22 July, 2011

Battling Burnout

22 July, 2011

In Hong Kong, we are always so busy. We work crazy long hours in high pressured jobs, maintain hectic social schedules, travel on long weekends and work out hard at the gym or take dance classes in between. We keep racing along at full speed without stopping to rest until finally, we experience a ‘burnout’.

Burnout is actually a psychological term for exhaustion, lack of interest and an inability to manage life. In most cases, the cause of a burnout is a stressful and demanding job, which can range from a junior at an investment bank or a stay at home mum. The personality type that is most susceptible to burnouts are generally Type A, perfectionist, over-achieving controlling types.

During a recent busy period at work I tried my hardest to prevent having a burnout. But somehow, it managed to catch up with me. And when it did, it made me stop to think and reflect. A friend of mine once told me that some people don’t ever recognize or know how to deal with it, and as a result they have a more serious breakdown later in life. In this post I will share with you how I recognize, manage and prevent further burnouts.

I experienced my first serious burnout during my second year of working life, when I was living in Sydney. I was working long hours in a new role and hadn’t had a day off in 7 months. Eventually, I started to dread going to work. This included dreading the same train ride, same walk, same building, same desk, same people, same kitchen, same gym routine, same food, same lunch friends etc. I woke up one morning crying and couldn’t handle the thought of going in to work so I called in sick (as suggested by my wise father). I met up with a girlfriend at the beautiful Balmoral beach in Sydney where we sat on a rock overlooking the ocean discussing life and ate some delicious lunch. Afterwards, I went home and just slept. I took the next day off as well and ended up going shopping (retail therapy!) and then sleeping for the rest of the day.

During my time off, I was able to reflect and I realised that I had a good job and just needed to step away every so often and look from the outside in to fully appreciate it. Funnily enough, I became very sick the following day and ended up taking an entire week off. Getting sick was my body’s way of forcing me to slow down and take a good rest. When I finally returned to work, I was completely refreshed and ready for new challenges.

Now I can recognize when I’m going to have a burnout, which in hindsight was a handy lesson to learn before moving to HK. The working hours in HK are long and our jobs are extremely stressful, so I have to make sure I recognize when I’m going to fall over before it’s too late.

Here are the ways I’ve learned to recognize, manage and prevent burnout:

– Feeling upset that you aren’t spending as much down time with your friends/family and doing the things you love because you are working too hard.
– Feeling physically ill and tired.
– Loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping.
– Feeling irritated at everything and everyone around you and withdrawing from people to mope alone.
– Feeling helpless, out of control and losing sight of the ‘bigger picture’.
– Being emotional over small things that normally wouldn’t bother you.

– Take some time off from work.
– Sleep, sleep, sleep and eat lots of healthy, wholesome food.
– Do something involving physical activity that will make you feel energized and happy like yoga, running, a dance class or dancing around your apartment.
– Talk to friends and/or family who will give you perspective.
– Tell yourself not to take life too seriously and focus on finding your balance again.

– Make some time in your day for exercise.
– Sleep and eat well.
– Wake up a little bit earlier in the morning to read, write or exercise instead of fighting your way into the office.
– Switch off from work completely when you can and avoid checking your blackberry or logging in from home unless absolutely necessary.
– Spend time with loved ones and positive people who will help you to regain perspective of the ‘bigger picture’.

I hope this post helps you if you are at risk of burnouts. Life is just too short for that!

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