Job burnout has become an epidemic in the last 10 years, and this shouldn’t be taken lightly. In the modern era, the pressure to measure up and lead a busy, jet-set lifestyle comes with a hefty fine.
The aftermath of burnout is a costly one and you don’t want to sweep it under the rug or mislabel it. I’ve been there—thinking I was managing well and slaying not one but two careers. I thought I had it all in the bag, not realizing it, in fact, had tipped upside down and in little time.
I’ve witnessed entrepreneurs, corporate workers and creative industry professionals run themselves into the ground. They overwork, over-commit and pack on the pressure to perform at their highest level. Countless times, I’ve heard, “I love my career, it fulfills me, but I think I’m developing stomach ulcers.”
If you dug a little deeper, you’d recognize that though you may love your work and what you do, it could also be draining you and putting your health at risk. I know people who work themselves until they collapse into bed or pull all nighters to catch up on deadlines.
Remember those college days when you had to complete eighteen or twenty credits and do so with flying colors while trying to balance a personal and social life? People with demanding careers are on the same boat—pulling all-nighters to add extra hours to their day to finish time-consuming projects and believing they can live like a twenty-something. Creative individuals are like 24/7 manufacturers cranking out whatever they’re making but, are neglecting self-care to an extreme degree.
I kid you not, I am guilty of doing the same thing: working myself to near death and not stopping to even use the washroom. On one occasion, I wound up sewing for 7 hours straight because a client changed the due date for her dress last minute. I had to do that for 2 clients in the same wedding party.
Punishing yourself and powering through without as much as stopping for a break is just one subtle sign of job burnout.
You get into a groove and are accomplishing mounds of projects each day unaware of the damage it’s doing to your health. Somewhere down the line, your sense of happiness, stability and enjoyment slowly fades. It’s a tragic down spiral, and burnout surely can strip the passion from your heart, leaving you drained and potentially ill.
Managing a career is stressful enough, and if you’re an entrepreneur, the stress can feel like a thousand-pound brick on your back if you’re constantly functioning on overdrive.
Earliest Signs of Burnout
Whether you work at a corporation or are an entrepreneur working from home, burnout can be difficult to identify.
Groundhog Day Syndrome
Groundhog Day syndrome is just one subtle sign that you’re overtaxing yourself. I call it Groundhog Day syndrome because every day starts to feel the same, despite all the jobs you may be doing. That sense of dread dictates how much or little you accomplish.
Your enjoyment and fulfillment begin to dwindle. You start to ask yourself if you’re doing what you love or for all the wrong reasons. It’s a rough place to be.
When I was actively pursuing fashion, I didn’t even notice early on that my enjoyment for creating transitioned to immense pressure to ‘make it big.’ It landed me in a continuous state of exhaustion to the point where I couldn’t focus on one task. I started new projects before finishing others, engrossed in producing high quantities of garments.
Focusing on the Wrong Things
To spot the early signs of burnout, you need to pay attention to your mindset:
Are you about quality or quantity? Are you about money and accomplishing your wildest dreams or do you believe your work is also your calling?
It’s easy to confuse your true goals with dreams or unrealistic wants. Burnout can arise from the mindset of strenuous mass quantities, thus slipping into that Groundhog routine to reach that goal.
The worst thing to do is ignore or deny this vicious cycle in your pursuit of success. I did ignore these early signs of burnout and the consequences for me were substantial. I stopped loving my hours spent sewing. I stopped loving the creative process of which I’d devoted my 10,000 hours to.
It’s all right to want to be successful, but it’s not all right to neglect your mental, emotional and physical health.
People were liking and seeing value in what I was creating and pushing me to achieve New York status in the fashion industry. I found myself pulling all-nighters to build inventory while simultaneously running a tailoring and alterations business. Even if you’re in a career you love, the demands may eventually spread you too thin.
Unusual Fatigue and Lost of Motivation
Early signs of burnout include unusual fatigue and gradually escalating exhaustion. This fatigue may then merge into lack of motivation. The consequences of ignoring the subtle signs might lead to an inability to focus or work as efficiently as you used to, dozing off in meetings or outings with colleagues. Lost hours and nights of sleep are another burnout warning sign.
At first, you might label this onset of exhaustion as stress, a rough patch or a creative block. You may be able to identify the extra effort and lack of endurance to complete your work. The daily hustle, overtime, derails your motivation, divides your attention, and causes restlessness.
If you are doing something for the wrong reasons, it will catch up to you. Burnout made me question why I had such a hot pursuit for fashion. And after much soul searching, I discovered it wasn’t my real passion.
When this extra push and effort feels strenuous and like you’re overexerting yourself, your mental health will be the first to warn you. Facing and accepting the earliest signs of burnout will prevent a full-blown, potentially career-ending or jeopardizing, crash.
Herbert Freudenberger first coined the term burnout in 1974 and defined it as:
“the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”
Now though, burnout has a new definition. We live in an era when measuring up and being a high achiever are vital for happiness. At the stage of burnout, the symptoms will be undeniable and have an intense grip on all facets of your health and life.
The symptoms, which are not widely talked about enough, lead to serious conditions after a period of 2 weeks. By the 2-week mark, the symptoms are chronic:
- Hair loss or thinning
- Suffering chronic skin rashes
- Irregular heart beats and palpitations
- Sinusitis or thickening of mucus
- Decreasing function of the immune system
Severe cases, with sleep-deprivation, will take their toll. Burnout symptoms can be misread as stress. When your body has had enough, the symptoms become indicators that you’ve gone too far and are utterly burnt out.
Other symptoms, most identifiable, are cynicism and loss of motivation, therefore diminishing your job performance. You stop caring about how you perform in a professional environment, and it will show. Functioning in burnout mode depletes your ability to create or work at your level best.
In more serious cases, burnout has caused significant depressions and inability to cope with stress or laborious tasks effectively. It’s not your job that’s to blame; it’s how you navigate and juggle your workload and how you respond to overwhelm (when everything hits the fan or gets chaotic).
There is a balance, mentally and emotionally, you must learn to master to avoid burnout in the future.
Tips for Avoiding Burnout
Burnout is not inevitable and can be avoided. Anybody is at risk and should make avoiding burnout a priority as opposed to the opposite.
One lesson I learned when burnout reared its ugly head was the rule of quantity. By that, I mean, if you’re expected to take on a certain workload or tackle a ridiculous number of tasks in an hour, a day, or a week and it’s not truly feasible, it’s time to press pause or step back.
Granted, we pursue careers and put nearly impossible pressure on our shoulders to reach a destination of some kind—whether it be more money, a bigger promotion, writing more articles, more books, and being the ‘yes’ girl, or guy.
I’ll be honest and say that I was once the ‘yes’ girl, despite my full notebook of to-dos. People pleasing and the desire to stay ahead of the game doesn’t have to mean piling on more than you’re willing to legitimately handle. No matter how consumed with work I’d be, I didn’t realize how difficult I was making my own life by not saying no when necessary.
I was juggling a tailoring and alterations business whilst trying to establish myself as a designer. Additionally, I was managing a writing career and found myself operating in overdrive. Taking on too much has its consequences and it’s different for everyone, how burnout may impact others.
To avoid burnout in the future, consider asking yourself these questions (before your workload swallows you whole like a snake):
- Do I need to say yes to this, and if so, what will it cost me?
- Is this opportunity worth my time and effort?
- How will my overall well-being be affected if I say yes to this offer or opportunity?
- What’s more important: working from morning until I collapse or strengthening relationships with family, friends and loved ones?
I’ll be honest again and tell you that when my burnout happened, I knew it was approaching and ignored the early warning signs and symptoms. The devastating truth of this was I had stopped enjoying a career I could immerse myself in for hours on end. It was once a hobby, something I didn’t feel the need to post all over social media.
Once I devoted to self-care and finding love in the work I was doing, the enjoyment returned without the added stress and pressure I afflicted upon myself. Engaging in activities such as yoga, swimming, bike riding, meditation and mindfulness gradually brought me back to loving my work again.
Burnout zaps motivation and inspiration, which for me, are major fuel injectors—what keeps me creating and connecting with my work on a deeper level of appreciation.
Mentally, try to look outside of yourself and work. Nothing is wrong with doing your best job, but it’s about how you perform and paying attention to your needs.
Spiritually, mentally, and emotionally exude goodness to others instead of bottling up and overworking. Burnout stems from all kinds of stressors, so it’s important to keep your mindset in the right place, especially in chaotic times.
If you’re not happy with your job, reflect and see what you could change to better cope with the stress and prevent burnout in the future.
Featured photo credit: Adrian Swancar via unsplash.com
|||^||GE Wood: Definition of Burnout|
|||^||Psychology Today: The Tell Tale Signs of Burnout … Do You Have Them?|