Burnout and What to Do About It

A feeling of despair. Feeling helpless. A raging case of the “Sunday nights” – you know, that sad pit-in-your-stomach feeling that creeps up around noon on Sunday because you have to face work on Monday? And so you peek at email just to make sure that nothing bad happened and boom – there it is! A scud missile has landed and you’re the target. That weekend happiness vanishes and so does your ability to be present.

I’ve felt that way. Multiple times. I once worked for a woman at a major company in Dallas who, I thought, was sent straight from Hell to make my life miserable. I hate to admit this, but in the spirit of helping you feel not so alone -- I used to fantasize about getting into an accident on the freeway just to get some time off work and away from the office. That was in the era before ubiquitous laptops and smart phones. I think back to that young twenty-something and just want to give her a big hug and tell her that it will be ok, and not to let someone else dictate her life. I can guarantee you that the bully spends ZERO time thinking of me and yet here I am, over 20 years later, and unable to forget her.

Years later I was in another company and had a different situation, but the feelings were familiar. That time I was working in an expatriate assignment in a foreign country. Those can be really awesome but there is an additional level of stress in just living and functioning day-to-day when your time zone is turned upside down, English is not the language of choice, and finding groceries is a major undertaking. Add that to a very demanding, low tolerance work environment and then add a bad personal relationship to the mix. It was a recipe for disaster. I have a very sad memory of trying to explain to the Employee Assistance Program person, for whom English was not a first language, just how trying everything was. I finally worked up the courage to tell my boss, located in a country with a 13-hour difference in time zones, that I was at a breaking point. Ironically, she actually beat me to the punch and told me that SHE was under too much stress and was going out on leave.

So, what does make a difference? According to Anissa Purbassary Horton in a recent podcast of Secrets of the Most Productive People, there are 3 things to recognize when you’re burned out and what to do when burnout creeps up:

  1. Are you chronically exhausted and no amount of sleep leaves you feeling rested? Are you getting sick more often? Take the time to take a break from work and truly rest your body and mind.

  2. Feeling overly cynical and easily annoyed by certain people or activities? Time to do an energy audit. Think about how you feel when you interact with certain people or do certain tasks. Cut back on those activities that drain you.

  3. Do you feel incompetent and unable to be productive even when doing simple things? Train your brain and reframe your thoughts. Next time you feel inadequate, ask yourself, “What is the factual evidence for and against this thought?” Stay in the now and try not to jump to conclusions.

What I know for sure is that burnout is will continue to get worse if you don’t do something about it. It opens the door to depression and anxiety. Please don’t let that happen to you. Take care of yourself and tune in to your emotions on a regular basis. Be aware of your attitude and you may just be able to head off burnout before it consumes you.