Diary of a burned out: Sneaky signs and how to break free
[Note: I’m Aliona Surovtseva, an in-house copywriter at Mavitech, and this is my true story. All events described in this blog post actually happened to me and are recreated from my personal memories of them. The views and opinions expressed herein are mine alone in that they are entirely based on my individual perception of the reality and my personal experience, hence they are subjective. The same holds true for the stories of my heroes. If job burnout is something that plagues you more than ever before, then my true story might be right up your alley.]
I’ll never forget the first time I was about to quit. Once and for all.
It was in my early teaching days that I first fell victim to burnout. Before I took up copywriting, I used to be a lecturer at a university in an ordinary Belarusian city. When I started teaching, I loved my job just like everyone else does. Flat-out enthusiastic and excited, I was going to give my all…
Hey, cynics and outsiders, and all those who underestimate teaching and consider it a plush job with short hours and long holidays:
teaching is a DEMANDING job that requires life-long, unconditional dedication and total commitment as well as huge investment of all your time and energy sometimes at the cost of personal life (aha!).
It would be wrong to believe that the work of the teacher/lecturer comes to end with the bell after the last class. Nothing doing! Daily planning, preparing, and grading papers may sometimes last far into the night, which can’t but take a toll on your wellbeing in the long run.
However, heavy workload is just the tip of the iceberg, for there is another trap that almost any teacher gets caught into sooner or later. And it is monotony. Yeah, strange but true. The monotony in Belarusian universities is all about annual repetition of the same teaching activities: year after year, you have to teach the same courses, use the same materials and stick to the same course syllabus prescribed by the superiors, with no slightest deviation permitted. Finally, there comes a time when you realize you’ve had enough and you find yourself bored. To death. No variety whatsoever. No challenge. No joy for the profession.
Vitebsk State University | Source: Google
I was only just entering my fourth year of teaching when I came to realize I had no more thrill in that my job became all too predictive. Over the years, I had mastered the craft. I knew every single word from my lectures and could recite any text from any coursebook. That was a disaster. No room for personal development. No passion for my job. Consequently, job burnout.
How I recovered? Since I had no authority to change the system, I seemed to have no other choice but to make a silent agreement with myself; I mean I needed to find a good argument that could help me bounce back from job burnout and avoid it down the road. And I found one pretty easily: since I had honed my skills and knew my stuff backwards and forwards, I didn’t need to spend long hours preparing for the classes any longer, which gave me more time to devote myself to what really floated my boat back then.
The photo is taken from the author’s personal archive
It’s been 3 years since I quit my teaching. I changed my career path and broke into copywriting; yet I still keep on slipping into burnout mode every now and again. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that no one is immune to job burnout.
Everyone irrespective of their field of work, age or rank, from an ordinary desk clerk through a top manager to a CEO of a multi-billion dollar company, has experienced job burnout at least once in a lifetime. I would go so far as to say that we all go through the moments of burnout from time to time.
The good news is there are unmistakable signs of this malady, and it’s mission critical that you recognize them early on so that you could combat burnout right off the bat before it wreaks havoc on your health, job performance, career, and personal life.
You might be on the verge of burnout or you are currently experiencing it if:
- YOU FEEL PHYSICALLY EXHAUSTED. This kind of depletion manifests itself in chronic fatigue that doesn’t go away after a good night’s sleep or even three weeks off. If dragging yourself out of bed in the morning have turned into ordeal, you call in sick too often, have trouble getting started and getting through the working day – you’re definitely in the throes of burnout.
- YOU FEEL EMOTIONALLY DRAINED. You’ve lost your appetite for life? Grown so cold and emotionless that even your favorite TV show leaves you indifferent? Feel like nothing out there inspires you anymore, and all your thoughts are revolving around simply quitting and going off the grid? Watch out! These are real red flags!
- YOUR PERFORMANCE HAS DROPPED. The hallmarks of poor performance are lack of productivity, impaired working memory and attention span, inability to make decisions. What used to take you 30 minutes, now takes you 3 hours. Simply put, you are not performing at your best any longer.
- YOU’VE LOST YOUR MOTIVATION AND INTEREST IN THE JOB YOU ARE DOING. Drag yourself to work every morning and feel liberated when the day is over? Regularly engage in procrastination, and it takes longer to get things done? The motivation that used to fuel you seems to have dropped to zero. This may also take a form of overall disillusionment about your job.
- YOU ARE INCLINED TO DETACHMENT AND ISOLATION. If you try to avoid socializing, resist interacting with others, keep your door closed, shy away from get-togethers and team lunches, there is a good chance you’re experiencing workplace burnout.
- YOU’VE BECOME IRRITABLE AND IMPATIENT WITH COWORKERS. We usually tend to take our daily frustrations and anger out on the ones we love. However, when it comes to job burnout, it is our coworkers who suffer in the first place as a rule. If you get easily irritated when your colleagues simply ask you for help or for no reason whatsoever snap at whoever is around, then it’s a warning bell.
Burnout doesn’t happen overnight. It is a cumulative process that pushes our bodies and minds to give us warnings that something is going wrong. Being aware of the warning signs and symptoms of burnout means being able to spot them early on and take immediate steps before the disorder eventually drags you down.
Though you may find loads of go-to tips and recommendations out there on how to prevent and combat job burnout, when it comes to such a complicated issue it makes more sense to ask real people about how they recover from work related burnout and reignite their flame every time they face it. That’s what I actually did.
I didn’t have to go far afield, as my colleagues were eager to share their thoughts and first-hand experience with me:
Vitaliy Komkov, COO of Mavitech
“As I always have too much on my plate, I often end up being burned out. How I recognize that? Every time I realize I’m doing my job in a mechanical manner just because I have to, like, when I’m just going through the motions, I know I’ve been caught in a trap of job burnout. It feels like time drags on, I look forward to the end of the workday and feel free when the weekend rolls around. What’s more, I start noticing I avoid associating with my coworkers, I kind of tune out, you know.
How I recharge my batteries? Frankly speaking, I do not do anything special. Eating a healthy and balanced diet, doing sports and getting a good night’s sleep are those small things that make a big difference to my overall wellbeing.
However, if you happen to work in a toxic work environment that continually stresses you out and there is pretty much nothing you can do to change the situation, then you may want to seek another job and give your career a fresh start”.
Roman Voyteshik, Associate Project Manager at Mavitech
“Working on all cylinders and spending countless hours doing the same grunt work without getting any tangible results are those things that get on top of me every now and again. One of my key job responsibilities is to find new projects for our company. I write emails to prospective clients, and sometimes it may take up to several weeks before I get any feedback. That is when I feel the signs of job burnout creeping up on me. More often, it is physical exhaustion that I start feeling in the middle of the day when I’m teetering on the edge of burnout. In this case, I usually try switching up my whole working routine. This may be focusing on a different task, taking on another project, or spending short breaks outside.
As for my off-hours, I try to reboot my brain and I do this in dramatically different ways. Sometimes going out with my friends, like, to the movies, or simply having a heart-to-heart talk with the ones I love may do me the world of good. What’s more, I think it’s vital to indulge in something that really gets me going. However, at times, I feel things will be better off if I simply unplug from the outer world, withdraw from people and stay alone with my thoughts.”
Roman Sable, Full-stack Developer at Mavitech
“As a rule my burnout plays out in three ways. First of all, I catch myself procrastinating – constantly distracting and substituting urgent tasks for non-critical activities. Secondly, I experience persistent physical exhaustion. And to top it all, I can easily crash out right in front of my computer screen.
My work involves writing a new code and learning new technologies, I mean self-development, so more often burnout hits me when one process outweighs the other, that is to say when I spend long hours or even days doing one job alone. So regular shifting from one process to the other, I mean keeping balance between them, is key to avoiding job burnout.
What’s more, there’s one golden rule that I established for myself long ago and that I hardly ever break: I never take work home as well as I never use the laptop in my leisure hours.
Taking all my vacation days is another lifesaver for me. If I’ve used all my paid vacation days, but sometime after that I feel I need more, I never hesitate to take a leave of absence or use up my sick days and go hiking. That’s what really recharges my mind, body and spirit”.
Job burnout is inevitable. Thankfully, it is not irreversible.
There is a whole lot you can do to get your life back into balance, and it’s up to you to figure out which remedy will work best for you and help you get back on track. Renewed and refreshed. However, if you are still unable to refuel your engine no matter how hard you try, there is one thing I can say for sure – you are not doing the job that you really love. Then maybe it’s time to move on?