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I Survived Burnout More Than a Few Times, and Here’s What I Learned

I Survived Burnout More Than a Few Times, and Here’s What I Learned

Burnout used to be like an old wild and disruptive friend who would show up in my life at the most unlikely times. One summer in particular when I was on a vacation with my family, I was a wreck. I couldn’t enjoy my time with my husband and daughter who were soaking up the sun, swimming, and enjoying their free time. I, however, could only see life through a very negative lens and spent more time brooding than playing. In the weeks and months leading up to that vacation, I had worked myself to the bone, was feeling under pressure on some personal family matters, and hit the proverbial wall. I had nothing left in my engine for myself or anyone else.

Burnout is a regular visitor to my life as I always step in to help others

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the first time burnout showed up. A hard worker and high achiever dating back to elementary school, my primary focus was on achieving at all costs. I am also a caregiver by nature feeling the need to step in and help when others need help. Through law school and then working in the nonprofit sector, I would work and work and work ignoring my building stress until I flamed out.

On that particular vacation though, I finally grew tired of burning out. Because after I came home, I decided to do something different. I decided I was tired of hitting the burnout wall and instead wanted to figure out how to avoid it the next time around.

In time, I came to learn the early warning signs of burn out and how to face it off before it took over. And here is what I learned.

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The fine line between “stressed” and “burned out”

Burnout happens when you are under excessive and prolonged stress. People are often able to respond to short bursts of pressure and demand without much trouble. But when that pressure continues day after day without a break, the stress can mound and potentially become burnout.

Importantly, you can be stressed but not burned out.

When you are stressed you are facing a lot of different pressures both mentally and physically but even still you can imagine getting things under control. On the other hand, if you have burnout, you are feeling empty, a lack of motivation, and don’t see a hope of positive change. Burnout is when you begin to detach and feel cynical or ineffective.

You may not recognize burnout when it’s right in front of you

We often think “burnout” looks like someone who is so incapacitated they are unable to work. Burnout doesn’t have to look so extreme. You can continue to work when you have burnout but instead feel every day at work is a bad day. You could be feeling disinterested in your work or maybe even depressed by it. You could feel overwhelmed by responsibilities and turn to distracting activities like drinking or social media.

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The most common sign of burnout is when your stress is so high you start to see diminishing returns at work and you are lacking interest in work or life.

Some of the other warning signs:

  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of sleep
  • Lack of appetite
  • Inability to focus
  • Physically and emotionally exhausted
  • Drained and depleted
  • Low or no motivation
  • Forgetful
  • Physical stress (e.g. chest pain)
  • Getting chronically sick
  • Anxiety
  • Anger

To be clear, there is not an official diagnosis of burnout – unlike depression which is a widely studied condition. And sometimes burnout may start to look more like depression which is why it can be important to seek professional attention. What is most insidious about burnout is that it creeps up on you over time. All of the indicators may be there but you may fail to recognize it when it is right in front of you.

Types of people who are more prone to burnout

The best place to start is to identify what is causing excessive and prolonged stress in your life. This can come from the workplace, home, or both.

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So while there isn’t any one type of person that is prone to burnout, there are some common themes of the types of people who are more likely to face burnout:

  • People who face heavy workloads or high stress positions.
  • High achievers
  • Caregivers including healthcare professionals at the front line of care
  • Working parents
  • Students

Burnout may not simply come because of excessive work

Keep in mind that burnout doesn’t just happen because of significant demands on people lives. It can happen if our mindset shifts.

In my coaching work, I have clients that exhibit signs of burnout but it may not come necessarily simply because of excessive work. Take, for example, Jennifer (name changed to protect confidentiality). She has an intensive job that has her working many evenings and most weekends. This is something she has been doing for years. But recently she has realized how exhausted she is from work. She is getting more upset with demands made on her than she has in the past. She is beginning to hate her job and can’t understand why all of a sudden she can’t “deal” with work. For Jennifer, the cause of the emerging burnout wasn’t the demands of the job itself. It began when she felt unappreciated and ignored. Therefore, burnout can manifest when we become disappointed by dashed expectations.

Create ‘margin’ in your reschedule

We tend to over schedule our lives. So our days can be jam packed with work, appointments, and other obligations. This has us running from place to place without a moment to breathe. Look at how you can start to schedule breathing room in your day. Avoid scheduling meetings back to back in your day. Schedule out time on your schedule to do some important catch up.

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Adopt resilience tools at work

While work itself can be stressful, there are ways to build in strategies that allow us to de-stress during the day. This includes doing some deep breathing, meditation, or just taking a walk outdoors. Productivity hacks suggest dedicating specific chunks of uninterrupted time (read: no email or social media) and then taking solid breaks around 10 or 15 minutes to clear your mind.

Adopt the strategy of “no”

People feeling burnout are often feel they must “do it all.” Stepping back from burnout means finding ways to lessen the stress which means saying the powerful two letter word NO. It may be hard at first but look for opportunities to delegate demands to others, shift priorities off your plate, or delay obligations.

Find regular times to unplug yourself

Don’t be under the illusion you always need to be moving to make progress. Sometimes, doing nothing is exactly what your body and mind are looking for. Find time to recharge by unplugging from it all. Taking real breaks – to eat, sleep, decompress – can give us the energy we need to remain productive.

To be sure, taking a real break can be difficult in today’s world when we are all expected to remain in constant communication though messaging and email. Consider giving yourself an electronics-free time so you can remove yourself from the noise of work, social media, and email.

There was a time I was convinced that I was on a regular cycle of burnout and that my old familiar friend would re-enter my life maybe once a year or every couple of years. I thought I was just a person who faced burnout and that was just part of who I was. But that trip to the beach woke me up and forced me to finally face down how I was the cause of my own burnout.

I now have a personal program to manage my stress and avoid burnout. Sure, I can still get pretty stressed at times but I am much quicker to see the signs and take immediate action. You too can be empowered to tackle and stop burnout in its tracks.

More by this author

Danielle Droitsch

Certified Life Coach for Professionals

I Survived Burnout More Than a Few Times, and Here’s What I Learned How to Say No When You Feel You Can Only Say Yes

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Last Updated on May 7, 2019

How to Detect a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

How to Detect a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Work in any competitive field long enough, and you’re bound to run into a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s a powerful image. A shepherd watches over his flock to protect them from harm. He’d chase away any predator that tried to make its way into the flock. A clever wolf wearing the skin of a sheep as a disguise can sneak by the vigilant shepherd and get into the herd undetected.

The story isn’t just a colorful description–it’s a warning to all of us to beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing. They may seem innocent, but they have ulterior motives. They’ll use different tactics to camouflage their intentions.

The person who is kind to you, but undercuts you when you aren’t around is a wolf in disguise. A wolf in sheep’s clothing might pick your brain for ideas and then pass them off as their own to get a promotion. They’re always looking out for themselves at the expense of everyone around them.

Wearing a Disguise Has Its Advantages

People don’t go out of their way to manipulate others unless they’re getting something out of it. Hiding their intentions gives wolves the chance to manipulate other people to advance their own agenda. They know that what they’re trying to do wouldn’t be popular, or it might cause struggle if they presented themselves honestly.

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    They’ll be able to do what they want with less interference if they put on an act. By the time people figure out their true motives, the wolf has what it wants.

    Signs That Someone Is a Wolf in Disguise

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        1. They live to take power instead of empowering others. A wolf uses people as stepping stones to get the things that they want. They don’t care what happens to anyone else.[1] A wolf at work might make you look bad during a presentation to make themselves look amazing in front of the boss.
        2. Wolves seem sweet on the outside, but they’ll show you their teeth. If wolves revealed their true identity, people wouldn’t associate with them. They develop a friendly or kind persona, but they can’t keep up the act 24/7. Eventually, they’ll reveal their aggressive tendencies. A wealthy person who likes to break the law may make sizable charitable donations to convince people that they are kind and thoughtful. These donations largely keep them out of trouble, but if someone calls them out, they destroy that person’s reputation to stifle the criticism.
        3. They manipulate through emotions to get what they want. Wolves know that they can get ahead by appealing to your emotions. They find out what you want and need, and they give you just enough to keep you quiet and compliant. Imagine that your boss is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and you want to ask for a vacation. She might try to play on your guilt and feelings of insecurity to get you to skip vacation or take fewer days off.
        4. A wolf will charm you first. Wolves are experts at manipulating the people around them. They appear interested in whatever you’re doing, and you’ll get the impression that they care. After they get you where they want you, they do just enough to keep you on the hook. This is the coworker who may start out being your friend, but they end up dumping responsibility onto you. When they see that you are growing frustrated, they’ll surprise you with something to charm you some more. Then, they’ll continue to do whatever they want.
        5. Their stories are full of holes.  Calling a wolf out is the surest way to make them squirm. When this person tries to come up with a story, it won’t make much sense because they are improvising.[2] The classic example of this is the significant other that you suspect has cheated on you. When you ask them why they came home so late, they’ll either become upset with you, or they’ll make up a weak explanation.

        How to Spot a Wolf

          Know What’s Real So You Can Spot the Phony

          Do some homework so that you have as much of the story as possible before you work with them. Research how they respond in certain situations, or give them hypothetical problems to see how they respond.

          A job applicant might tell you that she’s always positive and thinks of herself as a team-player. That’s what every employer wants to hear. During the interview you ask applicants to work in groups to solve a problem to see how they handle the situation. The applicant “positive team-player” is bossy and negative. You’ve spotted the wolf.

          A wolf will tell you something that ultimately benefits them. Gather evidence that proves or disproves their position, and see what happens. Chances are, when you choose the side that supports their agenda, they’ll act like your best friend. If you disagree, they’ll become aggressive.

          Spotting a potential wolf–especially if you are one of the sheep–can present you with some challenges. If your gut tells you that a wolf is lurking among all the other sheep, pay attention, and make sure you take the next step.

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          Ask Questions, the More the Better

          There’s nothing wrong with asking questions to uncover the truth. The safety of everyone in your group is at risk. Since wolves often make up stories, you may be able to call them out when their tales lack details.

          When they state an opinion, ask “Why do you think that?” or “How do you know it’s like that?” They’ll have trouble coming up with enough information to pull off the lie.

          Since wolves are always pretending to be something they aren’t, they don’t usually have a clearly thought-out reason for what they say. In a debate, they won’t understand the root of an issue.

          They may also tell you what they think you want to hear, but when pressed for more information, they won’t have anything to add. Their knowledge is superficial. No matter how much you try to encourage discussion, they will not be able to carry on a conversation about the subject.

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          Wolves Are Everywhere

          As much as we want to believe that everyone has the best intentions, it isn’t always the case. Some people only do things to benefit themselves, and they don’t care who they hurt in the process.

          Wolves in sheep’s clothing can be found in almost every setting. You can’t get rid of them, but if you can spot them, you can avoid falling into their traps.

          Reference

          [1] Association of Biblical Counselors: Three Ways to Spot a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
          [2] Power of Positivity: Beware of a wolf in sheep’s clothing

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