If you’ve worked any job for any length of time, you know what this is about.
Even if you love what you do (like me), you’re probably going to hit this sooner or later. And the chances are you’ll hit it sooner the harder you try to get ahead. The idea of someone being able to consistently push themselves without a break sounds like it would be admirable, but we aren’t really meant to do that. And I’m not talking about making sure you take your 15 minute break in the middle of the day. I’m talking about pushing for days, months, and sometimes years, without giving yourself a chance to step back and relax.
And while it is technically not a medical condition or diagnosis, burnout is no joke. It can ruin a perfectly good career, family life, your physical and mental health, and it can spiral you into a chain reaction of depression and feeling unmotivated. Sounds awful, right?
What is burnout?
Burnout is the phase you enter when you essentially overwork yourself mentally and physically. You get to the point where even thinking about work sends you into a spiral of anxiety, and this is before you’ve brushed your teeth. You start counting how many sick days you’ve taken and how many you have left. You might notice half of your day off goes by without you accomplishing a single thing. If you find yourself thinking that you can’t possibly work on more [insert project], you might already be on the verge of it.
But, I love my job! I can’t wait to do what I do.
I’m sure you do. I know I do. I work from home, and I work for myself. But the fact is, burnout happens to a lot of people, and it happens all the time.
What causes burnout?
The main cause of burnout is simply working too much, for too long. It might be fine in short bursts, but if you are consistently trudging through a to-do list, day in and day out, without any real break, you’re going to suffer from it. This is particularly common in people who work more hours than they spend at home. Do you consistently pull 60, 70, or 80 hour weeks? It takes a toll to work all day, and then devote a certain number of hours at night or on days off to continue working. The brain isn’t meant for that. And you’ll notice an adverse effect on your physical well-being as well.
How can I avoid burnout?
The easiest way is to take it easy. Building a business, or working in a high profile position, is hard. But you have to take mental breaks, and physical breaks as well. It doesn’t do anyone any good if you work for fourteen days in a row, and then have a meltdown and miss critical deadlines. The key is to maintain an even pace, and take time out for the little things.
Try doing some of the following if you start feeling like you want to set your office on fire:
- Exercise – Take a walk during lunch, or after work. It will help regulate brain chemicals and you’ll feel refreshed. Make this a daily routine.
- Separate work – Don’t eat dinner (or lunch) at your desk. Enjoy that food. If you’re near your phone and it rings, you’ll feel pressured to answer it.
- Task management – If there is a particular part of your job that you don’t like (this is particularly true for freelancers), try finding someone else to do it. Barter services if you can. Or set aside some money so you can have someone else do the grunt work while you focus on the bigger issues at hand.
- Set boundaries – Learn when enough is enough. If you tell yourself that business is over at 9pm, then it needs to be over at 9pm. Don’t continue to check or send emails. Turn your phone off if you need to. The time you spend on yourself needs to be as important as the time you spend working on things for other people.
- Do something else – For example, if you work on the computer all day, try spending more hours outside away from the screen. Leave your phone in a drawer if you have to so you aren’t tempted to check it all the time.
- Talk to someone – Sometimes all it takes is simply having someone who can listen to your struggle. They don’t even need to be able to fix your issue. Getting it out and releasing that stress can do wonders.
- Get some rest – This is probably the hardest thing to do when the stress of an important job is weighing down on you. But the longer you resist resting, or sleeping, the worse things will become, making it much harder to deal with the building stress.
- Start a hobby – This one might seem hard because you’re pressed for time, but it can help. And usually it helps if it’s not related to what you do. The idea is to get your brain focused on something different, and maybe something new, to help alleviate the feeling of being dragged down by work.
There are many other things you can do, and the list above is really just a starting point for the bigger message. You need to take care of yourself. Sure, it’s great to work hard to get ahead, and provide for your family. But there has to be a limit. The brain is just a muscle like anything else in the body, and when it gets overworked, everything else will shut down with it.
When you actively engage your brain and body in things other than work, you will most likely find yourself going farther than you were before, and your clarity of thought will increase exponentially. The key, like they say, is to work smarter, not harder.
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