do I find this project stressful?
    because it is my first time to lead a project.
  • Fourth why: why do I feel stressful for being the first time to lead a project?
    because I want to impress my manager by nailing it, and I can’t fail.
  • Fifth why: why do I want to impress my manager so eagerly?
    because I hope to get a promotion so that I can earn more to support my next coming second new born.

Now, after a sequence of analytical interrogation, you finally reach the root that causes your burnout: the stress from your job is just a disguise; what you are really scared is the financial burden accompanied by your coming new born.

As illustrated here, 5 whys is a great tool encouraging you to avoid assumption and logical flaw before you reach the cause and effect of a problem. By finding the root cause of your burnout, it will become easier to tackle it.

Then, break down the big issue into smaller manageable actions.

To break down big problem into smaller ones is a mental technique called compartmentalisation.[4] It is widely applied by many successful entrepreneurs.

The primary goal of compartmentalisation is to isolate the problems from each other, and tackle them one by one. It encourages us to separate our focus into several sessions, and devote each session of focus into one problem only.

To start with, you can list all the things you have to do, for example:

  1. Discuss with the HR regarding the coming recruitment
  2. Call my son’s teacher discussing his examination’s result
  3. Plan for the upcoming exhibition
  4. Go to the pharmacy to buy supplement

After you divide the work of today, you should then allocate time for each task.

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  1. Discuss with the HR regarding the coming recruitment (within 30 minutes)
  2. Call my son’s teacher discussing his examination’s result (within 30 minutes)
  3. Plan for the upcoming exhibition (within 1 hour)
  4. Go to the pharmacy to buy supplement (within 30 minutes)

And after you have planned the time, stick to your plan, and focus on one task each time.

Let’s admit that life is full of struggles. However, if one focuses too much attention on one single problem, he or she will forget there are also other important issues demanding their attention. It is neither good if he or she stuffs all the problems simultaneously into his or her head.

Compartmentalisation is then a great technique for you to tackle the problems more effectively, preventing you from being exploded by stress.

Re-evaluate your priorities too, because burnout is a sign that something important in your life is not working.

In a nutshell, a burnout is a warning sign that something important in your life is not running smoothly.

No matter what, it is always not too late to devote some time to pondering upon your hope, your ambition, and your future. Ask yourself seriously: Are you neglecting something important? Are you doing it just because? Or are you doing it because you do want to do it?

In this light, a burnout is a good opportunity for you to reflect upon your life.

To help you re-evaluate your priorities, we have the following advices:

  • Say NO to things you do not truly want to do.
  • Nourish your creativity by learning skills you always want to learn.
  • Sleep well as sleeping is the most crucial hours for you to heal.
  • Turn away from technology and take some real rest!

Reference

More by this author

Chris Cheung

Editorial Intern, Lifehack

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Last Updated on March 13, 2019

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

1. Work on the small tasks.

When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

2. Take a break from your work desk.

Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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3. Upgrade yourself

Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

4. Talk to a friend.

Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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6. Paint a vision to work towards.

If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

7. Read a book (or blog).

The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

8. Have a quick nap.

If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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9. Remember why you are doing this.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

10. Find some competition.

Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

11. Go exercise.

Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

12. Take a good break.

Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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