Feeling Burned Out? Here's a Comprehensive Guide to Getting Your Life Back
Photo Credit: baki
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Summer 2013, Gaslight Coffee Roasters, Chicago, Illinois: I'm sitting staring at a computer screen, again. I'm exhausted, again. I feel like absolute shit incarnate.
I just spent the last year listening to these kinds of questions:
"How's that whole writing thing coming along?"
"Have you thought about part-time work?"
"Don't you have student loans to pay though?"
I ponder responding to those questions with the kind of answers I believe they deserve, but then I realize that I have to actually maintain relationships with those people.
It's been weeks since I've been able to write or do anything that pertains to my life ambitions. What am I supposed to do with that? How do you pick yourself up from the doldrums when you have nowhere to go? There's no foothold, nothing to firmly place your hand upon to hoist yourself up again.
How does one recover from burnout?
How do you start all over again?
What it means to burnout
There's no clear cut definition of what burnout is but the term first appeared in the 1970s from the psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. Freudgenberger and his colleague Gail North identified 12 stages that lead up to burnout:
These twelve stages don't necessarily have to happen in order. Some people experience them all, others only experience some of them.
The physiological symptoms of burnout are caused by our fight or flight response, which looks something like this:
Whether we like it or not, this response can be triggered by common work stressors (like trying to meet deadlines or finish projects).
Burnout occurs when the demands and stress placed on us exceed our physical and mental abilities to deal with them. We cheat ourselves out of the rest we need because we assume we can push past our breaking points. The bad news is, this is happening more frequently.
Forbes reports that since the economic downturn, many employers have cut resources, though you probably didn't need anyone to tell you that. The reduction of resources, and stagnant pay, has coincided with an increase in tasks and responsibilities. Employees feel an intense obligation to never say no.
Prior to my burnout, I said yes to everything. There was nothing I couldn't do, nothing I wouldn't do for my job. If I'm being honest with myself, what it all came down to was me not wanting to give anyone else the opportunity to say yes.
The point of no return
By the time I was willing to admit to myself that I was burnt out, it was too late. I had withdrawn socially and stopped being able to sleep. I found myself crying during the middle of the day for no good reason at all. I just wanted to do better, to work as hard as I thought everyone else around me was working. It was easier for me to tell myself to work harder than it was for me to face the truth -- that I needed a break.
Everyone needs a break from time-to-time. According to Scientific American, exposure to constant stress releases the hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol within the body. These hormones block your ability to properly process information--among a host of other health issues they cause.
When I say break, I'm not talking about a fifteen minute stroll around the block. I'm talking about some consecutive days off. The body takes a while to disconnect from the stress. That can take anywhere from a few days to a full week. Your physical and mental resources need time to regenerate. You didn't lose them overnight, so you can't expect to gain them back overnight either.