‘That is something that happens to others, not me’, always said with a sneer.
The amount of times that I have heard this from friends, colleagues and clients alike, recounting tales of their inability to make good decisions or to think clearly. We’ve all been there - unmotivated, depressed and chronically stressed. Leading to exhaustion, illness, moodiness, lack of sleep, headaches and being short-tempered – all the time.
Hands up if you recognise these symptoms?
Burnout is something that isn’t openly spoken about, but it’s serious and has many implications. And here’s the thing about burnout - there isn’t a magic pill for recovery. Recovery can take over two years and this doesn’t include the denial stage which eventually leads to burnout.
So what is burnout?
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.
Given its impact, why are so many still in denial about it?
We live in a society, where we keep having to prove ourselves time after time. Burning out isn’t seen as a negative, it’s seen as a symptom of success. We’re subconsciously told ‘if you’re busy you must doing well’. It’s treated as a badge of honour. Workaholics and people who are slaves to their career are celebrated. It’s become the norm to boast about yet another all-nighter or the fact one hasn’t eaten a wholesome meal in ages or exercised or showered in an age. I think that this quote sums it up perfectly...
‘There is a huge amount of pressure as a founder to never show weakness and to be the cheerleader in all internal and external situations.’
S Altman, Y Combinator
Yes, you have to work and there will always be periods of almost unmanageable busy-ness. But these should not be regular or frequent. If they are, there is something seriously wrong with your business model. Additionally, temporary stress can be motivating but chronic stress is debilitating.
So what can you do about it?
Firstly recognise burnout and its symptoms. Some were mentioned earlier but here is a full list. You don’t need to have all of them to be burnt out but the sooner you recognize that you might be, the better you will be able to manage the situation.
Signs of physical and emotional exhaustion:
• Chronic fatigue
• Physical symptoms eg chest pain, headaches, weight loss/gain
• Increased frequency of illness
• Anxiety and/or Depression
• Anger, irritability, irrational outbursts
• Signs of cynicism, isolation and detachment
• Loss of enjoyment, pessimism, feelings of apathy and hopelessness
• Signs of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment
• Lack of productivity, poor performance and judgment
Secondly, do what’s good for you. Sleep, eat well, exercise, meditate, take mini breaks, reassess your workload, come away from your phone, spend time with family and loved ones, and enjoy life. You can work all your life but if you aren’t enjoying the fruits of your labour, what’s the point?!
These things may seem counterintuitive to reach your professional goals but you won’t reach them if you are burnt out. You’ll be surprised at how taking time for yourself and your health will help your career in the long term. You can read more from an article I wrote here for my blog.
And last but not least, look at the bigger picture. Are you as effective as you can be, and how can you be better? What needs to change, how can you be more productive, where does your focus need to be? Who else can help? Changing perspective will dramatically change the way you work and the trajectory of your career. And do this regularly and often. You can’t be the best version of you when you’re not thinking clearly whilst speeding through trying to get things done. And you certainly won’t be able to do it if you’re burnt out.
It’s really clear that allowing yourself to burnout will benefit absolutely no one. There isn’t a single advantage to it.
Think about it this way, if you were looking to place a bet on a race, would you put money on a thoroughbred who didn’t eat well, exercise or train and nor sleep?
Karen Kwong is a highly experienced executive & business coach who has worked with start-ups and social enterprises through to large established corporates (including FTSE100 companies) across a number of industries including financial services, engineering, retail and media & communications. She also advises boards on their dynamics. Added to this, she spent almost twenty years working at a senior level in fund management. She also has a Masters in Organisational Psychology. For more please see here or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org