Extinguishing Burnout - Dousing the Flames of Fatigue
by Jake Donofrio
Burnout – a buzzword that has certainly been living up to the hype lately. I’m sure you’ve heard of it and you’ve most likely felt it.
With the topic being so prevalent these days, we’re diving into the nitty gritty details of what it is and how to avoid its seemingly magnetic pull.
My team fell into the fiery pit of burnout ourselves last month. MindWise hosted our annual suicide prevention conference and while the event was a hit (read the full recap here), a few days after it was over, one voice cut through the celebration:
It was from my boss – Jen, our Director of Marketing and Communications. Although to be fair, she didn’t say she was exhausted. What she really said was, “I’m so cranky and I can’t seem to snap out of it. I’m going to take the afternoon.”
It wasn’t until the next day in our team meeting that she told us she had been exhausted and realized she was burned out.
As soon as those words were out of her mouth she was tarred and feathered for daring to share her feelings. I’m KIDDING, of course that didn’t happen because we at MindWise believe that a core tenet of company health is employee health.
Anyway, this led us to start thinking about the fact that most times we only realize we’re burned out after it happens – once we’ve already crossed that fine line between working hard and feeling so completely over it.
So, Let’s Talk About Burnout – Do You Need Sunscreen?
Burnout is a recognized occupational hazard and can affect anyone, no matter the job or any previous feelings toward it. It’s possible, maybe even common, to experience burnout from time to time while still loving your work.
We also recently hosted a burnout webinar, and were joined by employees from across the spectrum of occupations, from schools to workplaces and everywhere in between. Everyone showed up to learn more about how to prevent it and what to do about it. And they weren’t alone – according to a 2021 Indeed report, 52% of respondents are burned out, and trends indicate that number will continue to rise.
How Do You Know You’re Burned Out? Hint: It’s Not Always About Feeling Tired
Burnout is an increasingly common reaction to prolonged and chronic stress that one experiences primarily due to workplace expectations. It is characterized by three main dimensions – exhaustion (physical, mental, emotional, and more), lack of engagement with work, and recognizing low efficiency (failing to reach the bar you have set for yourself).
These dimensions are expressed in a variety of ways, including but not limited to:
- Reduced creativity
- Headaches and stomaches
- Poor performance
- Withdrawal from work activities and colleagues
- A lack of satisfaction from your achievements
- Waning motivation to do your best at work
- Lack of sleep and/or appetite
- Using drugs and/or alcohol to cope
- Dragging yourself to work and having trouble getting started
And while this list feels long, it doesn’t even hit the more nuanced aspects of these dimensions – things that are easy to ignore in your day-to-day. For example, crankiness (in my boss’s example above), feeling frustrated, overreacting, sarcasm, and more.
These small, but mighty symptoms pop up frequently for all of us. Sometimes they’re just part of life, but other times they add up to burnout.
I’m Burned Out – How Do I Start Talking About It
It’s important to be able to recognize the symptoms of burnout and communicate not only to yourself how you’re feeling, but also to the people who rely on you at work, at home, and in life.
Because in order for positive change to occur, communication must cycle both up and down the chain of command.
At work, start by talking to your manager. These are times when it’s best to be honest. You might not be able to identify all the factors that contributed to burning out in the moment. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to tell your manager that you need some time off, and that you’d like to talk about your priorities when you’re thinking more clearly.
And since we know time off isn’t always an option, are there projects or responsibilities that could come off your plate to give you some breathing room? Be open to suggestions and start thinking outside the box.
If you lead a team, think about modeling the behavior that you want to see from your employees. So often leadership is about walking the walk.
Communicate honestly about how you’re feeling and acknowledge that it is perfectly alright for everyone to occasionally feel this way too. Having these types of conversations will leave the door open for your people to talk to you and provide the confidence that there will be no repercussions if they ask for help.
And if you’re feeling burned out at home or in your relationships, start a conversation with your family or a friend and explain how you’re feeling. Be clear about whether you’re looking for their advice on ways to feel better or just a friendly ear to listen.
"It’s important to be able to recognize the symptoms of burnout and communicate not only to yourself how you’re feeling, but also to the people who rely on you at work, at home, and in life.
Because in order for positive change to occur, communication must cycle both up and down the chain of command.In order for positive change to occur, communication must cycle both up and down the chain of command."
It’s Not All Bad – How to Reverse Burnout
Stressed, tired, annoyed, however you’re feeling, here are a few other steps you can take to start feeling better once you’ve crossed the burnout threshold. Burnout isn’t permanent and taking the suggested steps to manage it (once you’ve recognized it) can go a long way to reduce or eventually bounce back from it.
Put your oxygen mask on first. You didn’t think you were getting out of this article without reading the words self-care, did you? The phrase is everywhere, but that’s because it really is that important. And while I know it conjures up images of bubble baths and spa days, it can be as simple as saying no or putting your needs first – thus the good advice from our Chief Behavioral Health Officer – “put your oxygen mask on first.”
Don’t be too hard on yourself. When you’re feeling burned out, it can be easy to feel like you should’ve been able to do more, handle more, give more… but sometimes it’s just not possible and that’s ok. Give yourself permission to take breaks, delegate, and ask for help.
Be your own advocate. It’s up to you to realize when work or life is taking too much out of you and speak up.
Burnout has never been more prevalent than it is now. Thankfully, we have never been more prepared to manage it.