That was me 5 months ago.
I hated my corporate job. The constant moving goal posts, strategy changes, redundancies and never-ending workload made me feel like I was wading through the Bog of Eternal Stench (bonus points for naming that film!).
I’d totally lost motivation and had begun to question whether the career I’d had for 13 years was still the right one.
So, I tried to set up a business at the same time as working 50+ hours a week. And buy a rental property 200 miles away. And move to a new house.
In hindsight, I probably took on a little too much…….
My best friend called me out on it:
“Mate, I’m really worried about you. I hardly see you anymore and you don’t reply to my messages. You’ve gone completely AWOL. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m totally fine. Just really busy”
LIES. ALL LIES. I wanted to scream. I’m so effing tired, my confidence is 6 feet under and I don’t know who I am anymore.
But being the high achiever that I am, I thought it was my fault. I obviously wasn’t trying hard enough.
Other people seemed to manage on 3 hours sleep and still do their job/run a marathon/have 10 children/look flawless on Instagram.
I felt manic, my brain was whirring like a washing machine on speed. I couldn’t sleep, I was irritable, tearful, exhausted and broken.
Everything felt completely overwhelming and I just couldn’t cope anymore.
I was suffering from burnout.
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Burnout is what happens when constant stress causes you to become physically and mentally exhausted. Interestingly The Guardian (British Newspaper) says that:
“Often the only people who don’t recognise burnout are those who are exhibiting all of the symptoms, because highly motivated, driven, high-functioning, ambitious people can have great difficulty believing they are breakable”
Hmmm, that sounds familiar. If you are a ‘high achiever’, it’s likely that you see slowing down as a sign of weakness.
My favourite phrase when I was in the midst of the stress tsunami was to shout out cheerily ‘I don’t know how to relax!’ like it was some kind of badge of honour. What a dumbass.
EVERYONE needs to rest, even the Tesla guy needs to sleep. Watching Netflix for a couple of hours on a Sunday is not a weakness. Going for a walk in the park is not a waste of time. Reading a book is not an indulgence.
Because I like to see things visually as well as read about them, I’ve made you a nice little infographic to show you how burnout can happen – and how it happened to me.
There isn’t a set list of what constitutes burnout, but I have listed some of the common ones below:
Completely drained of energy
Keep forgetting things
Isolated from people at work and friends and family
Lack of productivity or poor performance
Physical symptoms such as shortness of breath and heart palpitations (please see if a doctor if this is the case!)
For me, it was the feeling of clawing my way through thick fog. I felt like a robot, going through the motions but not really feeling anything.
Shutting myself off from friends, constantly snapping at my partner and just feeling that everything was too hard.
I had worked myself (both in my job and my personal life) to the point of collapse.
There is so much social pressure to constantly be productive. To do more than the next person. To ‘out busy’ everyone.
I partly blame social media, although supposedly burnout and exhaustion is not a new thing, Anna Katharina Schaffner has written a book on it, Exhaustion: A history, where she explains that exhaustion has been a problem for many years.
I can’t imagine social media helps though. Had Julius Caesar had Instagram I am pretty sure seeing photos of his emperor mates conquering stuff wouldn’t have made him feel like chilling out and eating grapes.
Advertising, films, TV programs, they all paint the picture that to be successful, you have to work yourself to death. In fact, there is a Japanese word for exactly that, it is karoshi. Can you believe it? There is an actual word for working yourself TO DEATH.
I think that is why so many people bought into Tim Ferris’s The Four Hour Work Week (myself included). Although I am not sure how possible it is to only work 4 hours a week, the notion that you could earn money and not end up a broken, dribbling wreck was very enticing.
Apparently, anxiety and burnout affect over 50% of UK employees (according to a 2015 YouGov survey).
So, why the hell is no one saying anything?
If you were sat in a meeting with 20 of your colleagues, 10 of you would have experienced symptoms of burnout. But I bet you that each of those 10 would sit silently while your boss assigned an unrealistic number of tasks to everyone.
The sad thing is, we think everyone else can cope and we can’t. We don’t want to appear weak. We think we are the only ones to feel like this.
And that just isn’t true.
What if those 10 stood up and said, ‘unfortunately that isn’t possible for us to do all of those tasks this week. We need to prioritise two of them’.
Problem is, most people would not do this, as they don’t know that 9 other people in the room feel the same. They would also be worried that they would be seen as a bad employee and could be fired.
Ironically, if you are a high achiever, you are more likely to be given more and more work as your boss knows you will get it done.
As you never say no (because you think you are superhuman and can do everything) you take on more and more and more until you collapse under the weight of it.
If you need a major life change, then you can check out my ‘Get your life back cheat sheet‘. It has loads of tips for you to take action on changing something in your life you just aren’t happy with.
The first step is to realise that you have burnt out or are running headlong towards it.
It may even take someone else to tell you that it is time to slow down, like my friend at the beginning of this post. Or my partner, who sat me down one day and said that I had to stop.
The thing that finally hit me, like a wet fish to the face, was that I was causing my own stress.
Yes, I was in a job I didn’t like. But I was choosing to show up there every day. I was the one piling tasks on my plate.
And I was the only one who could do something about it.
The way you are currently living your life, the way you think about yourself, the choices you make, the people you surround yourself with, are causing you overwhelming stress and leading to your burnout.
Well for one, stop thinking that you are superhuman. You are not from a Marvel comic.
You have a finite amount of energy and you need to use it wisely.
You are not indispensable, they will cope without you.
If you can’t afford a holiday then take a staycation. Honestly, this was one of the best things I did a few years back.
I hung out in coffee shops, woke up when I wanted and pretended I didn’t have to work for a living.
If you are anything like me, I had constant chatter going on in my brain which I just couldn’t switch off. It wasn’t just physical work that was making me tired, it was all the mental work as well.
I tried loads of things, meditation apps, Reiki and Yoga. All of which really helped. Give them a go, they may work, they may not, but you won’t know until you try.
If you can get your mind to put a sock in it, it’s amazing how much better your sleep is.
Turn off your alarm clock on weekends. Have a long lie in (if you have kids, please do not shoot me for saying that).
You know when you were small, and you would sit happily for hours with your colouring book, or build Lego castles or make a den out of your duvet and bed sheets?
Those were happy times. (Apart from when I nearly set fire to the sheets by putting a lamp in my fort).
I am not suggesting that you need to get your Lego set back out. But just do something that is purely for fun and just for you.
Something that doesn’t need to make money, or be shared on Instagram, or shown to anyone.
Drawing, painting, sculpting, writing. If you are not sure what you like doing then just try them all!
This was a hard one for me to get my head around (and I still struggle with it a bit) but making time to relax is as important as making time to be productive.
Put a block of time in your calendar to do this, and then MAKE yourself do it.
You are not your biggest success. You are a complicated jumble of wins, f*ck ups, good times and bad.
How you feel about yourself should not be based on how many hours you put in at the office or how many times someone praised you.
Caffeine is a stimulant. It’s all too tempting to try and push through the tiredness by drinking vats of tea and coffee but this will only make it worse.
If you want to scare the bejesus out of yourself and never drink coffee again, have a read what BeBrainfit says about it here.
When you are starting to burn out, procrastination ramps up several notches. The more overwhelming everything is, the more you procrastinate about doing it.
And what is the best way to waste time? Dicking about on your mobile!
I spent hours trawling Facebook, reading pointless Twitter articles and looking at photos on Instagram (not Snapchat though, what the hell is Snapchat even about?).
Enough was eventually enough, so I deleted all of them. Yes, all of them. I only have WhatsApp, and that is it. And I feel so much better.
If you are a card-carrying social media lover, after each binge on Instawhatever, ask yourself. Do I feel better for that? Have I learned anything new here? Has this helped me de-stress?
I’m pretty sure the answer will be no to all of these.
Tell your boss, tell your partner, tell your friend, tell me. Tell anyone!
If 50% of people in the workplace struggle with anxiety and burnout then you are NOT ALONE.
If your boss is a decent human being, they will understand if you ask for help with prioritising your workload.
I guarantee you that if you are given 10 things to do, those 10 things do not have equal importance.
But because you aren’t privy to the same information your boss is, you may not be able to rank them in importance without their help.
Note – if your boss is not a decent human being (or even a human) then it might be time to look for a new job.
This was a big one for me. The career that I had worked so hard in for so long, just didn’t line up with who I wanted to be anymore.
It was really hard to admit that it was time for a huge pivot in terms of career, but once I made the decision to leave (and actually walked out the door), it was the best thing I had done in a long time.
To be completely honest, I didn’t logically follow each step in a calm and steady manner.
I flapped from one to the other like a mad chicken for a while, trying this and that until I slowly settled into a rhythm that felt right.
What worked for me may not work for you. This isn’t an exhaustive list of hard and fast rules. Just try a couple and see what works out.
If even picking one thing on the list feels too overwhelming right now, then how about I pick one for you?
Get a Meditation app. This was the first thing I tried and was great at helping me sleep. Download one like Buddhify (this is a paid one, but there are plenty of free ones out there though, just search for apps or on youtube or podcasts).
Put on your headphones before bed tonight and listen to the first meditation that pops up. And tomorrow night listen to the next one and just carry on like that until your blathering mind starts to slow down.
The good news is, after a few months I started to feel like an actual human again rather than a quivering plate of melted brain matter. And you will too.
Here are some more posts that can help you!
Have you tried any of the above 10 tips to cure burnout?
Hi, I am Laura. I set up the 'I Want My Life Back Project' after burning out in a corporate job. I quit in May 2017 and set about getting my life back. I now freelance 2 days a week, run this blog, manage my rental properties and am SO MUCH HAPPIER! All the content on this blog is to help you to get your life back too :-)