When the pandemic first started, people did what they needed to do to be safe and healthy. Stay home, work from home, spend more time with family. It was a reset button for some and an alarm system going off for others. While individual experiences were different for everyone, we all did what we needed to do…and it pretty much worked…for a little while. Then, we didn’t go back to normal for another week, and another week after that. As I write this, it’s been months and…
We still aren’t and may never be “normal” again.
The new normal is here. COVID-19 is a fierce virus with many symptoms but there is a nasty side effect the doctors aren’t talking about. It’s a by-product that’s been on the rise right alongside the virus. It plagues various demographics regardless of age, geographic location, or health history. It leads to emotional, mental, and physical damage. Its causes are varied. And it’s burnout.
I often say burnout was an epidemic we had before COVID. It was rampant and affected so many. But since quarantine, it’s only gotten worse. CNBC, The Washington Post, Forbes, Pharma Times, Fox Business….they are all reporting on it. Pick your news outlet of choice or simply ask your friends how they are feeling. There is no denying it: burnout is hitting us hard right now.
Like any condition, burnout is commonly mistaken for other diseases. It’s often confused with overwhelm and the emotional state of stress. But there is one key difference. Stress and overwhelm can be short-lived, tied to a goal or timeline, and, in some cases, even be positive. Burnout, on the other hand, happens when negative stress is built up repeatedly.
This is why burnout is harder to cure. It didn’t happen in a moment and you aren’t going to solve it in an instance by sipping on an afternoon tea. The problem is bigger than that. Read my blog on 5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Mess With Burnout.
According to Psychology Today, burnout is “a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress. Though it’s most often caused by problems at work, it can also appear in other areas of life, such as parenting, caretaking, or romantic relationships.”
My friend Jeff Gibbard at the Superhero Institute refers to burnout as the lava pit. It’s a great analogy. When you are burned out you can barely see out of the lava pit you are in and it’s destructive. Volcanoes can be dormant for years but under the surface, there is so much pent up activity and energy being stored. Then, one day the volcano blows with an eruptive force that can decimate the surrounding area.
In February we visited the Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica. (Side note: this was one of the best vacations we ever took and I highly recommend it once things re-open!) Anyways, I was at the pool getting some work done when someone messaged me with a potential issue that needed to be dealt with. I responded and said “how bad can it be? This is my current view!” and sent this photo. He responded, “oh nevermind about [this problem]. You should probably focus on what you are going to do if that volcano erupts.” More on that later…
10 Indicators You Are On the Road to Burnout and Headed for the Lava Pit:
Note: I’m not a doctor. If you are in burnout you should tell your doctor. This list is compiled from my own experience, my years researching and studying productivity and from the comments submitted to me from the SO Productive community. I know it’s vulnerable and not always easy, so I’m sending a special thanks to those of you who shared your personal experiences with me.
- Feeling tired. This isn’t an “I didn’t sleep well last night” tired. We’ve all had those and they suck. But, grab a Starbuck’s and let’s roll. That’s life baby. This is rather an “I had a good night’s sleep and I’m exhausted” tired. Physical exhaustion is a key phrase to keep in mind. It’s chronic fatigue that you can’t shake no matter how much you sleep. It can even reach the point of lethargy.
- Numbness. This is a case of the “Mondays” every day. Lacking motivation and enthusiasm. Not having a sense of purpose. Questioning, “what’s the point?” and “does it really matter?” Not understanding how your work contributes to your personal or company goals. Generally, feeling blah.
- A sense of dread. You know the feeling in the pit of your stomach before you need to do something you don’t want to do. You may be avoiding things altogether or develop a true fear. Again, these can develop into phobias which you should talk to your doctor about. On the road to burnout, this can manifest as being cynical, not taking on new responsibilities, and truly dreading your work or seeing people you’d rather avoid.
- Irritability. I’ll admit to getting hangry every once in a while. This is more long-term and can affect your relationships. You are short-tempered, grumpy, crabby, snarky, snippy. Any little thing could set you off at any moment. People are afraid to ask you things and truthfully they don’t want to be around you when you are like this.
- Your mind is foggy. You’re forgetful, struggling to make decisions, you’re next steps are unclear, and you’re lacking focus. Your mind is cluttered and racing with ideas 24/7 yet you aren’t sure how to take action on anything you’re thinking about.
- Out of control. Things feel overwhelming and you are spinning your wheels. When it’s time to work, you struggle to focus and your attention span is at an all-time low. You are insanely busy but you aren’t getting anything done. You’ve done a lot of paper-pushing but you aren’t working on your priorities. You are in a vicious cycle of not accomplishing your tasks. Then, you feel bad about it. Then, you waste more time and mental energy beating yourself up for it. Around and around you go.
- It’s always a three-alarm fire. Someone yells fire and you are there. Reactive and ready to dump a small bucket of water as your contribution to a raging blaze. You are rushing around all the time. Never early or prepared. Always late due to the domino effect of all the fires and catastrophes you “must” deal with. You didn’t anticipate the fire and, of course, you are the only one who can put this fire out and you need to do it by yourself.
- Questioning everything. I have a friend who says “confidence is high” when she feels great. I love that. She looks good, she feels good, she knows it and she is damn-well proud of it! When you are on the road to burnout, this is just the opposite. You are questioning everything. What you wear, your decisions, your skills, your priorities, your relationships, your self-worth, the value of your work. You may even second-guess your profession, marriage, or what city you live in. Sometimes a big change is necessary but other times it’s just the burnout making things seem worse than they are. You’ve lost your mojo.
- No self-care. Self-care is different for everyone and can come in various forms. Yoga, meditations, getting a massage, eating well, etc. Today, I’m not even talking about that level of care. I’m many steps below that. A generally not taking care of yourself level. Maybe your personal grooming or even uh-hem your hygiene has suffered a bit. When was the last time you washed your hair? Have you exercised this week? Did you have one too many glasses of wine last night with dinner? Did you even eat dinner? No judgment, just asking! Whatever it is, when was the last time you actually did something for good yourself? The lack of self-care can affect mood, motivation, and self-confidence.
- Physically, you’re off. You are just not feeling 100%. More headaches, your heart is racing, insomnia even though you are exhausted, irritable bowel syndrome, aches, and pains. Maybe you are getting sick more frequently. A weakened immune system is the last thing you need during this pandemic. Don’t ignore these signals. This is your body telling you it needs a time out.
Back to the volcano story. I share that story for two reasons. One: perspective is everything. Your issues are relative to the other issues on the table at that given moment. Are you sitting on an active volcano right now? And two: like any good scientist, or volcanologist to be specific, it’s helpful to study the history and the warning signs of eruptions so you can predict, plan and prepare for when it blows up. Read my blog on 5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Mess With Burnout.
On a positive note, burnout doesn’t happen overnight. That’s why it’s called the “road to burnout.” If you are able to recognize how burnout manifests itself in you, then when you find yourself on that road you can get yourself on a different street!
If you are on the road to burnout and need help, I’m your gal. I bring you my top productivity tips to help you get back control of your time, accomplish more, and be present when you are done for the day.
You Got This! Sarah
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Hi, I’m Sarah
The productivity coach who creates programs for overwhelmed professionals who are ready to say buh bye to stress, anxiety, mental clutter, and analysis paralysis and hello to clarity, purpose, and success.
I bring systems and quick productivity wins to your day so that you can get back control of your time, accomplish more, and be present when you are done at 5.
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