I didn’t know where stress stopped and where burnout began. I was working 100 hours week and taking 30 hour shifts. My physician compatriots touted their busy call schedules like some badge of courage and pain. I truly thought I was just another busy East Coaster living the dream. Cause you sleep when your dead right?
That was the first thing to go. My sleep. What sleep? How can you sleep? I had black out curtains, eye plugs, eye masks….but I was not sleeping. When I slept on the weekend, for twelve hours straight, I felt worse.
You can be stressed but not burned out. But you can’t be burned out without being stressed. Burnout is a disorder that comes on insidiously because we did not heed the bodies warnings. Let’s break it down baseball style. Stress is like little league. As stress builds up, you may get a little bit more productive. Then you get to high school baseball and you have more stress now but you’re still pretty much on your game. You did so well you got into college baseball. This is huge! Now you have a lot more stress and it’s affecting you physically and psychologically. But it’s subtle things like fatigue, an upset stomach, or some irritability. You may get overly emotional once in a while, but who doesn’t? Now you are in the minor leagues and you have polished your stress game. You have so much stress, you can’t remember what you just did. You forget big deadlines or important milestones. You had a panic attack before you went into your boss’ office today. You feel so scattered you can’t remember when you last peed and or ate. But it’s ok. You can skip one meal. And your bladder will figure it out.
Now you hit the jackpot! You are in the major leagues!! You feel numb. You don’t really feel motivated anymore. Your emotions have flattened out. You think it’s good you’re not that emotional anymore. You are physically and emotionally exhausted. You are cynical and detached. You try to do work but for some reason work begins to pile up. Your performance at work starts to tank and you are not your productive self.
At this point you may even have concerning physical symptoms like chest pain, heart palpitations, trouble breathing, dizziness, fainting or worsening headaches. You may get sicker faster because your immune system is depleted. This makes you more vulnerable to colds, flus and other immunity related issues. You may lose your appetite and get depressed. You may feel like the world is a hopeless place for someone worthless like yourself. Or you may be really angry and have outbursts at home and at work.
If you are not experiencing any of these issues, fabulous!!! Now that you know the sneaky symptoms, you can be more mindful of the signs and help yourself before you burn out.
If you are experiencing some of these symptoms, let this be a wake up call. You are on a dangerous path that you may not find scary. Take some time to be honest with yourself and assess how much stress you really have. Open your eyes. Burnout doesn’t go away with a couple nights’ rest on the beach. (Hey I thought it would work too!) You need to make some big changes in your life. It may seem like a horrible prospect to have to work on yourself. I know I did and I didn’t want to do the work. Now if you aren’t fully and completely in your dark hole, you may need to go further into the darkness to realize the woe of your ways. Like I did. I remember going so far into the tunnel I couldn’t see anymore light.
“And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Anais Nin
When I reached that point of pain, I finally was ready to do the hard work of getting my act together. Hopefully you won’t need to go as far as I did. You will notice the signs and make the smaller, easier changes sooner. Refueling your engine is easier than running on empty.