I succumbed to burn out in April of 2013. That was an eye-opening crisis.
It began with a series of migraines weeks in a row, inability to sleep well and depression bouts. But the turning point was when one day I could no longer read. Literally, all I saw were letters that have no meaning. With this unfortunate event, my high-responsibility position needed to be fulfilled by another.
When this happened, my world stood still. The job I lost was the job I poured my heart into. Moreover, I had to bear the consequences of low energy, bouts of depression and inability to concentrate. These have lasted several months. The recovery process was long and arduous.
According to a 2011 statistics, more than 1 out of 8 employees in the Netherlands, for example, develop burnout symptoms. Employees between the ages of 25-55 are the most susceptible to it. The numbers are probably higher to date. (Driessen & Hooftman, More employed people develop burn out symptoms, cbs.nl)
What is burn-out? It’s the state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It reduces your productivity, saps your energy, leaving you increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical and resentful. (Smith, Segal J. & Segal R., Preventing Burnout, helpguide.org)
As someone who experienced burnout first hand, here are 4 insights I’d like to share and I hope they would resonate with you.
Your health is most important.
Without health, we literally cannot do anything. This is stark realization a lot of professionals unfortunately realize too late. Often when we’re at the peak of our energy and health, we neglect to take a quiet moment, to exercise, to eat healthier, to sleep sufficiently, and to simply listen to what we need. More than ever we’re exposed to gazillion of online information and life’s pace is only getting faster. Take time to ask yourself, what do I need to stay healthy? What do I need to keep performing optimally? What limits to do I need to respect?
Have a pole star.
Why are you working? What’s the meaning behind your work? And with the career your building or business that you’re working on, ask: “Where am I in this?” “What is the reason for my doing?” It’s easy to be lived by the routine and job you have. It’s easy to get swayed by others’ expectations and opinion. It’s easy to get tempted by title, higher salary, prestige and lifestyle. Before you know it, you are doing something that in fact drains your energy. You are candidate for burn-out when you start noticing that you’re not getting energy from what you’re doing.
Take prompt & appropriate action.
I had a burn-out because of several factors: move to a new country, change in weather and lifestyle, adjusting to a new culture, and a professional promotion. I took into too much all at once. In hindsight, first, I should’ve determined what was really my priority and based on that planned a smoother transition. I simply swam into all of it. Second, I should’ve listened to my body and asked for help quicker. I was too deep into the burnout before I asked for help. If your work has lost its meaning and your feeling burn out symptoms, evaluate your options. Take time to reflect. Do you need a coach? Do you need to engage your boss? Is it time to take a holiday? Is it time to switch jobs?
Perfect as an ideal.
According to psychologists, perfectionists are the types most prone to burnout. I too am a perfectionist. Because of burnout I learned how to treat perfectionism as an ideal but not my truth. One cannot say to a perfectionist be less perfect or lower down your standards. According to psychologists, you can better think of it as an ideal that guides the way you perform but don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Instead, practice failing in order to become better and accept negative feedback impersonally. This way, any “imperfections” committed will not be regarded as personal poor performance but only as a learning point.
Often, we get caught up in things and don’t make enough time consciously to re-assess our priorities. It’s easier for many to always say “YES.” It’s tempting to want it all. But the health consequences of decisions not well thought of can be dangerous and in the long run, could be more time, energy and financially draining. Take time to reflect and lead yourself. Question your routine. Evaluate your goals. Take good care of yourself.