Burnout, a state of chronic physical and emotional exhaustion, often feels like a steep and slippery slope. I was deep into my career as a consultant, continuously pushing the boundaries of my capabilities, when I first noticed the signs. Over time, I was caught in a seemingly unending cycle of work, leaving little room for personal time or family.
The early signs were subtle but insistent. I was constantly tired, falling sick more often, and struggling to focus on my work. Even as the passion that fueled my career seemed to fade, I felt an unsettling dread approaching workdays. The emotional toll was significant too. I often felt isolated, like I was the only one trying to get things done, and it seemed I was perpetually irritable.
I find that:
- Persistent fatigue: I feel chronically tired and struggle to maintain my usual energy levels.
- Lack of motivation or enjoyment: The tasks I once enjoyed or took pride in begin to seem pointless or dreadfully overwhelming.
- Frequent illness: A compromised immune system from chronic stress might result in getting sick more often than usual.
- Cognitive difficulties: I need help concentrating, remembering, or making decisions.
- Changes in emotional well-being: Feelings of irritability, isolation, and overeating.
Despite these symptoms, I was determined to keep going. I managed to maintain my performance at work, though it required significantly more effort than before. Relationships with colleagues remained stable, but maintaining them became another task on my already overfull plate. I attempted several strategies to cope with my mounting exhaustion—reducing my responsibilities, delegating tasks, taking short breaks during the week, and even trying to do something fun whenever possible.
Yet, it wasn’t enough. A sense of stagnation set in, both personally and professionally. My efforts yielded fewer results, and despite my contributions, the organization I worked with needed to improve. It was then that I decided to step back and take a break. I completed my ongoing projects, refrained from taking on new ones, and recruited additional experts to shoulder the responsibilities I had been carrying.
Fortunately, my family supported my decision to take a break. They had witnessed my struggle firsthand and understood my need for respite. The change was not immediate, and the journey to recovery has been gradual. Physically, I’m still working on regaining the vitality I had five years ago. Mentally, however, the improvements have been remarkable. I am more relaxed, feel more creative, and find myself prepared to tackle larger challenges than before.
I find that this help:
- Prioritize self-care: I tried to exercise, a healthy diet, and sufficient sleep are vital to maintaining both physical and mental health.
- Set boundaries: Understand your limits and ensure your workload is manageable. Learn to say no when necessary.
- Learn to say No: Learn to pass on work or say No to clients or friends to alleviate stress and not piling on work.
- Take breaks: Short breaks during the day and longer ones when needed can help maintain your mental and physical energy.
- Catching up with Friends and Family: Contact family, friends, or professionals. A supportive network can help you cope with stress and provide a sounding board for your concerns.
To prevent future burnout, I am making several lifestyle changes. I am learning to balance my desire to help clients with the need to protect my well-being. I am keeping relationships professional, realizing that, at the end of the day, I need to be able to do my job properly to help them.
Based on my experiences, my advice to others who might be experiencing burnout but are hesitant to take a break is simple: Be Passionate, Know Your Limits, and Stay Happy. Retaining the passion for your work, understanding and respecting your limits, and prioritizing your happiness and well-being are essential. After all, only when we are at our best can we give our best.