Does Work Light Your Fire or Lead to Burnout?

Burnout is real. While the signs of burnout might be subtle, the emotional, physical, and psychological damage is severe. We put together this blog to share some signs of burnout and our four-step program to stop and prevent burnout and get on the road to recovery. 

What Is Burnout?

The APA Dictionary defines burnout as physical, emotional or mental exhaustion, accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance and negative attitudes towards oneself and others. The symptoms of burnout include:

  • Fatigue
  • Changes to diet or sleep patterns
  • Headaches
  • Cynicism 
  • A loss of connection with your job

As the founder of Ziel Leadership, my story with burnout is personal. Years ago, with my hair on fire, crackberry in hand, juggling parenting, life and a career, I felt like I was careening off a cliff. I wondered, “Why am I doing any of this?”

Then I realized one of the most dangerous sentences in the American vocabulary is, “I got this.” 

How Do You Avoid Burnout?

Ending and healing from burnout or preventing burnout first begins by acknowledging: “I don’t got this.” Once you do that, you can commence to stop burnout and heal from it or prevent it altogether. At Ziel Leadership, we have a four-step solution for avoiding burnout. 

  1. Determine the sources of your stress
  2. Ask for help. 
  3. Connect with your friends and family 
  4. Practice being present 

This isn’t a one-and-done program though. You have to develop new skills, practice them and continue to practice them throughout your life. 

Worried about burn-out in your organization? Give us a shout!

Determining the Source of Your Stress

We are over-saturated with stimuli in our daily lives. When we step away from the stimuli, we can look inward into the source of our stress and process it. Then we can ask for help and prevent burn-out.  

I am a recovering news junkie — checking for headlines, looking for uppers and downers in a way that distracts from my stressors. Today, I am learning how to disconnect from stimuli and lean into my stressors. Then, I can better understand why I feel them, what they reveal, and what my intuition is trying to tell me. 

Be curious about your emotions and what they might be telling you. Take a few days to journal and pinpoint your main stressors at work. Then you can reduce your exposure to those stressors, whether it be a task, a person or environment. You can also try exercise, meditation or other mindfulness practices to help quiet the noise and focus on what’s really affecting you.  

Remember though, not all stress is bad. There is positive stress. Goals that create a tension between where I am and where I want to be is positive stress. Negative stress is corrosive — physically, mentally and emotionally. A mentor and friend once told me -— “Worry is the malicious misuse of the imagination.” 

When I step away from the distractions and quiet my mind, I can take time to figure out the type of stress — Is it positive? Is it negative? — and its source — What goal am I trying to meet? Am I just worrying unnecessarily? — to clarify what I need, and ask for help. 

Ask for Help to End Burnout

I’ve learned that what got me here — asking for and receiving help — will keep me here. But this act benefits more people than just me. Engagement and success are a team sport.

Learning to ask for help creates opportunities for people to bring their very best into our lives and helps us all grow. I’ve denied a number of people these opportunities by not asking for help. 

Asking for help also ensures that we meet the group’s stated goals. I’m lowering my team’s chances for success by not asking for help. In these ways, not asking for help can be a selfish act that subtracts from my team’s potential and the potential of its members. 

Asking for help also frees me up to invest my time where it’s needed most — with me, my family, friends, team and clients — in that order. 

Like many of you, in a few weeks, I’ll be on vacation. I will need to ask for help. I’ll need to consider all the things that worry me about disconnecting. By leaning into the worries and identifying the needs behind them, I can request the support I need to keep my promises. We serve others best when we are physically, mentally and emotionally capable of doing so. 

Connect With Your Family And Friends

The founder and chairman of Degreed, David Blake, recently sent a message to the company’s thousands of employees, “Degreed is not your family,” he said. “Your family is your family, and your family is more important than Degreed.” He was right.

Of course, I care about my team and our clients. Of course, I hope we keep our promises to each other like a family does. But work is just one part of life, and lives are healthier when people have strong, deep, and caring connections with family and friends outside of work. Connect with yourself. Connect with your family and friends – the people who will care for you when you are done with work. 

Set Boundaries & Practice Being Present

The first three parts of this program are most effective when you are present — caring for others, unselfishly, with grace, and without regret. But that requires setting boundaries and effectively communicating them. 

Fighting the wildfires of burnout this summer will involve intentionally practicing being present in all aspects of your life — at home, with your family, community and at work. Deep connecting, caring relationships that help us thrive through an uncertain world. Give the person you are with all of your attention — with empathy.  

The outside world has a way of putting us in a blender and mixing the past, present and future into a blur. I have clients spanning five time zones — they work hours I don’t. Setting boundaries and not being available when they are may seem risky, but there is a difference between perceived and real risk, or as Steven Covey wrote, between urgent and important tasks. Humans are lousy at differentiating.  

When you leave the office, don’t let work follow you. When on vacation, stay on vacation, let your mind take a break from your job so you keep your sanity. It takes intention and boundary-setting to focus on the present for ourselves, family, friends, and work. 

Why It’s Important to Deal With Burnout

Research has linked long-term stress to a number of negative physical and mental health outcomes. Physically, it can suppress the immune system, increase the chance of hypertension and gastrointestinal complications. 

This leads to increased risk of illness, heart attack, and stroke if not taken care of. Mentally, it affects the hippocampus and amygdala leading to a reduction in memory making and cognitive abilities. This increases your risk for mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, sleeping disorders and substance use problems.

Stay On Track With Your Burnout Plan

In the midst of burnout, similar to depression, you might feel there’s no end in sight. There may be times you fall off the burnout recovery wagon, but what matters is whether or not you get back on. 

You do have autonomy over your life. You can make change happen. Simply keep in mind, work is never more important than your physical or mental health.