…and knew in that instant that I needed to make a change. I found myself lying floor at 4am in a serviced apartment in New Plymouth. My eyes stared blankly into nothingness, my arms lay loosely on the floor as my body slumped lifelessly against the vanity cabinet in the small bathroom. I opened my eyes to the sound of her screams. I felt the adrenaline surge through my veins as I was pulled back from darkness. “What happened? Where was I?” The realisation hit me as she wrapped her arms around me pulling up into more of a seated position. What I saw next drove home my decision to make the change. My daughter stood peering through the bathroom door. Awoken by the screams she came rushing over only to find her dad lying in a lifeless slump. It took me a while to work up the strength to get off the tiled floor but eventually made it back to the bed. How did it all go so terribly wrong and what decision did I make?
Rolling back in time to at least 4 months earlier and you would have found me working a minimum of 60 hours a week, studying a psychology paper (I was considering taking on two!), trying to give as much time to my family, and trying to stay in shape…the waistband of my trousers was having a few challenges of its own! This is what my daily routine looked like… I would rise early to work from home, go into work, work through the day, wolf down my lunch at my desk, race home in the evening to spend time with my girls and spend the rest of the evening studying after they went to bed. And, yes! I have a very supportive…and patient…wife!
I was really looking forward to the break over Christmas and planned to leave all my work and study behind me so I could just enjoy the couple of weeks with my family. I’m sure you’ve heard this story before or maybe even experienced it yourself…as soon I stopped going at a 100 miles an hour my body just caved. I, of course, ignored the symptoms because I’m bulletproof and besides, I know all about this stress stuff…unfortunately my body had a different plan. For the last four months I’d been living on adrenaline and although I was keeping a close eye on how I was feeling I wasn’t taking those little breaks to release the building allostatic load. My immune system was battling just to keep me standing and it eventually exhausted itself leaving me exposed to every virus imaginable (a cocktail of viruses as the doctor referred to it.) This was my first experience of burnout. I’m been tired before and I’ve worked really hard before but never have I exhausted myself to the point where my body forced me to stop.
So what are some of the subtle (and not so subtle) signs that you or one of your team might be heading towards burnout?
Essentially burnout is your body’s response to chronic stress. It culminates in physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. Let’s break these down some more…
Physical and Emotional Exhaustion
- Fatigue and insomnia – you may feel anything from being physically tired and lack energy for the day to being drained and depleted, dreading the day ahead. Having trouble sleeping is also a sign that things are building which only exacerbates the fatigue.
- Forgetfulness and lack of focus.
- Increased illness – being more susceptible to colds and flus.
- Anxiety and anger – anything ranging from irritation and tension to angry outbursts. Things that would normally be outside of calm demeanour.
Cynicism and Detachment
- Loss of enjoyment – either at work or socially…or both.
- Pessimism – negative self-talk that may lead to trust issues with fellow workers and even family.
- Isolation and detachment.
Signs of Ineffectiveness and Lack of Accomplishment
- A feeling of apathy and hopelessness – the recurring thought, “What’s the point?” becomes the dominant in your mind.
- Increased irritability – tied to anxiety and anger above.
- Lack of productivity and poor performance.
It wasn’t until I stepped away and made my decision that things started to change. It didn’t happen immediately either, it can take some time to get back on the rails. I wasn’t aware I was heading for burnout and I didn’t experience everything above but looking back some of them felt like old friends that I’d being carrying for some time.
So what decision did I make…ultimately I decided that life is too short not to pursue your passion and do the things that you love to do. I let go and by letting go I’ve created a vacuum that have started to attract other opportunities into my life. I don’t know where it’s going to lead to but I’m excited and I’m surprised at how quickly opportunities are beginning to show up!
If you’d like to know more about burnout and managing stress, or if you’d like to explore how coaching can help you become a better leader (of others or yourself!), or even if you’re just generally curious about what professional coaching can offer you, please contact us at any time for a free consultation.