Do you know that feeling when you start a new job and everything is so interesting and exciting? New people, new walls, new tasks. You do everything you can to prove that you’re the right person for the position, and you don’t mind working long hours. You’ve never been the nine-to-five kind of person anyway.
Here’s another scenario. Your dream came true, and you started your own business. You build your company with enthusiasm, and you don’t mind working late or during weekends because you understand that running a business takes commitment.
One day, you wake up and have no energy to even think about work. You turn off your alarm and stare at the ceiling. You feel exhausted, and you can barely motivate yourself to get out of bed. I’m sorry to say this, but you’re suffering from burnout.
What is burnout syndrome
Before you understand burnout syndrome, you need to understand what stress is. We tend to think that stress is something that we can see and feel. Most of us experience symptoms like sweaty palms, a faster heartbeat, grinding your teeth, or stomach issues. The problem is, stress is much more insidious and creeps into our lives with no visible signs. In other words, you can be stressed and not even know it.
Too many tasks and too little time, tight deadlines, or the inability to concentrate are some of the factors that can cause stress. If you feel stressed out all of the time, you’re just one step away from chronic stress, and that will lead directly to burnout.
Before we delve deeper into the topic, we need to understand what burnout is. According to the World Health Organization, burnout is an occupational phenomenon that isn't classified as a medical condition. The WHO defines burnout as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. They describe three different dimensions of burnout: lack of energy, feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job, and reduced professional efficacy.
A 2018 Gallup study found that 23% of employees felt burned out very often or always. An additional 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes. That means that nearly half of the 7,500 full-time employees who took part in a study experienced burnout at some point in their careers.
What are the five stages of burnout?
Burning out is a process. It’s not like you’ll just wake up one day and feel burned out. If you don’t take the steps necessary to prevent it, you’ll see the signs of what’s coming. Winona State University distinguishes five stages of burnout.
Most of us wouldn’t even connect this stage with burnout. It usually begins the moment you start a new job. Your levels of satisfaction, commitment, and energy are through the roof. What’s crucial here are the coping mechanisms that you develop when job-related stress eventually starts knocking at your door. You walk a thin line between staying at this stage and falling into the abyss that is burnout.
Most of us aren’t lucky enough to stay in the honeymoon stage. You start noticing that you’re not over the moon about your job every day anymore. Some days, you still feel energized and motivated, but you also begin to feel dissatisfaction, fatigue, and the need to escape every now and then.
All of the negative emotions that you’ve started to feel are getting more intense at this stage. Eventually, they lead to chronic stress that makes you feel anxious about anything related to your job. This is the last step before you’re in full-on burnout mode.
This is the stage that most people have in mind when they talk about burnout. You find it almost impossible to motivate yourself to do even the tiniest bit of work. Your stress level is off the charts, and it causes physical symptoms to intensify and increase in number.
At this point, the extent that burnout has taken a toll on your well-being might cause some people to believe you’re suffering from severe physical or emotional problems.
How to recover from burnout
Ideally, you should do your best to avoid burnout at all.
Still, if you find yourself in this downward spiral, it’s possible to reverse burnout. The first step is to understand that you’ve been under pressure. Your second step will be changing your habits so that you can balance work with your personal life.
1. Work smarter, not harder
Does that ring a bell? There are hundreds of tools out there that will help you organize your time, increase productivity, and automate tasks. To begin with, invest in a to-do list app. Wunderlist is a very simple app that will help you track everything you have to do and/or have already done.
Divide your work into smaller chunks by implementing the Pomodoro Technique. This method uses a timer to break down work into 25-minute intervals separated by five-minute breaks. These intervals are named pomodoros.
On another note, you don’t have to send emails manually. Use a tool like Mailchimp that will do this for you. Even small things like Google Drive can make a difference. They make it a lot easier to share, edit, and comment on documents.
Think about any task that takes a lot of your time. There's probably already an app that can save you time when doing that task.
Sometimes it's impossible, so at least try to give yourself some time without checking your email, messages, or social media profiles.
Give yourself the right to be offline and to live your life. Your business will not collapse if you don’t respond swiftly, and you won’t be sacked because you didn’t respond to emails on Saturday.
Your second step should be leaving your mobile at home when you’re going out with your significant other or your friends. Have you seen a group of people sitting together at one table and still checking their mobiles? You don’t want to be one of them.
If you have problems falling asleep, don’t check your mobile or laptop at least two hours before you go to bed. Bright screens can mess with your brain so that it thinks it’s still daytime.
3. Say no to social media
Unless you’re a social media manager, you don’t need social media apps on your smartphone. If that sounds too drastic, try to turn off as many notifications as you can
Social media is a time suck. Every time you log in, you end up scrolling your feed just for the sake of it. At some point, you come across an article about ways to enhance productivity or Elon Musk’s latest project, and you're lost for hours.
If you don’t have to, stop checking social media updates every time you touch your phone. Limit the time you spend with your smartphone on the weekends and outside working hours. Social media gives you the illusion of relaxing, but the truth is, your brain can't rest properly because it's constantly scanning information on the web.
A while ago, I read an article about “12 Things Successful People Do Before Breakfast.” Their mornings go as follows: They wake up early, exercise, work on a top-priority business project, and work on a personal passion project. Then, they spend quality time with their family, check their email, and read the news. Sounds like some seriously busy time, right? It proves that one of the side effects of modern, intense lifestyles is that we don’t have time to relax.
Consider slowing down a bit. You don’t have to do everything at once. Skip your gym classes and sleep longer if you feel like it. Do whatever makes you happy at a given moment.
The best way to relax is to disconnect from the loud, outside world and focus on yourself. Give yourself at least five minutes of peaceful time, not thinking about your job and duties. Take a walk, calm your brain down, and listen to the silence. If you’re living in a noisy neighborhood, take your family and leave for a weekend.
If you want to go into a deeper form of relaxation, try to meditate. It’s difficult at first, but as Michael Grothaus proved it in his article, “Here's How A Month Of Zen Meditation Changed My Life,” meditation can help you feel more refreshed, energetic, patient, and productive.
5. Work less
Working less is the most important, and yet the most challenging, step. It’s difficult to devote less attention to your job, especially if it's your passion.
Think about it this way. If you’re burned out, you’re mentally drained. You have no energy or motivation to work. Emotional exhaustion affects your productivity and work performance in a bad way. That's why it's so important to take vacations from work regularly.
If you get up early in the morning and in the evening you’re still at work, rethink your attitude. Your business won't collapse if you leave earlier or if you don’t respond to an email today.
A healthy work-life balance
A stressful lifestyle can put people under extreme pressure. Eventually, they start to feel exhausted, frustrated, and burned out. Stress at work can also cause physical and mental symptoms.
It interferes with your ability to pay attention or concentrate. It affects your job performance, causes interpersonal problems at home, decreases your happiness, and can create real health problems.
You can overcome those with the right attitude and patience. Make good use of your free time, and try to separate the times when you’re working or resting. Unplug yourself from the web, and pay attention to the world around you. Don’t forget to take your vacation, be physically active, and give meditation a try.
And, before you get back to work, read about Fish! Philosophy. It might help you to take your job less seriously and find pleasure in your daily tasks.