By Cloris Kylie
I used to think that because I loved working on my business, I was immune to what the Urban Dictionary describes as a “state of emotional and physical exhaustion caused by a prolonged period of stress and frustration,” i.e., burnout. Then one morning I woke up with the urge to forget about my business, cash out my 401(k), and use the money to travel around the world. My life felt overwhelming. I needed an out … fast.
You might have felt something similar in the past and done nothing about it, but the danger is that unaddressed career burnout can lead to long-lasting psychological and even physiological problems. Career burnout is akin to stress on the most potent steroids, and you don’t want that.
Are You Burned Out?
Here are five signs you might be experiencing burnout:
1. You are beyond tired—mentally and physically. You might have so much trouble concentrating that day-to-day tasks seem to take forever. You constantly feel overwhelmed; your dearest goals seem insurmountable. Your body might also show the signs of burnout: sleeping too little or too much, being always hungry or having no appetite, and feeling achy and out of sorts. I remember feeling so tired that it seemed impossible to write one more article or meet one more client.
2. Your zest for life has abandoned you. When you’re burned out, your attitude shifts—for the worst. Even if you have always been positive, you might feel that nothing excites you anymore and you picture worst-case scenarios. I would chastise myself for having missed on opportunities, for lacking knowledge and focus when I first started my business, and for wasting years of my life trying to fix the unfixable. I felt like a loser.
3. You start questioning everything in your life—including your own life. A clear sign of burnout is wondering why you do what you do on a daily basis. You might have frequent existential crises in which you ask yourself if “this is it.” My career burnout made me feel disgusted by the prevalent need to conform to society’s rules. I questioned the reason for birthday parties and holidays. Why bother? Even worse, I concluded there was no point in working hard because no one would have cared if I hadn’t existed, and no one would miss me if I disappeared.
4. You become cynical. A cynical attitude, a contemptuous form of pessimism, might be one of the clearest—and most damaging—signs that you’re experiencing burnout. You might dread to spend time in the company of other people, and if you keep this attitude long enough, those around you will want to stay away from you. I became a cynic when burnout hit the hardest. Because all I could focus on was my negative feelings, my cynicism prevented me from connecting with people who could help me and from finding a solution to my situation.
5. You want to get “the hell out” of wherever you are. Just as I considered cashing out my retirement savings to travel around the world, so you too might feel the urge to escape your current life. You might fantasize about starting from scratch in a different town or even moving across the globe.
This urge to escape is a byproduct of the fight-or-flight response to extreme stress, but it’s also your intuition guiding you to the solution of burnout, which I can summarize in what I call the “3-S Burnout Cure.”
The 3-S Burnout Cure: Stop-Switch-Strategize
1. Stop. This means to stop doing every work-related task NOW. This includes not checking your never-ending stream of emails, posting on social media, marketing your services, and tackling current projects. You might tell yourself you’ll stop when you finish “X phase” of your project or when you empty your inbox. However, in your current state of burnout, you won’t be productive, and the lack of results will make you feel worse. Instead, gather the courage to stop. Now.
It was challenging for me to ignore the 34 items on my to-do list, but I knew the future of my business—and my sanity—were at stake, so I made myself stop.
2. Switch. To break free of burnout, you need to change what you’re doing. Have you ever felt sore after a long workout? And then if you tried to exercise your sore muscles at the same intensity the following day, you might have suffered a severe muscle strain. To recover for muscle soreness, the best approach is to lighten your workout or even better, to exercise different muscles.
Same thing happens to your mind—a strained mind needs to be worked in different ways. If you spend most of your day performing analytical tasks, switch to a creative project or physical activity for at least a day. If you deal with clients or customers all day, spend time away on your own. What matters is that you dramatically change what you’re doing.
For me, a day spent by the ocean and disconnected from electronics was the perfect remedy. With every crashing wave, I felt a surge of hope and energy. At the end of my short getaway, I was smiling again. I even started to think of future topics for my blog.
3. Strategize. If you go back to your old ways of doing things, burnout will return. That’s why it’s critical that you take the time to figure out how to modify your workload and take care of your mental and physical health. Document the changes you intend to make, and commit to immediately execute your strategy.
For example, your goal might be to find more efficient ways to get your work done or to seek outside help. Other changes may include booking a day or weekend away once a month, adding a date night or family outing to your schedule, or reconnecting with old friends. You might want to spend time on your favorite hobby or treat yourself to more healthful, delicious meals. Remember, you must commit to take care of yourself regardless of how much work is left to do. I make sure to reserve time to be in nature and to remain in touch with those I love, bringing a better sense of balance to my life.
If you follow the “3-S Burnout Cure,” you might not only become more productive, but you’ll get a surge of great ideas to achieve personal and business success. Your clear, relaxed, positive mind will be your greatest asset when you say goodbye to burnout!