Jack is 35 years old and is a managing partner in a law firm. To come to this position, Jack worked hard. Last year he had almost no days off and holidays. Once he really wanted to build such a career, but for the last six months, he has felt only emptiness. Every day he dreams about how he will return from work and go to bed. True, the last time Jack slept normally was about two years ago.
Mia is 27 years old and works as a seamstress in a tailor shop. Mia wanted to be a fashion designer. She graduated from the College of Technology and Design and went into a tailor shop. Mia planned to gain experience at this job and then open her own business. Seven years have passed, but she is still working. For the past month, Mia has been feeling a strong disgust for work and has to constantly linger on it: there are always orders that need to be sewn as soon as possible. Mia accepts them with irritation, and she swears that she will definitely quit tomorrow every day.
These heroes have different situations, but they face the same thing – emotional burnout.
Burnout Isn’t Just About Fatigue
Constant stress at work leads to burnout – emotional and physical exhaustion. You’re more likely to have a burnout if:
- you feel constantly exhausted, and sleep and rest do not help restore strength;
- you have no appetite or even feel sick from eating;
- your temperature rises or falls from the slightest stress;
- you began to perform tasks much slower than usual;
- you endlessly scroll in your head the mistakes that you made;
- you get angry if you are pulled, not even at work;
- work has become indifferent to you, even if you used to love it very much;
- anyone can piss you off or make you cry: your boss, a friend, or a grocery clerk;
- you began to forget about deadlines, meetings, or something else important in your work.
It is often thought that burnout is when a person is so overworked that he does not get out of bed, dreams of being fired, and counts the days until the weekend. But in fact, everything starts earlier. Experts do not agree on how many stages burnout has. Still, this phenomenon generally consists of three stages: tension, resistance, and exhaustion.
Mia takes her indifference for granted. Everyone works through force, and she, too – there is nothing special about it. But lately, it’s been really hard for her, so she began to remember how she felt about work before. There were always rush orders, but it was not a problem for Mia. I wanted to show that her atelier was the best in the city, so Mia processed and sometimes spent the night at work. She remembers that the last order she had sewed with love was four years ago.
Then Mia was asked to make seventeen identical skirts for the local theater. The order was urgent, and Mia completed it in two days. As soon as the skirts were taken away, she admitted to herself for the first time that she couldn’t stand working in the atelier.
When we get carried away, it’s easy to forget that we need to rest: we work sixteen hours a day, cancel weekend plans, snack on the go, and consider coffee a great alternative to sleeping. If relatives or colleagues notice this, I want to answer: “Yes, everything is fine. I can even take on one more project.”
From the outside, this period looks like the best time in my professional life. But in fact, constant overwork and focusing only on work is stressful. If you have thoughts, “It was difficult, but I wrecked everything in half a day because I am a giant”, then you are already close to the second act – when it is hard to go outside even for ice cream.
Suppose signs of burnout are not noticed in time. In that case, physical symptoms can connect to it: insomnia, high blood pressure, fever, headache, or other autonomic disorders. So the body signals that you are worrying too much.
Jack hadn’t slept well lately and felt overwhelmed. The partner noticed this and offered to help Jack, but he replied: “Don’t, I’m not a trainee to help me.” Jack, at this time, had a new client – an insurance company. Right before the trial, he was rude to the insurer: Jack did not like that the client specified too many details. During the meeting, Jack interrupted the judge and asked the lawyer on the other side to become at least a little smarter. The case was lost, and the insurers canceled the contract for all the following cases. They promised that they would make the incident public.
Try To Rest And Think If You Feel Better
Take a half day off, and cancel work on the weekend. Or at least agree that on Wednesday evening you will not sit at the monitor until midnight, but go to the cinema. It doesn’t matter how you want to relax: staring at the ceiling in the bathroom for five hours in a row or taking a ride with the children in an amusement park. Choose what you like.
Ask yourself how you are doing right after your break and at the end of a new work day. If you don’t feel better, then it’s not just fatigue.
The co-founder of the bureau insisted that Jack goes on vacation. Jack did not care that he was asked to retire and went to Hawaii for a month. On vacation, Jack could distract himself from thoughts about work: he finally began to sleep soundly and constantly sent the girl photos from the trip. During the tour, Jack wondered, “Why didn’t I relax like this?”
After the vacation, he persuaded the client’s insurer to return. Jack felt like an important member of the bureau again. It seemed that now there was strength to work as before and go to at least three daily meetings. After two weeks with such a regime, he thought: “It seems it’s time for me to fly to Hawaii again.”
How to Deal With Burnout
Remember For What Purpose You Once Started
We set goals for ourselves and try to achieve them because we want to realize our meanings: to get approval, to leave a mark, and to make the world a little better. It happens that while we go to the goal, our meanings change.
Take a break and think about why you work so hard? What does your profession mean to you now? Do you feel the significance and importance of what you are doing? Do your values match those of the team? Where else, besides work, can you realize your meanings?
Mia was deliberately late for work three days in a row: for example, she pretended that her husband had taken both pairs of keys, so she could not leave the house. Mia doesn’t really like to reflect, but while she drank coffee for an extra two hours, thoughts entered her head on their own. She asked herself: “Tan, how did it happen that before you could spend the night in the atelier, but now you don’t have the strength to leave the house? You love to sew. You dreamed about it so much. What changed?”
As Mia drank her coffee, she realized that she still enjoyed dressing up. You don’t want to just hem trousers and insert zippers every day. She dreams not of standard orders but of the individual tailoring of each item. Maybe you should start your own business? No one promises this will make her happy, but she definitely won’t feel better at her old job.
Mia ended this monologue with the thought: “Yes, you are very tired. It hurts when work does not give strength but only takes them away. But the worst thing that can happen is that I quit. Or I’ll be fired. It turns out that I’m not afraid to leave the studio. After that, Mia found the strength to go to work. She realized that no one was holding her there except for herself.
Make a Map of Life
A life map helps you look at yourself from the outside and figure out how your meanings coincide with how you live. Write “I” in the center of the sheet and around everything positive and negative that you had and have: people, activities, and emotions. The more space this or that sphere occupies in your life, the closer to the “I” it should be located. It may turn out that work is closest, and doing what you love is on the periphery.
Look at the map and listen to your feelings. What do you like about it, and what don’t you like? What do you want to change? What do you want to throw out for good? What emotions do you want to receive more? And from what exactly?
Start planning changes when you feel ready for it. If you don’t have the strength to change, that’s fine. Don’t rush yourself.
Try to Reduce the Load
Constantly ask yourself:
- “Do I really have to hold such a high bar? What for?”
- “What happens if I slow down a bit?”
- “What happens if I refuse a new task?”
And then move on to action. Let’s say you decide that you will work half an hour less. Usually, you are late for two hours, and now you will try for one and a half. And let’s say you didn’t succeed. What if it’s easier for you to come to work half an hour late? Maybe the time before lunch is the hardest for you because you are an owl? What happens if you tell your boss that you want to come in half an hour later?
Jack is again irritated with the bureau staff, suffers from insomnia, and feels constantly overwhelmed. Fuel is added to the fire by an insurer client, whom Jack was able to return. The client turned out to be very annoying: he sends voice messages to WhatsApp every hour to think about how to appeal and win a lawsuit. Jack is infuriated: he is already working to the last of his strength and investing in full. It seems that Jack will tell the insurer a little more: “Since you are so smart and know how to win the process, then do it yourself.”
The lawyer shared this with a business partner: during a smoke break, he painted in all colors where he had seen such clients. The partner calmly said: “Ethan, let me take the insurer from you. Honestly, after the holidays, you didn’t last long. If you stop dealing with this client, you and the company will improve.” Jack agreed almost immediately: he did not even think it was possible to do this, and now he is very grateful to his partner.
Tell Your Colleagues Or Bosses About Your Condition
If you’re not doing well, be honest about it at work. Explain that you cannot complete all the tasks and are afraid to let the team down. By this, you will show that you think not only about yourself but also worry about the common cause.
- Mia was asked if she could make three matching bridesmaid dresses. The deadlines are burning, and the order must be given in a week. Mia calmly replied: “No, I can take one or two dresses, but I won’t have time for the third. I am very tired, and I am afraid that my condition will affect my work. Let’s give the third dress to Natalya? She hasn’t made such orders yet, but it’s okay. She’ll figure it out. She’s learning fast.”
- Natalia sewed the third dress without any problems, and Mia was very reassured. She felt that the studio rests not only on her. Mia applied for a job and felt well for the first time in four years.
How to No Longer Burn Out
Burnout can catch up again if you repeat mistakes:
- Work hard.
- Keep stress in yourself.
- Do not have hobbies, and do not consider whether the profession matches your values.
There is no clear time frame for which a person burns out: it happens to everyone at different times. So you can’t say, “Last time I burned out in six months. Now I have reset to zero, which means that I can definitely work in berserk mode for another six months.
Here are a couple of tips to help you not burn out again and again.
Keep Track of How You Feel Outside of Work
Those who put work first are more prone to burnout. If you give all the resources in only one direction, they run out faster. So regularly ask yourself:
- What am I missing now?
- How can I get it?
- Can work get in the way?
After talking with a business partner, Jack began to delegate his affairs: he transferred the drafting of claims to other lawyers. But sometimes Jack could not stand it and said: “Give it back, I’ll do it myself faster.” As a result, the delegation failed.
Jack soon realized that this was not going to work. He made a guide and conducted training: now employees make claims correctly, and they no longer need Jack’s help. Jack also began to take vacations four times a year: he goes to places where the cellular connection is poor. He cannot work there, even if he really wants to.
Put Your Feelings First
Wanting to be useful to others and show your best side is not always a bad thing. It’s just that sometimes the desire to be approved goes beyond the acceptable limit. Therefore, you need to listen to yourself.
Hearing your feelings is not easy. For example, it can be difficult to distinguish boredom from fatigue or grief from boredom. If you find it difficult to understand yourself, start with the body. Ask questions more often: “Am I sitting in a comfortable position?”, “Is there tension in my body right now?”, “How can I relieve this tension?” Once you learn to understand what you feel physical, it will be easier to deal with feelings.
Spin the Spiral of Questions
The Spiral of Questions technique will help you figure out why you work so hard and hard. The bottom line is that you start with the issue on your mind right now. For example: “Why am I recycling if I was considering this company as an option for a while?” In response to this question, you ask the following. Let’s say: “Why is it so important for me to be praised at work?”.
Ask questions until you reach an answer that you feel is final. Most likely, in the end, your answer will be very simple: “I do not believe in myself”, “I am afraid of loneliness”, or “I have not been praised enough”. It can be sad or hard, but it will give you a better understanding of why you burn out. If you deal with the root cause, then there will be less chance that you will reach chronic fatigue next time.
Jack still has three lawsuits a day, but less frequently. He remembered that he once loved football. For the sake of this game, he even moved to a house next to a football field. Now every weekend, he arranges a match with his friends. Jack no longer has insomnia and tries to listen to what he feels. He loves his job again.
Mia regrets that she left the atelier: since she did not have the strength for such work, why did she take it that she could master the private business? She found a psychologist and unleashed her spiral of questions with him. It turned out that Mia was afraid of poverty. In her childhood, sweets were not given daily, and the family quarreled a lot over money. Mia is scared: if she goes freelance, she will not have a stable income. With a psychologist, she began understanding why fear is so strong and how it can be overcome.