Keep burnout at bay

Candles Burn in a Church Courtyard During Corpus Christi

No wonder our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents talk so longingly about how much more relaxed life seemed in their youth. A quick Internet search reveals the term burnout didn’t go mainstream until about 1980. That’s when headlines suddenly began warning that health professionals, office workers, parents, priests, ministers, teachers, perfectionists, coaches, air-traffic controllers, child stars, and holiday celebrants were in danger of incinerating. Burnout, the papers proclaimed, was pandemic. People were even burned out on talking about burnout.

Three decades later things have gotten worse. A recent survey of British human-resource execs by Capital Learning and Development finds that two-thirds are worried about their employees burning out from added responsibilities following recession-based layoffs. And the outsourcing provider found more than half those HR execs are concerned extra duties have kept employees from learning new technologies. Their skills are becoming obsolete, which could impede them from fully exploiting any economic recovery.

Great. The technologies intended to make life easier have become so burdensome people are too burned out to learn the technologies intended to make life easier. And that could jeopardize the world’s economic recovery.

So … what can you do to avoid burning out and destroying the world? Try these suggestions:

• Maintain your balance.  A little self-awareness is in order. Begin by acknowledging that you are a multi-faceted being. Beware of allowing your identity to get wrapped up in one aspect of your life, whether it’s your job; your position as a spouse, partner, parent, or caretaker; or your role in extracurricular activities such as volunteer work or homeschooling. Don’t let any individual area of your life become the focal point of your self-esteem. If things start to deteriorate, you’ll sacrifice your health and relationships to protect that priority. The more fatigued, isolated, and unbalanced you become, the more likely you’ll burn out. Then things will really deteriorate.

• Learn the magic word. You are not a superhero, and you can’t save the world by yourself. Nor can you save your industry, your company, your marriage, your kids, the souls of your neighbors, the ravages of your community, or the political identity of the nation … not without the help, cooperation, or support of others. People who believe they have some special superpower to fix everything around them usually never figure out the one magic word that would save them from their personal kryptonite: No. You cannot take on every request or tilt at every windmill and maintain your equilibrium. Unless you learn to pick and choose your battles, you will burn out. And once that happens, you won’t be useful to anyone, including yourself.

• Watch for the signs. You’re in the best position to notice signs that you’re starting to spontaneously combust. Be on the lookout for three types of warnings:

• Physical … feeling unusually fatigued, experiencing headaches or body aches, being unable to sleep or having nightmares, and under- or overeating.

• Emotional … feeling depressed, anxious, frustrated, trapped, bored, mentally exhausted, disinterested, easily irritated or distracted, overly sensitive, and bad-tempered.

• Psychological … feeling indispensible, assuming you are the only one who can handle tasks, not wanting to take vacations or time off, preoccupied with your focal issue no matter what you’re doing

Unfortunately, you may be so caught up in your drama that you fail to notice your own signs of meltdown. So pay attention when others start telling you to slow down, take a break, get away for a few days, or delegate some tasks. Obviously, they’ve detected signals you’ve ignored. Instead of biting the heads off messengers, be grateful for the heads-up … and start working to douse the flame while you can.


  • rachel r hickman:

    I’m getting a little better at this in my old age! Thanks for the reminder!

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I'm Deborah, survivor of everything from multiple cancer battles to major business setbacks. Join my search for ways to move the mountains, big & small, that block your path to success.
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