It was a season of a lot going on. New projects, lots of pressure. I was off balance in almost every area of my life. Working 14 hour days, 7 days a week with no down time with constant demands from many different directions - it was a stressful season to say the least. The way I dealt with the stress was to work harder, to attempt to alleviate that which was causing the stress. I was tense, irritable often and aware that I was falling short of what my wife and kids needed. I felt guilty about that. Very guilty in fact, and soothed the guilt with the platitude of “I was doing it for them” or “I will get through this and then things will be different.” This went on sometime. The classic signs of stress were showing. I longed for relief, to be able to just run away from it all but that wasn’t really an option.
I woke up one morning and instead of hopping out of bed and hitting the floor running, I didn't feel like it. I couldn't. Oh, I knew all the things that had to be done and while I felt the sense of obligation and anxiety - it was very different this morning. While being aware of all the pressure and demands they felt like a detached part of me. It was like instead of in my face to get going, it was like it was screaming at me through a bucket of petroleum jelly. As I laid there, I became aware that I didn’t feel the stress, nor could not feel much of anything else. Pink Floyd has a song called “Comfortably Numb” and a portion of the song goes:
There is no pain you are receding
A distant ship’s smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move but I can’t hear what you say....
I have become comfortably numb*
Burnout is the place of exhaustion. Exhausted mentally, physically and emotionally, and is caused by prolonged excessive stress. The stress mercilessly pummels you and you feel overwhelmed and unable to keep up with everything going on in life and not really sure if you really care. Burnout inhibits your ability to work well. You find any obligatory task increasingly draining and this impacts your motivation. As this progresses, you begin to feel a deepening sense of futility as you feel helpless and like you just can’t keep up the pace. This often takes one to a place where one feels like they have nothing left to offer, and this leads to feelings of resentment, hopelessness and helplessness.
The insidious thing about burnout is, for many, we’ve all experienced seasons of these feelings. When getting out of bed and off to work takes every ounce of energy we can muster. It’s true, however if you have more days like this than good days, there is a good chance you are on the way to burn out.
The Warning Signs
- feeling out of control of your life. Like you have no other options to do things differently.
- frustrated by the lack of reward / recognition for your hard work. Like nobody cares.
- A sense of ambiguity of responsibility - what is actually expected of you.
- A sense of insatiable demands.
- Lack of meaning and purpose in your work or life.
- An unrelenting sense of crazy, chaotic work pace.
You may be on your way to burning out:
- if everyday is a bad day.
- if your work and / or home has a sense of futility.
- if you are always fatigued.
- if you spend the majority of your day in meaningless activity - bored stiff.
- if you spend the majority of time feeling like you are running just to keep up.
- if you feel you don’t matter any more.
In my case and in the case of many others who have experienced burnout, the affects are far reaching and spill from one area of our lives to another. Research also suggests burnout inhibits your immune system making you less resistant to colds and flu’s. There is some indication it also can have serious affects on your heart.
For these reasons, it is important to be aware of the signs of burnout and take preventive steps to take care of yourself. It is also important to recognize the symptoms of burn out so if you in fact are suffering from burnout you can take steps towards regaining health and a better sense of balance in life.
Recognize - watch for the warning signs.
Reverse - Start making a conscious effort to manage stress in healthier ways. Look to for ways to slow down - clear the schedule and put in place healthy boundaries.
Resilience - Get some support to help you learn to deal with stress more effectively by tending to your physical and emotional health.
* Comfortably Numb written by Roger Waters & David Jon Gilmour