January 11, 2016

The Road to Burnout (is riddled with potholes)

You would think that after experiencing the downtime that comes with the holiday season, many of us would be rested and ready for the hustle and bustle of 2016.  Interestingly, but not surprisingly, I have since talked to many of my friends learning of their "busy" Christmas season followed by the flu (or a cold, or feelings of exhaustion). From parties to traveling for family get togethers, twas the season for busy busy busy! I was not only left suffering from vicarious exhaustion, I was thinking I might need more friends or a social life of some kind (after spending most of my holidays in my PJs binge watching some fabulous show no Netflix).  The result of my vacation schedule, however, left me feeling energized and ready to get back to it in January!

It leaves me questioning why some people are able to say "no" more often than others? In the case of a few friends of mine, some felt the pressure to attend parties while other felt the extreme desire to socialize even if they were too tired to lift a wine glass.  At any rate, there comes a time in everyone's life when the skills of saying "no" and the awareness of our limitations (for the health of it) become necessary....or we risk the dreaded burnout.

If you have gone through true burnout before, you will know just how much it sucks and how long it takes to climb out of that big black hole.  After working full time and interning at night (to achieve my MA in counselling psychology) I suffered terrible burnout to the point of suicidal thoughts and extreme feelings of loneliness. Luckily for me, the internship was coming to a close and I knew enough about burnout, depression, and suicide to know that I wasn't at risk but needed to stop.

It has been almost one year now and I finally feel like I'm (almost) back to myself again. I stopped exercising, writing, and socializing. Those things that I took pleasure in before, meant nothing to me. I became isolated and (to be perfectly honest) a bitch to others. I've only done this once before when I was starting my career and promised I would never do it again....but it sneaks up on those most susceptible (those that have a passion and drive to reach a certain goal). My goal was to finish my internship in time so I wouldn't have to pay another semester's tuition (in addition to my interest and passion in the work).

So what are the signs of burnout?  The physical signs may include body aches and pains, chronic fatigue, lack of sleep and changes in eating habits. The emotional signals may include feelings of hopelessness (that's a bad one), feeling defeated, alone, and losing all satisfaction in accomplishments.  Behaviourally, the signs may be isolation, procrastination, lack of care and attention to home and relationships, and coping with substances (or food, shopping, TV, and the like).

Chronic stress and burnout are similiar.  Above is a list of symptoms that could relate to each. In my experience, a sense of hopelessness comes more from burnout than chronic stress (but we are all different). Once the hope is lost, the problem becomes more severe.  In my opinion, where there's hope, there's life.

Burnout comes to those with perfectionist standards, a drive to succeed in a career, and the like.  Although I was working on my own perfectionism (through letting go and accepting) I still held onto certain beliefs about myself and success (a work in progress I guess).  For "my people" out there who relate, the key is awareness and making time for stress management, healthy eating, sleep, and seeking a helping professional if feelings of burnout start creeping in. If you ignore the problem it will only get worse ...guaranteed!

It's also very important to get used to saying "no" more often and treating yourself as your number one priority.  If your body needs to stay in, enjoy a healthy dinner, and go to bed early don't ignore it.  It's easy to put aside trivial needs like sleep and rest to go out and party like a rock star or work into the wee hours, but the long term effects of such decisions may bite you in the ass later on.  One day, going to bed early will be held in high regard rather than burning the midnight oil....I hope.


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