How to Stop Burnout Before It Stops You
You know how Sunday nights carry a kind of dread, no matter how many years you’ve been out of school? Well, the beginning of September feels like the annual equivalent to me. Summer vacation is already a distant memory (even if we just got back!).
This is why I set out to talk with burnout-studies expert Paula Davis-Laack for this week’s conversation. Consider this a preemptive exercise.
Paula is a friend and fellow graduate from UPenn's Positive Psychology masters program. She has coached thousands of professionals, even military personnel, in reducing stress and building resiliency skills and has written about combating burnout for tons of publications, including her blogs on The Huffington Post and Psychology Today.
Paula was a burnout victim herself, having spent seven years as a commercial real estate attorney before changing careers to help other “achieve-aholics” develop strategies for work/life balance. Nothing like getting the skills from someone who’s really been there, done that!
So how do you know if you’re really burned out or “just” stressed? “Burnout is a chronic disconnect from one or more aspects of your life that once gave you joy and energy,” explains Paula. With the operative word being chronic. And unlike stress, burnout is not remedied by taking a weekend off to recharge. Burnout digs in its heels and moves in.
Its most common symptoms: Exhaustion with a capital “E”; trouble getting out of bed; toxic levels of irritability, cynicism, a perceived decline in personal productivity—all the way to depression, anxiety and physical illness.
Bottom line: If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed and overextended for some time, self intervention is in order now. Paula goes into greater depth about all of this in our conversation, but here are a few of her suggestions for putting the brakes on burnout:
- Tell someone…everyone! Everyone relevant, that is. Confiding in a close colleague will most likely point out that you’re not alone, which can go a long way toward helping you understand burnout isn’t your fault. Talk to your spouse, clue in good friends. You might be surprised by their offers to take on some tasks in your personal life, thereby lightening your load and freeing up some time.
- Schedule a meeting with your boss. Come armed with suggestions for reassigning some of your responsibilities and/or pushing deadlines. A solutions-driven agenda will help avoid making you look (and feel) like you’re whining. Plus, there’s a better chance you’ll walk away with results that can be immediately implemented.
- Ask for help! If some in your inner circles haven’t offered assistance, it could just be that they’re not mind readers. Be specific with your requests and needs. Delegate. ("Honey, would you take over making dinners for a while," etc.) It takes a village...
- Look for the good stuff. Undermine the negative emotions with some positivity. Notice three good things that happened during the day and write them down. Make it a regular habit and don’t be surprised if you start sleeping better. (Paula will explain.)
As always, I’d love to hear your stories—the good, the bad and the fugly. Have you recovered from burnout? If so, what helped you? Share in the comments, or email me at Stella@woopaah.com.