I thought I could do it all. I couldn’t.
I thought I was invincible. I wasn’t.
It’s a mindset that all too many of us get caught up in. We watch others experience emotional stress, mental breakdown, and burnout at work, thinking we’re the exception. So, we take on another commitment, knowing that we’re already at full capacity.
We tell ourselves “this is an opportunity I can’t say no to, I’ll make time for it!” Sound familiar?
You might work in an environment where admitting your weaknesses means giving power to someone else. Or maybe pushing back when you know you can’t take on any more is interpreted as though you aren’t capable enough.
As much as it’s hard to admit, no person is immune from stress and its harmful impacts on our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.
Burnout at work is real. It’s not a cop-out or an excuse used to pass up responsibilities. Just ask that colleague who couldn’t get out of bed for weeks for fear of not living up to the expectations of the day ahead. Or that friend who ended up in hospital after being crippled with stress-induced anxiety.
I wish I had asked. I wish I had taken the measures to prevent burnout from becoming a personal anecdote. I thought I had but it was too little too late.
Years of overextending myself caught up with me after stepping away from a stressful environment. I slept through the weeks to follow thinking that would be enough. It wasn’t.
A few months later, burnout showed up at my front door in the form of a chronic illness commonly known to be triggered by stress. I didn’t see that coming!
A thief in the night
Burnout sneaks in like a thief in the night. It can be concealed by “coping strategies” you convince yourself are enough, ignoring the fact that you’re running at over capacity. The warning signs are there but you fail to see them or even worse, normalise them as behaviours that come with a busy life.
How can we avoid burnout at work and in life? It starts with recognising the warning signs for what they are – bright orange lights flashing for you to slow down!
Common warning signs of being overloaded might include:
- You repeatedly double book (or even triple) book yourself
- You find it difficult to be present in the moment, always thinking of the mountain of things you need to do
- You stop enjoying the things you once loved to do
- You tend to frequently skip meals
- No matter how much sleep you get, you constantly feel fatigued
- You don’t have enough time in the day to get your recommended 6-8 hours of sleep each night
- You plan days off but keep overriding them with other commitments
Burnout can present itself in a variety of ways and the list above is by no means an exhaustive list. If you identify with any of the above warning signs, start using these simple strategies today to reduce your risk of experiencing the unbearable weight of burnout.
How to avoid burnout at work
It’s important to note that even though many of us are now working from home, burnout at work is still possible. As the lines between work and play become more blurred, it’s crucial now more than ever to put practices in place to avoid burnout while working from home.
1. Set clear boundaries and communicate them
In all areas of life, especially work, boundaries are your best friend. Start by defining the boundaries needed for your personal health and well-being. Is it being uncontactable outside of work hours? Not working on weekends? Only going to one after-hours work event per week?
Within reason, communicate these boundaries with the people you work with. This lessens the awkwardness of saying no to someone, because you’ve already expressed your personal boundaries to them. You can’t argue with that!
2. Show yourself grace and compassion
Be kind to yourself. There’s no shame in passing on a networking event to go home early and have a bath or watch your favourite movie. Listen to your body and give it what it needs. If it’s crying out for rest, give it rest. There will always be another networking event but there’s only one you.
3. Ask for help
It doesn’t matter who you are, no one is completely self-sufficient! Asking for help might be a blow to your ego but what’s more valuable, your ego or your time? Two are better than one. Cut down the time it takes you to do a task by reaching out to a colleague or friend for help.
4. Schedule non-negotiable rest days ahead of time
This one became a game-changer for me. When planning the month ahead, block out a rest day that is absolutely non-negotiable. Make sure this day appears as otherwise occupied in all your calendars – personal, work, shared.
When you schedule rest days ahead of time rather than on a whim, you’ll find it a lot easier to follow through. My “Saturdays of Solitude” during my busiest seasons were treated as almost sacred!
5. Don’t be afraid to say “no”
We’re told that if we want to get ahead in life, we need to say “yes” to the opportunities that come our way, to expand our horizons. What they don’t tell us, is that saying “yes” to every opportunity becomes a liability to our health.
So, instead of saying “yes” to everything, learn to say “no” every now and then. Figure out what your “yeses” are (the things that are aligned with your personal goals) and your “no’s” will be a lot easier.
Have you personally experienced burnout at work before? If so, how did you recover from your burnout and what strategies do you use today to prevent burnout? Leave a comment and share your wisdom!
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Oyelola is a freelance writer based in Sydney, Australia. She works closely with entrepreneurs and businesses in financial services, consulting and education, writing quality-rich content to engage their readers and motivate action. When not writing for clients, Oyelola provides insights on writing, wealth and work on her Phrased with Purpose blog and shares her faith journey on her personal blog, He Speaks, I Write.