My friend Ashley and I email about work periodically. It's a modern equivalent of the Felicity tapes, but with a Lean In theme. Not too long ago we shared some notes on burnout. I know a bit about work stress, and I definitely know about burnout. I'll spare you the laundry list of battle scars, but last year I experienced rolling waves of changes at work, necessitating rolling waves of recommitment to said work while exhaustion mounted and emotions were increasingly frayed.
It wasn't burnout, not even close, because I managed - with very minor success - to mitigate it. I did some things right, a few things wrong and in hindsight, I would have handled it all very differently.
Burnout is not a black & white thing, either. Like anything relating to our mental and emotional health, there is a broad spectrum of symptoms and experiences to be had. Mayo Clinic suggests starting with nine questions to determine whether or not you might be experiencing burnout. Be honest with yourself, and take note. Ignoring stress is a lose/lose/lose situation for your mental health, your physical health and your success at work.
The questions include:
- Have you become cynical or critical at work?
- Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started once you arrive?
- Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?
- Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
- Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
- Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
- Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
- Have your sleep habits or appetite changed?
- Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, backaches or other physical complaints?
See what I mean? Sometimes you have some of those things, and sometimes you have them worse than other times. I also think that the more alarming "yes" answers come at questions 7, 8 and 9. For questions 1-6, I have a few tips to share and I hope you find them useful.
Rest ≠ Being Stationary
First off, let's remember it is a total fallacy that there's no time left in the day to take care of yourself. There is time.
Where does the time come from? It's probably the time you're sitting on the couch "relaxing" with wine or beer or being a little lazy because you "deserve it." I am a huge fan of lazy days catching up on Netflix or evenings cuddled up on my couch, but it's not always the most restorative way to spend my time.
I made a huge mistake last year by defaulting to being lazy at home (often alone) during times of high stress. About once a week that was good for me to do, but by and large doing things that are good for my body, brain and heart win every time.
Write a list of things that make you feel good - long walks, yoga, grabbing coffee with your partner, playing with the dog, calling a friend, baking, cleaning...WHATEVER. Now, every time your inclination is to go sit on the couch or linger in bed for way too long on a Saturday morning, you hit up that list and do something on it. It will 100% feel like a chore. You will 100% try to rationalize why being lazy is the best course of action. Willpower. You have it. Keep your eye on the prize and remind yourself that you'll feel better when you're done.
Change Your Scenery
I know, I know. Now is the worst time to take time off! You have way too much on your plate.
Newsflash: it's always a bad time to take vacation. And yep, you probably do have too much on your plate. But I also bet you're not doing all of it very well either.
The name of the game here is perspective. You want to get some, stat. Getting out of my routine and stepping out of my day-to-day is the best way shake off some of the cobwebs I've built up. It doesn't have to be far, luxurious or expensive. Even just one night in a different place can be enough to recalibrate and help put things in...perspective.
There's An App For That
Life doesn't stop when you're burnt out and, frankly, shit still needs to get done at home. Now is a great time to automate or call in help for as many menial or mundane chores in your life as you've got. Why? Because your time, for now, is best spent focusing on restorative activities.
Laundry...time to try Washio. Grocery shopping...pull up Instacart. Cleaning the house...get a Groupon for a maid service. If you're thinking, "I can't afford that, Alejandra!" Instead, think about it like this: your time = money.
Would you rather, spend an hour and a half grabbing coffee with a girlfriend and playing catch with your dog at the park (AND get your grocery shopping done at the same time) OR would you rather ONLY go grocery shopping and then feel like you have no time or energy left for said time with girlfriend and the dog? Would you pay $9 for the trade off? Because that's how much you'll add to your grocery bill if you use Instacart.
If you still feel like these things are slightly unaffordable - good! Put a deadline on the amount of time you're going to be using services like these because you're also going to put a deadline on dealing with the crazy schedule/crazy situation/crazy hours/crazy people. Double incentive.
No Means No!
Good chances are, if you're burnt out, you're a workaholic with an identity closely tied to your job. Nothing magical here: say no. Especially say no to the work-related events that you inevitably feel obligated to attend. Say no to happy hours! Say no to staying late! Say no to networking events! Say no to exclusive, special, VIP, invite-only, last chance ever events! Say no to things that don't restore you or help catapult you into a less-burnt out place.
You have to strike a balance with your time because in all of these situations you are expected to bring the best version of yourself. You can't do that if you aren't well-rested.
Times of craziness, even when wholly positive can be such a slippery slope. Don't fall into the yes trap because you have professional FOMO or you're worried you'll loose professional momentum. Your career is a marathon, not a sprint. Turning down a networking event or a happy hour one time will not kill every future opportunity. Going to two fewer networking events a week will not diminish your personal brand. Not staying late for once does not make you look lazy.
A trusted advisor of mine talks a lot about how important generosity of spirit is to her when choosing friends. I feel like kindness or generosity of spirit is something that we assume is a given, and end up overlooking it when it comes to ourselves and others.
The truth is, when we are stressed out (okay, when I am stressed out) we just stop communicating, like, even with the guy at the coffee shop. Or we get testy, impatient - a bull in a china shop, really. Stress and a lack of sleep diminishes our capacity to regulate our own emotions appropriately.
Related: #GSD Sleep Edition
And so, I challenge you, that in the stressiest of stressed moments, or the tired-est of coffee ordering moments, you actively engage in even the smallest gesture of kindness. A smile! Holding the door for someone. A small kiss for a loved one. Return the "Hello!" from your barista with something other than a grunt and a grumble about how tired you are. Pulling yourself out of your own shit makes a difference and watching someone be delighted will rub off on you.
Managing work stress, especially when you really, really care about your work, never seems easy. I don't know why, but taking care of ourselves or balancing the scales to reprioritize our own health sneakily slips to the bottom of the to-do list every time.
If I can leave you with just one nugget (that I need to remember myself) it is this: if you truly want to be bad ass at work, you need to be a happy, healthy and whole person to do it. Sacrificing in your 5-9 life will not pay off forever in your 9-5 life. In fact, it's a game of diminishing returns from day one.
Image Source/Buy: Etsy maker ClassyDay.