When I share posts online about career burnout, my social media blows up. All that clicking tells me that many of you are keeping your heads above water at work and maybe wondering just what constitutes a meltdown (and how close you are to that point...).
It’s definitely ok to have crazy periods at work, but when the frantic pace stretches on week after week and there’s never a light at the end of the tunnel, what do we do? Below are some telltale signs you’re heading for burnout and some strategies to turn the stress ship around.
You feel the need to be perfect
Overwhelming pressure at work can be brutal. Whether you feel it in your shoulders, chest, or stomach, we often place unreasonable pressure on ourselves to achieve perfection. Feeling lost in a meeting or having a project dumped on you and having no idea where to start are pretty common occurrences. Ask questions, ask for more time and stop trying to come off as an infallible martyr.
You end the work day without achieving anything
Ugh, I hate those days. You arrive in the morning with the best of intentions and look up at 5.30pm, panicked and disillusioned that you haven’t finished anything. When these types of days are a regular occurrence, it’s no wonder you’re feeling close to a meltdown.
You are constantly exhausted
The next few signs are closely linked. Arriving home and landing on the couch is a necessity some days but if it’s every day and you have no energy for any other activities, what’s going wrong?
You have no time for relaxing or socialising
Cancelling on friends constantly? Can’t remember the last time you had dinner with your partner? Your life is made up of many components and work overshadowing all of the other areas of your life is not a long-term way to live.
You have no idea what self care is anymore
In line with the above, it can be easy to push through and forget to take care of yourself. If we saw a friend or family member in the same situation, we’d offer advice and help, yet we often can’t see this when it’s happening to us. Pushing through days without eating, exercising, relaxing or sleeping properly will eventually catch up with you.
You can’t sleep
I’m guilty of this one. Lying awake and stressing about work is something I’ve definitely dealt with in the past, but again, when it’s night after night, it’s indicative of a bigger issue. Write down your stressors before going to bed and if need be, at 3am, write down the things that are worrying you or that need to be done the next day, and do your best to switch off.
There is hope!
Plan your work day so time doesn't slip away
I reviewed Eat That Frog a while back and still use this strategy, especially during crazy times. Do a brain dump of what’s on your plate, and then mark them in descending order as A, B, C or D (delegate). Yes, your list may have 30 items on it, but if only 4 of them are As then you can keep focusing on those as the day continues. This strategy has worked wonders for me when I feel overwhelmed.
Ask how urgent the task is
Oh man, this is a good one. Your manager may frantically hand over projects or tasks, or dump enormous piles of paper on your desk, but the question ‘When do you need it by?’ will save you from a world of pain. I used to be of the school of thinking that if someone more senior than you asked you to jump, you said ‘how high?’ I still do a great job, but asking when it’s due often gets an ‘oh by next week’ or ‘just by the end of the month’ answer. I usually took their tone and body language to mean they needed it in an hour, but this simple question places it where it belongs on my to do list.
Take your freaking lunch break
An obvious one, but for god’s sake, take a break. There’s nothing worse than leaving the office at the end of the day and having no idea what the weather is like or no idea it was already dark, because you haven’t seen the outside world since 8am. 99% of the time I take a walk at lunch and it usually refreshes me for the afternoon or gives me new perspective on what I’m working on. Speaking of perspective, even seeing other people out and about makes you realise there’s a world outside your stressful job. Whether it’s an hour lunch break or a five minute walk around the block, please...
Another of my favourite strategies. When you get a chance, tell your manager what you’re working on and any risks. Not in a scary, panicked way, just in a ‘oh yeah, this is what’s happening’ way. That way, they’re across your work, you’ve shared the main details and if things fall apart (which is why you’re nearly at meltdown anyway), they won’t be shocked. Our managers are busy people and we may not get to catch up with them that often, but even a quick rundown in the kitchen will make you feel so much better.
Set some hours people. If you need to be on call or available after work hours, that’s fine, but please don’t check your work email between 10pm and 6am. A ‘quick peek’ often turns into an hour of stress for me, even if I promise myself it won’t cause a problem. And even if I read an email and pretend to ignore it, it can’t be unseen. You know what I’m talking about.
Plan for a well-rounded week
Imagine your life as a rectangle, and allocate equal space to the areas of your life you care most about - career, relationship, friendships, family, leisure, hobbies, etc. On a Sunday, you could look at the week ahead and make sure, even amongst your busy job and long hours, that you have time allocated for each area of your life - catching up with friends, watching a movie with your partner, visiting your grandma, going to the gym. Whatever it is, carve time out or career will take over again and again.
Even if you’re not quite heading for a meltdown, these strategies can be great to refer to during a busy work week or when you feel like you can’t seem to find enough time outside of work hours.
On the other hand, do remember that anxiety and depression are serious illnesses so please reach out for help if it’s going beyond regular stress.
How bad are things at your job? And how will you deal with the mounting pressure?