I was raised to believe that life doesn’t give you more than you can handle. I clung to that belief for a very long time. It was a mantra of sorts to get myself to work a little harder to get through the toughest times. To put in more hours when more hours were needed. To be more focused when I was tired but I just needed to do a little bit more. To say yes to interesting problems that came my way. To lend a helping hand to others who needed it.
I don’t think my story is unique to me. I think many of us were raised to push ourselves a little bit harder. To do a little more than we think we can. To get outside our comfort zone.
Sometimes that is the best thing we can possibly do. To push our own boundaries. To do more. To do better. To seize every opportunity that comes our way. But sometimes that impulse to handle everything set before us and take on even more is what leads us to complete and total burnout.
It’s that scenario that I want to address today. Identifying that burnout line and finding a way to keep folx from stepping over it.
At the very best of times when things are stable and well, burnout is still a problem that many suffer from. It’s not isolated to one part of a person’s life. It can stem from and impact our job, projects to which we contribute, family, friends, school, and anything else that is an important part of our lives.
As we’re nearly a year into a global pandemic that has added stress to the lives of so many, I thought there couldn’t be a better time to address burnout. What it is and how we can protect ourselves and others.
Before we go much further I’d like to make sure you all know that I’m not a mental health professional. I’m not a burnout expert. But I have experienced burnout and seen it in others I work with. It’s something that I constantly look to avoid for myself and also to help those amazing community members I work with avoid.
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.”https://www.helpguide.org/
Burnout isn’t as simple as being tired after a long week of work or boredom and frustration while working on a project or event, though those are certainly signs that a person may be heading that way. Burnout is like hitting productivity rock bottom.
The signs and symptoms of burnout are often the same as those of folx struggling with depression, anxiety, and exhaustion. While this list is by no means exhaustive, it’s a good sample of things folx have expressed feeling leading up to and during burnout:
- Feeling tired or drained most of the time
- Disinterest in things that usually make you happy
- Feeling unmotivated
- Having an excessively negative perspective
- Not feeling pride or satisfaction when you’ve achieved or completed something
- Being short tempered
- Procrastinating (if you’re not a regular procrastinator)
- Avoiding communications
- Feeling detached or alone
- Not caring about something that once had meaning to you
A look at the long term impact.
If all of the above isn’t bad enough in the moment, there are some long term effects of burnout that make it even worse.
From a personal perspective, being burned out doesn’t impact just one portion of your life. It threads its way into everything. It can lead to long term physical and mental health issues and break down relationships and projects we hold dear.
From a project perspective, it has similar insidious consequences. The most innocuous of which is missed deadlines and communication breakdowns, the worst of which being a loss of phenomenal community members and contributors to the project.
How do we avoid it?
There is no magic solution to avoiding burnout. If there was a switch I could flip to keep all of you from burning out I most certainly would. The best way I have found to avoid burnout or to turn it back when I seem to be heading down that path is to be aware.
Keep an eye out for those warning signs in yourself and those you work with and be transparent about it. If you realize you’re suffering from burnout or on the road to burnout or see that someone else is please say something.
Get/give some help
Sharing your feelings of frustration or being heard can go a long way toward making things better. Seek the support of others in our project, talk to a counselor if that is an option for you, and do what you can to mitigate stress in all the areas of your life. Also this is an excellent time to say no to additional commitments and requests. Here’s an older Tuesday Trainings post with additional guidance to saying no when you’re asked to take on more than you can handle.
So many of the folx I’ve had the honor of working with in our community always put others before themselves. They make supporting and aiding others a mission and it is a beautiful thing to behold. But for those caretaking individuals it’s important to remember that you can’t take care of others if you’re not taking care of yourself. The phrase “you can’t pour from an empty cup” always makes the most sense to me here. Recognize your limits and make sure you’re not exceeding them. Give yourself a day off. Make sure you’re doing what needs to be done to care for both your physical and mental health.
Let’s talk about it.
More than anything with this post I hoped to call attention to a problem that I’m seeing far too often, especially right now. But I don’t think me reminding you not to get burned out should be the end of it. I’d love to hear from all of you on the topic of burn out.
Have you experienced burnout? Have you recovered from burnout? What do you find helps you when you start to feel burnout on its way? What is one thing you think we can all do to help others in our community?
It would be great see your answers in the comments.