If you’re passionate about what you do, you’ll be no stranger to the excitement of embarking upon a new project, or starting your workday filled with a sense of drive and purpose. But what happens when that passion goes into overdrive? What happens when, all of sudden, work has become your life?
A startling statistic* shows that those who burn out are almost three times more likely to leave their job.
Now the B word is one that is increasingly banded around, especially in the current times with COVID-19 and increasing demands on employees. The challenges posed by working from home where there are simply no boundaries between work and personal life, as well as those faced by staff members picking up the brunt of the work in the absence of furloughed staff, means that there are increasing pressures to achieve more, with less support and practices in place to protect our mental and physical health.
The interesting thing is, in a lot of guidance, you will most certainly come across advice suggesting you ‘do more exercise,’ ‘get a good night’s rest’ blah, blah, blah. How are you supposed to do any of this, when your body is struggling?
It’s all very well talking about self-care; saying ‘make sure you finish work on time,’ and ‘do some meditation.’ But, if you haven’t figured out how to manage your mind, when it comes to a busy workload or high-pressure role, none of this will make any difference.
Preventing burnout is not about changing our behaviour. It’s about changing the thoughts that are fuelling that behaviour.
So here you are. Your official guide to burnout – what it is, how it works and how to change it.
What is burnout?
Burnout is defined as a syndrome stemming from workplace stress. It can result in feelings of exhaustion, increased mental distance or negativity, and reduced efficacy in the workplace.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) are very emphatic to state that burnout refers is specifically a workplace-related issue, and should not be applied to other areas of life. However, in the work that I do, I would argue that the symptoms of burnout can affect anyone who has found themselves in a place of chronic stress and/or a high pressured lifestyle due to unrealistic demands on the mind and body.
How do I know if I’m burning out?
There are some very clear signs that will tell you, you are either on the burnout journey or have already reached that lovely (not so lovely) place already.
- Trouble sleeping
- Increased negativity and irritability – negative thoughts, depressive and/or anxious
- Increased withdrawal and introversion
- Making mistakes
- Emotionally drained and sensitive
- Lack of personal or social life
- Health issues i.e. poor digestion, low energy levels
What can I do about it?
The first step is recognising it. In the work that I do, the most common challenge is getting people to accept what is going on, before doing something about it.
Typically, individuals will persist in their workplace pursuits with relentless grit and determination, blissfully (not so blissfully) unaware of the inevitable endpoint this approach will take them to.
Unfortunately, the end point of that journey is only going to be chronic burnout and/or other health issues. In my case, it turned into an autoimmune condition. Thankfully I turned it around, but why let it get to that point?
So if you’re ready to tackle this head on, the next step is understanding the specific thought patterns that will be fuelling this beautifully (not so beautifully) downward spiral. Because, here’s a revelation, burnout is NOT caused by the sheer volume of work we have on our plate.
What causes burnout?
The crux of burnout really comes down to how you are motivating your work ethic. Are you motivating yourself by dangling that big juicy reward in front of your very eyes? Or, instead, are you beating yourself with a big hefty stick?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with hard work, if you’re motivating yourself with the reward you expect to get out of it. Because that’s exciting isn’t it? It’s like when you go on holiday and you’re thinking about the sun and all the amazing things you’re going to do – it’s a joy to think about.
But, if you’re driving your success by beating yourself with a stick you’re heading for trouble. And it’s not productive, it doesn’t feel good and it’s not where you want to be.
Thoughts and beliefs fuelling burnout
There are a few beliefs and ‘ways of thinking’ that will tell you if you are operating from this mindset.
- Nothing is ever enough: when you finish a piece of work do you feel satisfied with what you have done? When you get to the end of the day, do you have a sense of accomplishment and/or contentment that you have done ‘enough’? If the answer is no, then chances are you will be running this mind pattern, and it needs to change (take it from one of the previous best).
- You’re a ‘yes’ person: do you struggle to say no to people? Do you worry what others think of you? Do you feel like you have to take everything on otherwise it will look like you are incapable of doing your job? If the answer is yes, again this needs to change.
- Work / other people’s needs takes priority over everything else: do you struggle finding the time to make space for other things in your life? When you consider your identity outside of work, do you have a clear idea of who you are, what your likes and hobbies are, or is there seemingly nothing left?
- Is everything a chore?? This is a biggie and often quite easy to miss. When you consider simple tasks, even personal chores like doing the weekly shop, or brushing your teeth in your evening routine; do you start with ‘Oh what an effort’ or ‘I can’t be bothered’? If so, your brain is most likely operating from this place that considers everything hard work. This concept is a little more advanced, but worth including as it is a classic sign you are in the midst of burnout.
- I really ‘should’…: when we use the terrible ‘S’ word, we’re telling our brains ‘Never mind what I have done, this is everything I haven’t done.’ So, it is a version of perfectionism… and it is very damaging. If this is you – it needs to stop. Now.
What if it is too late?
It is never too late. Remember that. In my own journey with burnout, I let it get to the point where I was told I had a lifelong condition. Rubbish I say.
But when it comes to chronic issues, resulting from burnout, it can be very hard for some people in knowing how to deal with those. Which can lead one into thinking there is no hope. But there is always hope.
Turning burnout around is core to the work that I do. If you feel like you have exhausted all options, or are worried about slipping into that place, please know that there is always a way to turn it around.