The dreaded B word. Burnout. Whether it's while building your career or finishing your degree, feeling burnout at some point or another is highly likely. Maybe you've lost your motivation. Or perhaps the stress from it all is leaving you feeling ill.
Gallup's The State of the Global Workplace report polled employees across industries in 155 countries and found that only 15 percent of employees felt engaged in their work. What does this have to do with burnout? If employees don't feel engaged - that is, given the proper considerations and resources to have a healthy work/life balance - they are likely to burn the candle at both ends until they can't do it anymore.
Burnout is defined as "fatigue, frustration, or apathy resulting from prolonged stress, overwork, or intense activity". It isn't something to be taken lightly either. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, burnout and clinical depression have similar symptoms.
Knowing all too well how dangerous burnout can be, I've found some strategies that can help.
1. Follow a break schedule religiously.
Charles Dickens, author of "A Christmas Carol" had strict writing habits. He would begin at 9 AM sharp and write until 2 pm, in which he then took a three hour stroll about the English countryside or through London. It was said that this helped him drive his story and inspire the scenes he wanted to build.
Make a list of the top two to four tasks for the day and put your focus there. Then give yourself a break after 90 minutes of focused work. It will serve you better than working on tasks here and there and only breaking when it feels appropriate.
Don't feel guilty about taking breaks either. While a three hour stroll isn't required, resting and recharging are important steps that lead to managing a healthy work/life balance.
2. Listen to your mental chatter.
What you are feeling and/or how your body is reacting are indicative that something is bothering you about the tasks at hand. You may be in denial about it at first and blow it off as stress, but ignoring it will only make it worse. Granting yourself the opportunity to focus on what is happening can get you back on the right path.
A daily voice memo on my phone helps me. I go to a private space and record a message each morning wherein I just talk about things going on in my life. When I first started, I realized how often I used the word "can't" and how I was holding myself back. These daily memos have helped me to make better decisions and understand myself better.
3. Change your language.
Are the words you say and thoughts you think positively charged? Research has shown how saying certain negatively infused words like "I can't handle this", "no", and "I'm not getting anywhere" all cause your brain to react in ways that produce stress chemicals. In fact, even saying the word "burnout" or "busy" can have an effect on you.
When you notice the negative thoughts, add a solution based counter-thought that changes your narrative. For instance, saying "I'm not smart/good/strong enough for this," then following up with "but I'm doing my best and will tackle it one step at a time" gives yourself a positive solution. This works even better if you can name specific ways.
4. Connect and engage. Unplug at the end of the day.
While conducting research for her book, The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success, Dr. Emma Seppala found that half of the workforce is burnt out. According to a Gallup report, the better the management, the better the engagement of employees. Dr. Maslach, creator of the Maslach Burnout Inventory, believes that much of the work to avoid burnout relies on the organization.
If you are in management, reward teams for reaching productivity goals (i.e. focus on collective results). Plan break times and allow employees to work on tasks that are geared towards their strengths--something they'll feel more confident with. Encourage network building and ensure that it is inclusive.
If you aren't in management, you can still find ways to engage. Build a network around you, take action to achieve a goal a day, and more importantly, remember that you are in control of yourself. Regardless of what happens, you have a choice on how to respond.
5. Question yourself.
While researching this article, I found one thing to be common--a lot of the burnout was due to feeling no sense of relief or hope due to exhaustion. Those are scary thoughts. However, they can be managed.
Being busy isn't all bad. But, there is a fine balance between being busy and being overworked. Burnout is a signal that it may be time to stop and analyze what's really going on. If you're near burn out, you are likely still generally able to complete tasks.
However, if your work truly isn't moving things or you feel absolutely no sense of relief, you may want to seek help or look for an alternative career. Ultimately, your health is a priority that should not be neglected.