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From Burnout to Capable
We cannot do everything. We cannot be 100% all the time. We thrive when we put constraints in our lives.
When you care about something, you work hard to do it right. This wasn’t a problem when you were single and maybe lived in a shabby apartment but had a job you cared about. Now you might have a house with multiple rooms in varying states of clean, a job or volunteer work, a spouse or significant other, kids, pets, and cars that really could use a vacuum.
You care about all of these things to varying degrees. You want all these things to be perfect magically. You want a perfectly clean house, a perfectly beach-ready body, respectful, healthy, intelligent kids, a fantastic significant other relationship, etc. The problem is that we don’t have the time and energy for perfect, and as someone told me last night in my pottery class, perfect is boring. It is boring because it is not authentic. But that doesn’t mean we don’t feel shame and guilt for not being perfect. Your energy is finite, and if you let those perfection concepts rule your life, burnout is a real possibility.
What is Burnout🧐
Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by prolonged stress in the body. The symptoms of burnout are exhaustion, physical illness, irritability and anger, apathy, and self-sabotaging behaviors, which I personally am very familiar with from past burnout experiences. As it turns out, there were these amazing nerds (Veninga and Spradley) who actually defined how you go through the stages of burnout for all of us. While I do not know these particular nerds personally, I feel that I have a deep connection with them and all healthcare nerds. Thus, I have created a story on how the stages of burnout came to be. Why would I do this? Because the story sticks with us in a way that nerds waxing eloquent with words like ‘plasticity’ don’t. Plus, it brings me joy.
The Story of the Stages of Burn Out —completely true except for the parts I completely made up
Check out this 1981 smartie. I just bet he had a velour jumpsuit he used to wear to chill out on the weekends. Budweiser Light in one hand, an academic textbook in the other. Getting ready to eat some killer meatloaf for dinner. That is when he did his best thinking on that couch in the velour, letting his nerd mind wonder. It was one day, when he was sitting there, no doubt he wondered how much getting stressed and burned out ruined people’s home life. It was then that he also realized that there was probably a progression to burnout and that it wasn’t just none to lifeless.
Photo from the article Work, Stress and Health
The Stages of Burnout—from Work, Stress and Health
Stage 1: Honeymoon Phase 😊
At the start of a new job, a new relationship or when introducing a new member to our family, we often experience high levels of dedication, energy, creativity, and job satisfaction. We readily accept responsibilities and are committed to proving our capabilities for that job, relationship, or for that new baby. While we are motivated and optimistic, establishing positive coping mechanisms in preparation for rainy days is important at this stage, AND it is where most of us fail—myself included.
Stage 2: Onset of Stress 😐
The second stage of burnout begins when we consciously recognize the stressors at work, realizing that some days are more difficult than others. Common symptoms during this stage include anxiety, fatigue, forgetfulness, headaches, changes in appetite, irritability, lack of focus, poor decision-making, reduced sleep quality, high blood pressure, etc. If we don’t start prioritizing self-care and community during this stage, it is bad news bears and leads to stage 3.
Stage 3: Chronic Stress 😬
The third burnout stage is characterized by perpetual low-level stress and exhaustion, apathy, and withdrawal from fun activities that ‘you just don’t have time for now.’ You are also drawn to escapist coping mechanisms such as alcohol or increased social media scrolling. Frequently occurring symptoms include resentment, aggression, feeling threatened & emotional, cynicism, constant fatigue, and procrastination with doing what you need to do for yourself. Burnout is just around the corner UNLESS you reach out to your support system for help and take some time off to refocus on how to be purposeful with your time.
Stage 4: Burnout Crisis 😢😡
The symptoms from stage two and stage three get worse in stage four. Pessimism and self-doubt are your besties from morning to evening, and to get away from these frienemies, you develop an escapist mentality. There is complete neglect of personal needs, coupled with symptoms of clinical depression. If you are here, it is crucial at this stage to seek professional help, hit pause, and re-evaluate your life goals.
Stage 5: Habitual Burnout ☠️
This is when burnout is an ingrained part of our lives. It is the most intense stage and is characterized by chronic mental & physical exhaustion, chronic depression, and sometimes suicidal thoughts. Clinical intervention is critical at this stage to treat symptoms and revive one’s sense of self-worth.
Backing out of Burnout
As you're successful at what you do, you are more likely to be noticed, respected, and asked to do more for the good of the cause at work, school, church, etc. This will put more demands on your time and energy. The very fact that you care will mean that you are more likely, not less likely, to be asked to fill in the gaps.
And, over time, as I mentioned at least three times above, unless you take care of yourself to prevent burnout, you will be increasingly at risk because of your commitment to giving and giving and giving.
In the book, The Truth about Burnout, Maslach and Leiter note:
Burnout is the index of the dislocation between what people are and what they have to do. It represents an erosion in values, dignity, spirit, and will -- an erosion of the human soul.
Burnout is the slow yet steady erosion of our soul. No wonder it feels so crappy. When we are burned out, we are like Voldemort dropping off parts of our soul at the places where we keep giving and giving. No wonder we look so horrible in the mirror. Concealer can only do so much, and it can’t help fuse the soul back together.
Find Your Values and Name Your Time
Your free time should be ‘spent’ on tasks and events that help you live out your values. If you don’t know your values or have not taken the time to understand them, I highly recommend printing out this list from Brene Brown. Go somewhere you love and turn off your phone. Sit and go through this list and figure out what values you resonate with.
Once you have your values check out your calendar. Write down all the activities you are involved with and see if they match up with your values. If you have to sit there and justify an activity, the answer is that it doesn’t match and needs to go. Struggle with this? So do I! Read this post on how to set up boundaries and the issues you will likely face when trying to set them up.
Dave Ramsey is an American personal finance personality, radio show host, author, and businessman. He is big on naming your dollars before they come in, so you know where each of those dollars is going and have peace about your finances. Money and time are both finite resources. Just like it is beneficial to name where your money is going, it is beneficial to name where your time is going. It is when you name your time you can ‘find’ that magical time for yourself and to do the work that supports your values.
DIG (Get Deliberate, Get Inspired, Get Going) Deep Action Steps:
Get Deliberate: Whelp, you are getting the same advice this week because boundaries are hard! Listen to this Podcast from Start from Joy on boundaries if you struggle with creating or understanding boundaries. I love everything this podcast puts out there and have learned so much from it and the hosts, Neal and Carly Samudre of Enjoyco. I am definitely a fangirl.
Get Inspired: Who is that person who seems to do the impossible by saying no to people. Gasp! They have mastered the ability to understand what they value, establish boundaries around those values and then live them out. Ask them out for coffee or lunch. Have them walk you through what was helpful and see if they would be an accountability buddy for you! I have an accountability buddy who helps me stick to my guns to achieve my goals and honor my values. Sure there are weeks I fail, but we encourage each other for the coming week.
Get Going: If you are in stage four or five of burnout, you might need more than an accountability buddy. Google local counselors, and don’t be afraid to try out more than one. I hate to say it, but just because you got a degree doesn’t mean you are the best at your job. I have had amazing and not-so-amazing counselors in the past. I wish I would have shopped around a bit more the first time and found someone I related to better.