Blog: Burnout at work: Before you think 'it won't happen to me'

Life @ Work

Burnout at work: Before you think 'it won't happen to me'

Burnout occurs over a long period of time and the consequences can be life-altering, which is why it's important to spot the signs early.
Burnout at work: Before you think 'it won't happen to me'

Burnout - a feeling of physical and emotional exhaustion that touches us all, when least expected, mainly due to stress, working in demanding conditions. Burnout occurs over a long period of time, but the consequences can be life-altering, which is why it's important to spot the signs early.

Anna spent over two years building her own coaching business from scratch working days and nights, constantly looking for improvements and ideas. Passion, enthusiasm and grit were her allies enabling her to thrive. However, six months later, Anna felt constantly exhausted, stressed & frustrated.

Married with two young kids she struggled to find quality time with them. Her husband Pete was becoming concerned about her health as well as the family’s wellbeing: since she had become such high profile, she had become anxious about minor issues and her sleep deprivation prevented her from focusing for long period at once. 

Pete spotted the signs of burnout almost immediately: chronic fatigue, short-tempered, suspicious, and susceptible to colds, and headaches. 

There are five stages of burnouts. 

Stage 1: Enthusiasm

Anna had set her personal goal high and invested a great deal of energy into her business, developing workshops, creating social events, expanding further marketing projects, investing in future client’s retreats. Anna was extremely excited about "making it happen" and motivated about her future. Nothing could have stopped her. 

Stage 2: Stagnation 

Anna's work had become such a fixation everything else was now secondary and her family and personal priority suffered. She was only doing things that she described as "non-negotiable" such as taking the kids to school, making excuses, avoiding people or commitments that required her time and ultimately becoming a recluse. 

Instead, she would rather network & attend workshops to meet like-minded people. Spending a lot of time and money travelling hoping to meet future clients. The fact is, trying harder might not change anything or lead to success and that's when disappointment sets in. Anna focused on a specific routine and began to shift to autopilot which brought her to where she was. 

Stage 3: Frustration

Anna experienced a sense of powerlessness as her efforts did not visibly pay off.  

She then fell into the trap of not leaving her home office, not exercising, not meeting up with friends and ignoring her family. 

She used all these things to try and justify 'how busy she was' and in turn, she became agitated, stressed, uptight, annoyed, frustrated and confused.

Of course, this led to a downward spiral of negative emotions which she pushed to the side and continued telling people it's "just a busy time and things will settle down shortly".

Stage 4: Apathy 

Despair took place and Anna saw no way out of her situation that's when she became resigned and indifferent: finding it difficult to feel excitement, motivation, or passion in anything she did. Instead, she blamed everyone for not giving her space and the time she needed, everyone around her became a nuisance and didn't seem to understand anything! She found herself procrastinating about minor details that were not related to her work and found herself short-tempered, irritated and angry all the time. 

Stage 5: Intervention

This culminated in 2018 when a feeling of helplessness came over her, Anna was physically and mentally ill. Her immune system was shattered and unable to cope with what was coming next. Anna developed multiple back to back chest infections, whooping cough, pleurisy, pneumonia, broken ribs with excessive coughing which ultimately led to depression. Her mind and body switched off and for four months she was unable to function on a normal basic level. She couldn't work, prepare meals, do housework, drive, concentrate, or even hold a conversation. At this point Anna realized this could no longer go on, everything was becoming a weight and it was now time to intervene and provide a step by step plan. 

Here are some ways of recovering from burnout:   

  • Keep a stress diary: Each day write down what causes you stress and record why the event stressed you. Stress diaries can be illuminating, if you keep up with them for a reasonable time. Once you discover the root causes of your burnout, look at what you can do to resolve it.
  • Get plenty of exercises: Exercise improves oxygen flow to the brain. Essentially, when you start exercising, you feel better because your brain and body can do more. Exercising makes you feel happier and increase your energy levels. 
  • Re-evaluate, revamp and revive your goals: Get realistic with your time management. Set yourself a schedule and stay on track by having a buddy with whom you can share your thoughts.

Burnout can happen to anyone, at any stage of our lives, when least expected. Anna had always been very healthy with no underlying health issues (never smoked, or drink) and yet she hit rock bottom. Anna still has to battle daily to take time out, but she is on the right track to reprogram her brain.

So, before you think "it won't happen to me" watch out for the signs and think again.



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