What is burnout? It’s not just squealing tires on a racetrack after a victory lap.
Most of us intuitively know what burnout means. Some of us have experienced it while others may feel on the cusp of falling into burnout, writes Dr. Aaliya Yaqub, chief medical officer at Thrive Global.
From a life perspective, Yagub said burnout includes three key features:
- Overwhelming exhaustion (related to long work hours, blurred work boundaries, and/or an unmanageable workload)
- Feelings of cynicism and detachment
- A sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment
I think many people know burnout when they see it, but by then it’s often too late to recover the passion and purpose which propelled them forward for many years.
Personally, I experienced burnout in 2017. The signs were evident a year or two earlier, but I ignored them. By the time I realized I had burned out, my weight had ballooned to 270 pounds, along with my blood pressure, and there was nothing that really motivated me out of bed every morning.
Prior to that, I had been working 10- to 12-hour days for six to seven days each week for eight years as the editor of an online news publication I developed to report on the activities of the recreation vehicle industry. Hardly a day went by when I wasn’t doing some type of work.
However, the pressure of meeting daily deadlines and the stress of moving my motorhome to a new location every three to five days had taken a toll.
Although I intentionally shut down the publication for two weeks after Christmas every year to force me to take a break, the brief time off eventually had little rejuvenation effect before I had to jump into another 50-week whirlwind of activity.
It is hard to be passionate about anything — work, family, friends or self — when someone is in the midst of burnout.
To help people identify burnout in their lives, Yagub offers four insights to enable them to take steps early to ward off its devastating impact.
First, you can still experience burnout in a job you love. In fact, she cited a study that found purpose-driven people were often significantly more stressed than those who were not motivated by an internal purpose.
“It’s a privilege to do meaningful work, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed by it all, one microstep I suggest is simply reminding yourself why you do the work you do,” she wrote.
Second, burnout is not just an individual problem, but a contagious organizational issue.
“Studies on doctors and nurses demonstrate that when one person in a work environment is experiencing emotional exhaustion and burnout, more of their colleagues are likely to experience burnout, too,” said Yagub.
Personally, I think working alone accelerates burnout because you don’t have other people to share your frustrations with or to ask for help. You also don’t have any healthy examples to follow.
“When people lead by example — for example, by taking time to recharge during the day with a short walk or a device-free lunch — they create a culture where taking care of yourself is celebrated,” Yagub wrote.
Third, burnout often leads to even bigger problems, such as escaping to drugs, alcohol, porn or binge-watching hours of life-sucking television. When combined with chronic stress, burnout contributes to hospitalizations and mental health issues, she added.
Finally, people who work in professions where they directly help others are often at the highest risk for burnout, said Yagub. Purpose-driven people can feel so strongly about their work that they engage in more self-sacrifice and less self-care.
“Science clearly tells us that taking care of yourself is the most essential thing you can do in order to properly care for someone else,” she wrote.
There is a lot of talk about maintaining proper work-life balance. Unfortunately, I ignored that and experienced a mild stroke in 2018. Only then, did I work to reduce my level of stress, pay closer attention to what I was eating, and take steps to spend more time walking outdoors.
If you’re operating out of a well-defined sense of purpose, be sure to walk away and seek the rest your body’s is telling you it needs. It may be challenging to teach an old dog new tricks, but you can’t teach a dead dog nothing!
Yagub’s full story can be found at Thrive Global.
After closing his business and enduring several painful years of uncertainty regarding what to do with his life, Greg founded Forward From 50 to help men and women over 50 to live more purposeful lives by pursuing things they are passionate about. A Wisconsin native, Greg currently lives in Arizona.