For the purposes of this post, when I refer to“burn-out” I don’t mean the noun– that dude who graduated two years ago but still hangs out at your High School. The burn-out I’m referring to, the verb, results from working to the point at which instead of containing eyeballs, your eye-sockets reveal a burned-out, but incessantly buzzing “VACANCY” sign.
What does burn-out look like? Here are some warning signals:
Irritation: WHY IS EVERYONE CALLING ME MOM AND ASKING ME TO FEED AND CLOTHE THEM (and/or) WHY IS MY BOSS/CLIENT HANDING ME WORK ALL THE TIME LIKE I’M SUPPOSED TO DO IT AND GET PAID.
Paranoia: ARE YOU MAD AT ME? ARE you MAD AT ME? Are you MAD at me? STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT…FRUIT BOWL.
Bitterness: WE LIVE IN AN UGLY WORLD AND NONE OF THIS WORK MATTERS AND EVERYONE ANNOYS ME ESPECIALLY PEOPLE WHO MAKE BEAUTIFUL MUSIC AND ONLY WANT TO HELP.
Exhaustion: BLINK BLINK eyebagsBLINKwhineywinerBLINKchompchompchomping sooo tiyurrd keeep eating.
Scowl Face: NEWS AT 11! RIGHT THERE, ON YOUR FOREHEAD!! BETWEEN THOSE BEADY AND SUSPICIOUS EYES.
Get oxygen. Eat your lunch outside. Walk your dog or your baby or your legs. Get a tasty beverage.
Go do a few minutes of housework, or run an errand that takes you away from your desk. This gets you up and away and you can still feel productive but let your brain rest. Make sure to look both ways before you cross the street, because you probably aren’t really home upstairs.
Change your environment. Bring your laptop to the kitchen and stand for a while, or into a conference room, coffee shop, or lobby space/your bed.
Recalibrate with a Phone Date. I cut way back on my social life during my busiest work seasons—taking very few lunches or coffee dates/happy hours. Instead, I schedule 15 minute phone dates. It’s all too easy to hermit and see no one but my family, but I begin to feel untethered if I go too long without connecting with my beloved people.
Find extra quiet work hours at your desk. I’m neither a morning person, nor a night owl. I’m squarely a 10AM rock star. I hate waking up early, but do so during peak work times. I wake up an hour or so before my family on week days, adding 3-7 hours (valued at double that amount of time, because they tend to be turbo-productive hours with extra flavor crystals!) to my work week depending on my wake-up success. Sometimes I work at night, but I try to make a rule that if I work late at night, I do not work early the next morning, because for me looking at screens sun down to sun up is depleting and depressing. Also, sometimes working at night wires me and interferes with my sleep. I find it harder to shut my brain down, and I’m more prone to get lost in social media scrolling when I’m tired, than in the morning when I’m all fresh and motivated.
Get a massage or acupuncture or some professional hands-on. I do yoga and jog, which resembles self-massage to your muscles but you can’t replicate the benefit of a skilled person using their muscle and/or expertise specifically to reduce your tension. When my stress level climbs over-the-top, so does my muscle tension, and stress plus muscle tension leads to all sorts of illness and injuries when unchecked. Earlier in my 30s I could barely walk and sit due to severe and chronic siatica. Learning to manage my emotional and physical stress has kept me healthy ever since. I can even do a back-bend (bridge pose), now. Yes, really.
Read to your kids or have them read to you– aka covert cuddling time. My older kids don’t cuddle much anymore. When I read to them, we get all cozy together, and I get to lie in one place without counting out monopoly money.
Keep your volunteer commitments, or make a volunteer commitment—especially with kids or the elderly. I know it sounds counter-intuitive because you feel so pressed for time and over extended already. The temptation to cancel my time volunteering in my sons’ classrooms pulls at me during freak-out stress times, but I go anyway and my heart-rate slows down. I smile a bunch and I feel human again. Guess what? I’m way more productive when I feel human.
Turn the computer off. Connect with your partner for fifteen (okay five) minutes. Cut your kids fingernails for the first time in 19 weeks. Go to sleep early. Sorry I had to mention the sleep thing when you already know about sleep. Sleep is everything for my brain and my mood.
#10,000 Remember why you do what you do. What got you inspired in the first place? Read a book by someone in your field you admire, go see a lecture, take a few minutes to watch a youtube video featuring your mentor or career idol. Getting mired in work minutia can kill the joy of even the coolest career or project.
Bonus: Hug someone and mean it. With both arms. You can even rest on them a little, so long as you don’t lose your balance. I call it “charging.” Charge on.