To celebrate the ME day, we chose to talk about mental health and the importance of taking the necessary time and steps to take care of ourselves. We’ve decided to discuss the gruesome Burnout, as seen and narrated by one of our writers, as she puts an end to her burnout.
Some time ago, I woke up to a message on the group chat my friends and I have on Whatsapp. The message was from a friend of mine, a PhD candidate, who told us that she is quitting her four years-long PhD pursuit, to do some soul searching. Another friend, the coolest and collected of us all, jumped right in and asked why. The reply she received made me cringe. Total burnout, it read.
A few hours and a good amount of caffeine later, I was going about my day as usual – my face buried in the screen of my laptop, my fingers frantically typing in a hurry to meet yet another deadline. I willed my mind to focus and finish the article I was writing, but to no avail – the uneasiness of my friend’s reply remained with me and wouldn’t let me concentrate.
The truth is, Burnout and I have a somewhat heated history.
When Burnout Occurs
I won’t dwell on how I got knee-deep into the murky waters of burnout, but, I’ll ask you this:
Are you familiar with the feeling of being overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to cope with day’s constant demands? With the prolonged stress catching up with you, slowly – not noticing it at first, you begin to lose the interest and motivation in pursuing your goals or the role you have at work.
Then, one day you wake up and your achievements no longer can measure up, and you find that you are less productive than you usually are. There’s a little or no motivation to create. Soon enough, hopelessness, cynicism and resentfulness take over, and it’s hard to recognise that zestful person you were not that long ago.
At the end of the day, if asked, you’d say, I have nothing more to give. Well, you do. But that right there, that’s the burnout speaking. I should know, I haven’t recognised the burnout signs and, instead, blamed the way I felt on being stressed out. At the time, I justified my physical, emotional and overall mental state with ‘it’s fine’ statement. I would convince those around me that ‘Just a bit more, until the project finishes and everything will go back to normal.’
Are You Able to Differentiate Between Burnout and Stress?
I can’t remember caring to learn the reason behind the way I felt. And it wasn’t until a colleague of mine suggested I might be experiencing a burnout, that I brushed it off with my infamous ‘it’s fine, just a little bit stressed out.’
Not able to tell the difference between a total burnout and stress overload is nothing to be ashamed of, I assure you. After all, it took me some time to get the grasp of the condition I was in.
It just so happens that burnout is caused by a prolonged period under unrelenting stress. Our stress is not only connected to the life-defining moments we experience. It can be those little, almost unnoticeable situations and decisions you won’t remember down the road, that wear us down. We all strive to do our best, but when there are too many things happening, and they all feel urgent, we could experience stress due to the loss of control, as things start piling up. It’s vital you acknowledge this. However, this is far more than just having to deal with a lot of stress. Burnout causes you to experience a cycle of negative emotions, paralysis of will and withdrawal from people.
Rather than feeling low on energy, when experiencing a burnout you have a loss of motivation and hope. Instead of overreacting, your emotions are blunted. You won’t feel the urgency to do something, if you are burnt out the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness will flood you over.
Why is knowing the difference important? Because as much as we are able to tell when we are under stress, we are not so good at catching the feeling of being burnt out. But more importantly, knowing the difference is half the battle, as once we are aware of what is troubling us, we can take appropriate measures. This is especially important as the negative effects of burnout can spill over and affect the other parts of your life.
What Is Causing Our Burnouts?
Millennials, myself included, have a bad rep when it comes to burnout. We are the generation that demands a work-life balance, yet studies suggest that rather than applying the demanded balance, we are emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted.
Millennials are the very first generation that came of age in the era of hyper digitalisation. Most of us, excluding the youngest Millennials among us, were raised without access to cellphones, fast access to the Internet and the ‘winning’ mindset instilled in us by our parents (young Baby Boomers and Gen Xers). When it comes to our careers, the world of the Internet offers us opportunities that our parents and the generations before, were not able to imagine. With the shifted mindset, it appears that we still haven’t liberated ourselves from the way the world sees us – as the generation who is entitled. This and many other stereotypes surrounding the Millennials has contributed to our work ethics, the need to prove ourselves, and the fact that our generation is edging into burnout.
So what is causing our burnouts?
Most of our burnouts are work-related. But there is more to that. Anyone who feels they are overworked and underappreciated can experience the burnout, regardless of their work status. We need to keep in mind that we live in the digital era, where we are constantly available to others through our smartphones. With the occasional to constant notifications that seek our attention, the hyper availability is causing a feeling of guilt. Not replying instantly, within a short time frame or not being able to catch up with all the messages and notifications may lead to self-reproach, loss of motivation and the excess guilt.
What’s more, your burnout can also stream from your lifestyle and personality traits. Anything from not getting enough sleep, taking on too many responsibilities, lack of close supportive relationships, pessimistic approach to the world, perfectionist tendencies, high achieving personality and the need to be in control, can set you off on a path to a burnout.
Stay a Step Ahead of Burnout
Yes, we are more likely not to have time to introduce a new thing on our to-do lists than to have an opening slot. But, just like you are keeping a track of the number of steps you make on a daily basis, not to mention the time you dedicate to scrolling on social media platforms, you can take some time during a day to check in with yourself.
There are ample of apps on the market dealing with mental health. From simple tracking and monitoring apps to more complex and involved ones. While apps are a great way to monitor your mental health and stay on track, it is necessary that you take steps to get ahead of burnout.
Make sure you are kind to yourself and avoid putting unnecessary pressure. Do your best to sleep, eat and exercise in appropriate amounts. Take time to do what you love. See your friends, loved ones and don’t set your hobbies aside. Schedule it if necessary! A good tip is to colour code your calendar. With a quick look at your calendar, you’ll have an idea when to schedule in some time for yourself.
Unplug. Switch off those social media notifications from time to time. Set boundaries by saying ‘no’ to the amount of work that will push you over the edge. Ultimately, this will benefit both your employer and you, because you will be your most creative, most energetic, self. Don’t be afraid to change the situations that cause you a great amount of distress, even if it means having a talk with your boss.
Oh, One Last Thing!
Take a page out of my book and refrain from sweeping things under the rug. Be proactive in your choices and ways in which you deal with everyday situations. It is important to keep in mind that your mental health comes first, so be kind to yourself and don’t hesitate to seek help when needed. I strongly believe that no two cases can ever be alike, and it is ok to push for custom solutions, after all, we are the generation told to be unique and special.
Wonder how my burnout and I parted ways? It took some time, a lot of self-care and a promise to do my best and stay ahead of the burnout instead of running away from it.
In 2015 we started a ME day holiday that celebrates what makes us unique – a day to admire all of our achievements, embrace our one-of-a-kind personalities and connect to what is really important to us. In the wake of the Covid-19 virus and the WHO declaring the world pandemic, we are urging you to take good care of yourself and your loved ones.