The World Health Organization defines burnout as the result of chronic workplace stress that hasn’t been successfully managed.
Important symptoms of burnout comprise feelings of energy depletion, a growing mental distance from your job, and reduced professional productivity.
However, I would say burnout can result from any kind of activity, not just from a job. In fact, the moment you find you are tired most of the time; you find a growing emotional distance from the things you usually do; and when you do them your performance is often under par, you can bet you’re suffering from some kind of burnout.
In fact, I believe the definition of the Online Oxford English Dictionary is both succinct and to the point:
Burnout: Physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.
In any case here is a list of steps you can take to prevent falling prey to burnout. They are important because even if burnout isn’t exactly a deadly illness, it can nonetheless ruin your life. This is also why instead of having handy a to do list to recover from it, it is way better a to do list to help you steer away from it.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step — Lao Tzu
Break your goals into milestones. Then for each milestone you reach set aside some time off to reward yourself with something that has nothing to do with what you’re working on.
The good of this approach is that having many small and doable goals to attain instead of just a gigantic one gives you a sense of control and accomplishment right from the start, so easing off a lot of stress.
Besides, the days you set aside to relax and let your mind wander can end up offering you new insights about unexpected matters.
2) Listen to your body
When it seems you’re stretching yourself a bit too thin, chances are you really need some rest. Just pay attention to what your body is telling you, and you’ll always be able to tell the difference between a bit of
healthy laziness and a case of impending burnout.
For example, writers are great procrastinators. But procrastination feels distinctively different from any symptom of burnout. To start with once you start writing you feel good and forget all about your bitching about sitting down and writing.
In addition, when you finish your daily session, irrespective of your having written some real good stuff, you feel satisfied – not emotionally detached, dried up, or indifferent. This means that while the writing process may have depleted some of your creative energy, it has also given you back some psychological rewards.
Instead, when burnout is impending you end up feeling exhausted and already anticipating with dread the following day’s writing session.
You must aim to perfection knowing well that’s just a ruse to hit, at best, excellence. But on most days you have to be willing to set for good enough.
Indeed, there’s nothing like giving yourself the permission to mess up, at least to a certain extent. Because, you see, for some reasons we work better when we are only moderately stressed. A bit of stress, positively challenging, works wonders. Instead, too little stress or too much of it can turn our performance into a farce.
4) Healing with nature
When burnout is looming on the horizon you can turn to nature for help. Go out for a walk. Go hiking up in the mountains. Sit by a lake on a raining day. Walk along a beach or swim in the ocean. Whatever you choose to do, it’s bound to make you feel better, a lot better. It works even for those of you who hate nature and feel at ease only in a bustling city. Research has shown it pretty convincingly. Nature has a way to quell your turmoil no medication of sort can beat.
Of course, also pets have a powerful and benign influence on your well-being. So if a trek through the forest isn’t really your thing, you could decide to make friends with a dog, or a cat. Sometimes these furry friends are a bit messy, but the insights and serenity they can offer you are priceless.
Know thyself. This seems like the most obvious thing to say. But many people only know themselves quite superficially. For example, they might have picked up habits and routines from other people because they thought they were cool, or time-efficient, or whatever, but then they never stopped to really think whether this addition really suited them deep down.
Take coffee for example. We can say a lot of things about coffee. Coffee helps you concentrate. If you drink coffee, you give others the image of a busy individual. Of a creative working in the wee hours to nail down on paper those ineffable thoughts that would otherwise vanish into thin air at first light.
Really, there are a million different stereotypical ideas associated with coffee. The fact they are stereotypical isn’t a problem. The problem arises if you drink coffee for some of these reasons, but you never examined them in depth.
I mean, asking yourself if you really need that cup of coffee you could discover some interesting facts about yourself. Facts that if taken into account properly, could help you to organize your work and activities in a way that would better suit your personality, and not someone else’s.
That’s it. This is a short list, but it’s a powerful one. I hope you can put it to good use. To work hard and to take your time to enjoy a fuller life. Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.
And you? How do you cope with impending burnout? Did you ever suffered from it?
1) Healthy minds: how writers can stay healthy and keep writing
2) How Hospital Gardens Help Patients Heal