Burned Out? Deal With it Before the New Year

The end of a calendar year is a typical time when many people, including myself, experience burnout. An extended time working without a vacation, the stress of deadlines that go along with bringing the old year to a close, coupled with the busyness of the holiday season is more than enough to put us over the edge.

Burnout is best defined by how it makes you feel: exhausted (emotionally and/or physically), suddenly disinterested in your hobbies or career, cynical/moody, and less proud of your accomplishments. This combination of negative feelings takes a toll; you get stressed out more easily, you have to work much harder to attain the same results, and you might not be too much fun to be around!

How can you tell if you have burnout? Thankfully you won’t experience all of the symptoms of burnout at once, but a few might sound familiar:

  • Cynical outlook
  • Critical judgment
  • Irritability
  • Procrastination
  • Decreased confidence
  • Trouble getting out of bed
  • Impatience
  • Headaches
  • Backaches
  • Loss of energy
  • Feeling unproductive
  • Feeling stuck
  • Perceptions of underachievement
  • Change in sleeping patterns
  • Change in eating habits
  • Increased alcohol consumption
  • Fatigue

How did this happen? What is the cause of your burnout? Some causes of your burnout could be:

  • Ambition – the determination to achieve a goal, prove ourselves, or compete with others can sometimes drive us to working with compulsion.
  • High Expectations – when expectations are set too high, many people would rather work harder and longer rather than fail to measure up.
  • Going Solo – if you have a tendency of relying on mostly yourself and doing everything yourself, when the plate gets full you have nobody to offload on.
  • Limited Recovery – if you spend your weekends, holidays, or vacations stressing, working, or even thinking about work, you aren’t getting the full benefits of that R&R time.
  • Conflicts – interpersonal clashes or work/life balance issues can zap your emotional energy, making you more susceptible to burnout.
  • Lack of Control – when you don’t have control over when you work, what you work on, or how you get it done, stress piles up quicker than when you have more autonomy.
  • Monotony – any constant is more likely to lead to burnout than a more varied experience. This might include constantly long hours, constant concentration, or a repetition of activity.
  • Isolation – without adequate social contact, you can begin to lose perspective on your situation and overgeneralize, catastrophise, or otherwise let your mind turn an ordinary problem into a much bigger issue.
  • Working in the Weeds – if you fail to take a step back and look at the bigger picture from time to time, you might lose perspective on your project and obsessively tend to the details.

Any one of these is usually not an issue. It’s when they begin to pile up that burnout strikes. In addition to the factors listed, if you are working in an organization that isn’t aligned with your values, if you are in a job that doesn’t fit your skillset or personality, or if there is a dysfunctional environment in the office, burnout comes much easier.

Recover from burnout by removing some of your stressors and managing your stress so you can return to your original productivity levels. For example, if you have a monotonous job, see if you can vary the order in which you complete your tasks, switch roles with someone once in a while, or complete work in rotating chunks. If meaningful changes absolutely cannot be made (and usually they can!), at the very least take the mental focus off your work by channeling your energy into pursuing a new or existing hobby.

Take time to deal with burnout. It needs to be just a temporary nuisance if you take steps to address it. Do it now so you can start off 2012 with renewed enthusiasm for your work and engagement in your daily life.

Eva Rykrsmith

Eva Rykrsmith is an organizational psychology practitioner. Her passion lies in bringing a psychology perspective to the business world, with the mission of creating a high-performance environment. Follow her @EvaRykr.

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