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Don’t let burnout take over your life

Burnout: It happened to me years ago and it wasn’t fun. If you are a high performer, one of those workaholics, super passionate and highly committed professionals, there’s a good chance that you experienced it, or you will experience it at some point in your life. Or, you’re experiencing it right now without even realizing it. You work long hours, the heavy workload feels like “no big deal” because you love what you do, and you keep going without giving your body (and your brain) a necessary break. Does it sound familiar?

That was me back in 2011. I remember I would work like crazy because I loved what I was doing, I would say yes to every client all the time, I would pay attention to my clients and not to myself, I would avoid friends and family because “I was busy with my career”. At the end of the day, I would be so exhausted that I didn’t have time for myself. But that wouldn’t stop me from working after dinner until late at night, only to sleep three to four hours because “I had very important things to take care of” the next morning. Seven days a week.

Then I realized I was horribly managing the 24 hours in my day. But how could I change that? I knew I was depleting my energy and resources, but I was (and still am) a perfectionist and a very ambitious business owner, so I felt I had no other choice. Keep going. On the other hand, I thought I was happy and satisfied with my success, but inside me, there was a huge void. I felt empty and exhausted. That dream career was not bringing me any joy and after all.

Burnout arrived, little by little until it hit me. Very hard. It negatively impacted my career, my personal life, and my relationships, not considering the – thankfully minor – health issues that came with it and I had to deal with. My body (and brain) were trying to tell me something. I finally listened. And I took action (you can read about my story HERE).

As you probably heard, the World Health Organization has now included burnout in its International Classification of Diseases Handbook describing it as an “occupational phenomenon” that results from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

I work from home, and many of my clients do, too. My story is very similar to theirs, especially because, when you work from home, you have a very hard time to leave work… at work. Your daily life is mixed with house chores, client calls, kids, meetings, deadlines, all the distractions of the digital world, and everything else that fills your busy day. It becomes a 24/7 routine if you try to do it all and you don’t know how to slow down and set boundaries. This can easily open the door to burnout.

Also, in our modern society, there’s a culture of busyness. We want to show that we’re constantly busy because it makes us look successful and important. On the other hand, we think that saying that we have time for ourselves and we live a balanced life, makes us look miserable. That used to be the case for me as well. But, were productivity and results proportionate to the number of hours I was putting into my work? Hardly.

Today, I value working smarter and finding the time for what’s important in life (and no, it’s not working 16 hours a day) more than “being busy”. You can be productive by working fewer hours if you take care of yourself in the right way (keep reading for self-care tips). That way, you can easily avoid burnout, accomplish more, and live better.

How do you know if you’re suffering from burnout?

You might experience any of these symptoms:

  • Fatigue (physical and mental)
  • Insomnia (yes, even if you’re very tired after a long day. Your mind can’t shut off)
  • Anxiety, overwhelm (you are worried about not being able to accomplish everything you have in your to-do list, and even the simplest deadline becomes a huge obstacle)
  • Negative thoughts (you have a pessimistic outlook about your current situation and about your future)
  • Hopelessness (nothing in your daily life seems to matter or make sense anymore, you lose confidence in yourself and in your future)
  • Difficulty to focus and to achieve results, poor performance, reduced productivity and creativity (your brain is simply drained)
  • Social withdrawal (you lose the joy of spending quality time with friends and family)
  • Feeling depressed (read about the difference between burnout, stress, and depression below)
  • Susceptibility to get sick (your immune system gets weakened)

All these symptoms inevitably lower the quality of your work, and they negatively impact the quality of relationships with your clients. Also, your self-esteem and confidence begin to suffer, and your overall well-being inevitably declines.

I remember asking myself, “What is happening to me? Why can’t I concentrate? Why can’t I accomplish what I used to do in no time?”

You have to be able to recognize those symptoms soon enough. Burnout builds up slowly, and you might not realize you’re going toward that path at the beginning. If you start noticing that your body and your brain are not cooperating and you feel off, address the cause(s) and find solutions as soon as possible.

The Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) is a 22-question assessment that measures your risk of burnout based on exhaustion, depersonalization and personal achievement. It’s not designed to diagnose or treat, but it’s a great tool to make you aware of possible burnout and act accordingly.

Not surprisingly, burnout is not only happening to entrepreneurs, freelancers, small business owners. This is a problem for large companies, too. Their employees inevitably experience burnout due to the high amount of pressure or lack of support, and they either reduce their performance or they quit, and this affects the company’s success (low productivity = low profits). I hope the corporate world will start making changes to the way they use their workforce very soon, and they will implement solutions to improve the quality of work of their employees so that they improve their well-being and their productivity. It becomes a win-win situation.

How is burnout different from stress or depression?

Many think burnout, stress, and depression are the same. While it’s true that some symptoms may overlap, they are pretty different.

Burnout vs. Stress – Stress is a natural response of our brain (and body) to a threat (often as simple as a thought) in our daily life. The response causes spikes in stress hormones that prepare us to react to the threat. Burnout is a condition that is caused by prolonged stress, usually work-related

Burnout vs. Depression – Burnout is, again, usually work-related, while Depression is more generalized. It impacts our personal life, relationships, and it can have several causes that need to be addressed in order for it to be properly treated. A possible cause that is being currently investigated is inflammation caused by a poor diet, lack of sleep, lack of physical activity, and it leads to chemical imbalances in the brain

How to reverse (or prevent) burnout?

Neuroscientists discovered that, in people with burnout, their frontal cortex (a brain area which is essential to cognitive functioning) shows a pronounced thinning. Also, connectivity between different parts of their brain is reduced, causing less working memory and problem-solving skills.

This confirms that burnout has serious consequences and we can no longer ignore it. However, it can be reversed.

Here are some tips that you can implement right now.

  • Give priority to self-care. We are human beings, not human doings. Self-care is not optional or a luxury, it’s a necessity. Our body and brain need to be taken care of. Eat whole, nutrient-rich foods that provide the right fuel and energy to keep you focused and productive throughout the day (and don’t forget to drink your water!); Sleep at least 6-8 hours every night to encode memory in your brain, restore and cleanse your cells so that you will be refreshed the next morning; Stay active regularly in order to feel better and boost your mood; Dedicate time to yourself by meditating, journaling, playing, nurturing hobbies, spending time in nature, etc. I talked more about self-care in this post. You can also check out my Love Yourself graphic with a list of physical, mental, spiritual, and professional self-care tips
  • Set your working hours and don’t work “after hours”, even if your home office is right across from your kitchen. It’s very tempting to work after dinner, but you have to dedicate time to yourself and to your family. This includes a big NO to checking your emails on your phone before going to bed
  • Schedule everything, including your free time, your “me” time, your fitness time, your “family and friends” time. Write everything down in your calendar and make those important activities non-negotiable. Don’t just think those precious hours will present themselves; they won’t. You have to set specific boundaries between your job and your life. We deserve time for ourselves and our loved ones (this includes your pets, too!)
  • Discuss clear expectations with your clients. Always underpromise and overdeliver. Don’t kill yourself to meet deadlines. For instance, tell them you will need three or fours days to deliver a project even if you’re confident it will just take 48 hours. Consider the unexpected in your daily life that might delay the delivery of that project
  • Incorporate relaxation techniques into your morning routine, before you go to sleep, or whenever you feel anxious during the day. These include meditation (perhaps repeating your motivational affirmations or mantras), mindfulness (different from meditation: this is the practice of focusing your attention on the present moment), or simple breathing cycles that decrease muscle tension, slow down your heart rate and calm your wandering mind. Even music can help ease your tension: just play something that has a calming and soothing effect
  • Rewire your brain. Our amazing brain is capable to reorganize itself and change its structure (depending on certain experiences in our daily life) by creating new neuronal connections. Let’s thank neuroplasticity for that. This is great when you want to develop a healthy habit, learn a new language, or practice positive thinking. But it can also play against you when it comes to bad behaviors, negative thoughts, or responses to stress. So, shift your mindset towards positivity. Practicing gratitude is an excellent way to increase positive emotions, boost your immune health and increase resilience to burnout
  • Learn to accept and let go – We cannot control everything (or everyone) in our life. We may have expectations and plans but life happens, and that’s okay. Just adapt to the circumstance and go from there. Also, don’t let negative thoughts be in control of your life. Thoughts come and go
  • Take a break from the digital world once in a while, maybe during the weekend. You will feel much more relaxed, recharged, and ready for a new week the next Monday!
  • If you feel technology is seriously contributing to your distractions and decreasing your creativity and productivity, you have to do much more than a “digital detox”. You have to start utilizing your talents and skills again to regain control of your life. One great way to do so is reading Lifescale by digital analyst and futurist Brian Solis. I love this book for different reasons: besides aligning completely with my holistic life coaching practice, it takes you through your own journey of re-discovery, redefining success as you envision it, with more control and clarity. That’s how you will utilize technology to your advantage for greater results (and less stress = burnout)

Don’t let burnout take over. Identify what’s causing it and take action to put yourself in the driver’s seat of your life. And even if you don’t think you’re suffering from burnout, follow the tips I shared anyway: your body and brain will thank you and they will work even better!

Do you feel constantly stressed? Are you experiencing burnout? Maybe it’s time to reorganize your personal and professional life. I would love to help! Schedule your FREE Clarity Call with me today.

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