We hear the term “Burnout” a lot these days. I’ve met people who said they had Burnout. I would think “They are so delicate – get over it.” until I experienced it – and it’s absolutely frightening.
The World Health Organization defines Burnout as:
“…a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.
It is characterized by three dimensions:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
- reduced professional efficacy.
Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”
I became curious – ONLY in the occupational context?? Not in other areas? Well, I disagree because my burnout didn’t come just from work – it came from all areas of my life colliding together all at once, like a perfect storm.
Here is a definition from Helpguide.org that I feel is better aligned with the meaning: “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. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.
Burnout reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.
The negative effects of burnout spill over into every area of life – including your home, work, and social life. Burnout can also cause long-term changes to your body that make you vulnerable to illnesses like colds and flu. Because of its many consequences, it’s important to deal with burnout right away.”
And – oh yea, I got COVID right after all of this – after dodging it for over 2 years.
Here is a super abbreviated timeline of how it all went down:
My kitchen and hallway floors were covered with shower water from a leak in a neighbor’s apartment. The neighbor vanished and the building management did nothing. I lived with damaged walls and hardwood floors for 3 months as I could not fix my damages until the neighbor fixed his shower.
A second massive flood happened from another neighbor’s apartment with water flowing into my kitchen like a waterfall for about 30-45 minutes. I frantically put towels and buckets out to protect my floors and also ran to find the superintendent of the building. That flood resulted in major damages to my kitchen, hallway, living room and dining room. The next three months led to said “Burnout.”
Oh, yes, did I also mention that about a week before the second flood, my boyfriend wanted to put the “brakes” on…permanently?
This began the process of trying to navigate through three water mitigation companies, three insurance companies, contractors who did not return calls or wanted to rip me off and supplies that were not available. The worst was trying to dodge contractors who saw “a woman” and tried to hike prices and give me incorrect info – like telling me my entire kitchen needed to be ripped out and I needed to leave my home and stay at a hotel, all while they were eyeballing my Johnnie Walker Blue and Don Julio 1942. They told me not to worry; they would pack everything up and put it in storage. I would have put money on the fact that I would never see Johnnie or Don again. No thank you.
During this time, I actually found my dream house 2 hours away. So, all of this led to something wonderful, but the workload did not cease.
I closed on my dream home and was spending weekends at the house meeting with more contractors while trying to fix my apartment. I was also having the busiest month of my year – did I mention that I was a new business owner? Oh yes, that too, I was running a business.
And then it happened – my mind and body just totally shut down. There were days when I didn’t think I would be able to get out of bed. There were times when I could not think, my brain just didn’t want to work at all; and that terrified me. I didn’t have the kind of lifestyle to be able to shut down. My motto was always, “I will just power through it.” But even with all the powering through it – any human would eventually run out of steam and just stop.
The problem was that I wasn’t doing anything to take care of myself. Did I mention that I started physical therapy twice for two issues? My body was shutting down in many different ways.
What I didn’t realize is that Burnout is a slow gradual process and it creeps up on you. You think you are fine and can power through this or that, but that is just a smoke and mirrors game we are playing with ourselves. We are getting signals all the time. The key is to pay attention to those signals.
One big thing I came to realize was that if I was going to get through this incredibly stressful time I had to start focusing on how to take care of myself:
- I started meditating more often.
- I went on vacation for 10 days, even though I worked for part of it. Getting away and not dealing with the mess of the apartment was absolutely necessary
- I got a massage. While one measly massage didn’t do much, it was better than no massage.
- I was kinder to myself.
- I focused in on the joy of moving into my dream home.
After this I started paying more attention to me all the time – asking myself, what did I need in the moment?
- I had to say “no” more often and set boundaries.
- Focus on me first – I wasn’t going to be able to make everyone happy around me; I needed to take care of me.
- Have more self-compassion. My new house might be messy for a while. I wanted to give myself time to unpack, and that’s OK.
- Do things just for me. I needed to build my community in my new town.
- Talk to someone – luckily, I have a coach. I’ve had one for many years and he helped me see more clearly the actions I needed to take.
If you are stressed out and overwhelmed, don’t power through it just because you can. You may say, “But what can I do? I have to power through!” Ask for help. I did not ask for help, and that made it all more difficult. Take care of YOU.