Burnout is Real, But Beatable
Hard work is as American as apple pie. It is often hailed as the key American virtue that leads to opportunity and success. In the U.S., we pride ourselves on pulling 14-hour days and burning the midnight oil. Our identities are so inextricably linked to work and status, it supersedes all else. We value work for work’s sake and our worth often comes directly from it.
But sometimes hard work isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be. When work dominates every aspect of your life, it can have serious ramifications on your health and the health of your relationships and eventually, the health of your career.
Working More ≠ Better Results
I have firsthand experience with work overtaking every aspect of my life when I started my business. For the first two years, my work energized me and I looked forward to each new day. But by year three of working long hours, seven days a week, always trying to accommodate the needs of others first, I began to loathe getting out of bed, dreading another minute at my computer. I felt like I never had enough time to get everything done that I needed to do, leaving me perpetually demoralized. And while taking care of my clients is most often rewarding and satisfying, I also learned that it’s vital to take care of myself.
For me, this included setting reasonable hours, regularly taking time-off, and starting new healthy hobbies such as trail running and hiking. Getting accustomed to this reprioritization was not an easy process. My instincts were to work as much as I could. But I fought those urges and forced myself to take “me time.” And slowly, bit by bit, I began feeling my old-self wake up. With a little time and commitment to my wellbeing, my energy, drive and ambition returned to me. I was able to concentrate better, work more efficiently and keep up with my workload without feeling overwhelmed.
That’s why, no matter how busy you are, no matter how pressing your responsibilities, it is essential to make time for yourself. Never underestimate the importance of relaxing and breaking away from it all. Because if you don’t, burnout is inevitable.
It’s Official: Burnout is a Big Problem
Earlier this year, the World Health Organization classified work burnout as an occupational phenomenon. According to the WHO, burnout is characterized by three factors: exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy.
While this move is not the same as classifying it as a medical condition, this recognition by the WHO legitimizes burnout is a real syndrome. One that can make you sick or need medical attention for emotional or physical conditions that can range from diabetes and obesity to depression and anxiety. This designation also now points to the environment, not the individual, as the source of the trouble.
What does this mean? Should we all up and quit our jobs? Not quite. Burnout is so prevalent these days, that chances are, you’ll experience the same feelings at the next place, too.
Instead of ignoring how you feel, recognize that there is a problem, but it’s a problem that can be solved. By learning a few coping strategies to deal with your work environment, you can start the journey to recovery. Here are four to help you along the way.
1- Get selfish. Here on earth, we only have 24-hours in a day. Which means you have to be realistic about what you can get done each and every day. Saying “yes” to every request and filling up your calendar is a fast-track to burnout. Learn to say “no” when it matters, so that you can be prepared for a better “yes.”
2- Get social. We are hardwired for human connection. We thrive when we are surrounded by other people, especially those who support and care for us. And when we feel like we are just going through the motions, that social network provides critical support.
3- Get unplugged. Technology, most notably smartphones, has created this illusion that we should be available 24/7. However, in reality, most of us don’t need to constantly check our email when we are out of the office. Learn to turn your devices off, at least for a bit every day. This is essential, because when you go offline, you can focus on yourself and relax.
4- Get help. Be it from your friends and family, colleagues or a medical professional, don’t be ashamed or feel weak to reach out. You might be surprised that others have dealt with this very same issue. When you ask for help, you might be surprised what happens.
Undoing work burnout takes time and often some pretty significant changes. But whatever you do, don’t look at prioritizing your well-being as slacking off, instead, think of it as an investment in your future.