How To Overcome Burnout

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A recent survey carried out by a company called MedScape on burnout among physicians in the United States has brought back the focus on burnout among employees who are working long hours in unsatisfactory conditions for money that doesn’t match the work that they put in for their effort. Right, I should explain burnout to people, though most of you already know it bloody well.

According to the World Health Organization, “Occupational Burnout is a syndrome linked to long-term, unresolved, work related stress”. Long hours, crazy shifts, unrealistic expectations, tight deadlines, managers breathing down your neck and societal and family pressure among others have made burnout the norm, more than the exception in this day and age. While some say that people should just change jobs, it doesn’t help matters in the least when pretty much every job in this day and age would lead to mental stress, save for some clerical positions in the government.

But of course, you can change that situation. Burnouts are temporary and can be overcome with some effort, for which it needs some help from family, friends, your work place (I know it’s unrealistic to expect your company to help on this, but one can try), and last but not least, you.

Yeah, you. You are the first step to overcome burnout.

Here are a few steps that you can do to prevent or straight up overcome your burnout.


Set Aside Some Mindfulness Time

Mindfulness as a buzzword has gained traction over the years, as people all over the world have been complaining of obscene levels of stress, depression and work or family pressure in this highly competitive age of ours. According to Wikipedia and some other sites,

…is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, which one can develop through the practice of meditation and other training.

Essentially, mindfulness is focusing on the present task and time, irrespective of other distractions. For that to happen, our mind needs some downtime other than sleeping to bring it’s high strung or depleted energies into focus. But of course, most people think that watching Netflix or reading a book constitutes rest. Not to knock any of those activities, but your mind is still being worked a good deal via sensory information from the eyes, so your mind will be even more tired. So, achieve this mindfulness by either meditation or walking without a care in the world.

You don’t have to set aside an hour for either of those activities. 15-20 minutes is more than enough for your mind to receive some downtime. For newbies that have no clue on how to meditate, this WikiHow article (link has been provided) could be a good starting point, or there are numerous apps for meditation nowadays. As for walking, do not think about work, keep your phone on silent, maybe listen to some faint melodies or preferably no music at all and just walk without a care in the world. Just try it.

Talk to Friends or Family

Sometimes, just having a fun talk with your near and dear ones can take off the metaphorical globe off your shoulders. The reason for that is pheromones endorphins something something, but the end result is that you will feel lighter, happy and somehow refreshed. I don’t understand how the refreshment part happens, but hey, I’m not complaining.

Again, set some ground rules when talking.

  • Absolutely no talking about work. Period. You came to have some peace, not rip apart whatever shreds of peace remain.
  • No complaining among friends either. If the complaining is done in a comedic or light-hearted manner, then it might be okay. Otherwise, full on whining sessions are definitely not okay.
  • Try not to show your anger or frustration to your family visibly. Just say that it’s a hard day at work or so, and talk about other stuff. Showing off your anger will just make your family feel worried.
  • Don’t hang around Negative Nancys. Whatever peace you would want to have would be destroyed significantly when all you hear are complaints, whines and annoyances.
  • No Phones. Just no. Unless it’s an important call, refrain from using phones.

Sleep

Some people just don’t get enough rest, and this could be a major reason for crashing down like Icarus who flew too close to the Sun. Now there might be valid reasons for you being unable to get sleep, ranging from insomnia to a hectic work schedule to just plain old stress beating you down to the point that you are too worried to sleep. Then there are guys who think that they don’t need sleep and burn the midnight oil or watch some YouTube at that time.

Well, good sirs, you think you don’t need sleep, but your brain will turn into mush if it doesn’t get some shuteye. Enter burnout.

If the former is the case, then

  • Consult your doctor
  • Try to squeeze in some sleep in your schedule. Power naps help a lot in keeping the mind and body refreshed for a good amount of time.
  • As for stress, try not to think about it. Take a hot bath, oil bath if possible and then watch as the Sandman invites you for a good night’s sleep.

If it’s the latter, just shut up and sleep. That next episode of Stranger Things can wait. An average human being needs at least 6 hours minimum rest. 7-9 hours is optimal for feeling like an actual human, instead of feeling like a zombie.

One Thing At A Time

We’ve already established that people suffer burnout due to undue stress. I should also add that this undue stress is purely our own fault, most of the time. We take on too much stuff a lot of the time and then try to multitask our way out of those situations, hoping that everything will work out well in the end.

Trust me, it doesn’t.

All that ends up happening is that,

  • You will half-ass a lot of the tasks given to you, instead of doing one thing well.
  • Your work-life balance will be screwed, since you will try to fit each and every task in your schedule, not even thinking if it can be done within the specified timeframe at all.
  • You take up crazy amounts of stress and pressure due to all the work piled up and lose your peace of mind.
  • You lose your appetite and your sleep.
  • Mental health issues.

I could go on. This multitasking crap piled on by eager managers to finish your targets in the hopes that they will receive a big, fat promotion off of your efforts is a big reason for today’s burnout culture. If you want to work well, I suggest you learn to say “No”. Yeah, I know it’s kinda taboo, especially in the Indian IT industry, but learn to say it. It’ll save you some peace.

As for the multitasking thing, if you have no choice but to do them all, then first find whichever task has the highest priority or whichever task is the hardest and focus on that alone. Once you’ve finished that task, zero in on the next high priority task and finish that. Rinse and repeat. If you have troubles focusing on a singular task for a long period of time, I suggest you try the Pomodoro Technique (link has been provided). I haven’t tried it for myself, but a lot of people have been singing it’s paens online, so it must be working well. If you are working in the tech industry, then you must be knowing of the Kanban board (link has been provided), the bane of most coders all over the world. It actually works well, so give that a whirl. In this way, try to work your way through all those tasks.

Eat Right

You’re pulling a 12 hour shift at the office, working your ass off for your work to be finished within the deadline when all of a sudden, your stomach starts to protest that it will screw up your productivity until you put some food into it. Enter Swiggy, Uber Eats, GrubHub. You order for the best pizza or burger and you satiate your hunger for the time being.

See, that where most people screw up. Improper nutrition is just as vital to lead to a burnout as anything else.

All those pizzas, samosas, donuts contain trans-fats and processed sugar among others, which may give you a temporary energy spike but will result in a damning lull in your efficiency in a few minutes, which will result in your energy levels plummeting down to the earth and if you don’t get enough physical activity, they will end storing as fat in your body, resulting in obesity and further plummeting of energy levels. You can’t get work done efficiently with low energy levels and hence, you will hit that burnout wall faster than ever.

In case of hunger pangs, here are the do and dont’s.

DO:

  • Drink water, black coffee and unsweetened tea.
  • Keep some nuts or dried fruits. They stave off hunger pretty fast.
  • Opt for healthy alternates. Instead of mayonnaise on your shawarma, go for hummus or instead of a Big Mac, go for a lean sandwich with chicken, turkey and the lot.
  • Have a veggie bowl and fill it with different types of vegetables.
  • If you want something sweet, eat fruits.
  • If you want something really sweet, buy homemade stuff or make it at home. Less sugar, additives make for a better option.

DON’T:

  • Eat donuts, burgers, pizzas or fast food items, all the damn time. Once in a while is fine, once every day is not.
  • Eat sugar in large quantities. It will kill off your energy levels and make you fat and dull faster than the Flash.
  • Eat items with too much oil or butter.
  • Eat out all the time.
  • Drink carbonated drinks like Pepsi, Coke every day. Dangerous levels of sugar can be found in those drinks.
  • Eat fried items. Substitute them for grilled, boiled, cooked or barbequed.
  • Snack all the damn time.

Engage in Creative Pursuits

Sometimes, all your mind needs is an outlet to let it’s creative juices flow, for that is one of the few escapes for the mind from the humdrum and routine of our average work lives, lest it meltdown into a blubbery mush. Make some time for doing stuff that you love and makes you happy, such as painting, composing or playing music, cycling, cooking etc etc.

As we’ve established, your mind needs some downtime to recharge itself for the tasks of the next day, and while sleep is very much essential, pursuing a creative activity of your own volition will make your mind even more focused and refreshed, since it is being allowed to flex it’s muscles on something that stimulates and enthralls it as opposed to making it burst like a bloody volcano.

Again, ground rules being that no phones or internet, unless of course it aids in said creative pursuit, in which case you can go hog wild.

Take A Break

Seriously, when was the last time you went on a vacation without worrying about all of your life’s problems? Months? Years? Decades?

It’s vacation time.

Just grit your teeth until whenever the project is over. Once it is over, utilize those casual or vacation days gathering dust, and book a ticket to Zihuatanejo or whichever place caught your fancy. You could take a break with your family, or go solo and backpack in some unknown country, making friends along the way. You’ll end up feeling light, refreshed and you’ll have a renewed vigor for life, at least until the next burnout or meltdown. But seriously, you make memories, contacts and your mind will be all the more happy for it.

Again, make some ground rules. No internet, no social media, no work, no worries. Nowadays, there are detox packages where the agency suggests you places where cell reception and internet are still futuristic sci-fi terms, so you can have some time off with Mother Nature instead of fiddling with your phone over buying shares of some hot stock, based off some hot tip that landed on your lap. Your mind deserves at least some love and peace for all the troubles it went through.

Quit Your Job

If nothing else works out, if you’ve already tried all the above mentioned steps and still feel like a dead dodo, then clearly it’s the work culture of your company that’s screwing over your physical and mental health. In this age of “Make Fast and Break Things”, most companies, especially tech companies and startups, have adopted the Silicon Valley mentality of do until you die. This leaves out employees in the cold, since most people have a social life to balance as well.

Not all companies are bad. Most of them provide benefits that very much work in favor of the employees, while there are companies that would very much love to squeeze every last drop of sweat from their employees to get the job done, without providing either monetary or social benefits. There are also instances where some employees might be singled out by some manager with a grudge to bear and they are overworked, just for the sadistic pleasure of the lead in question.

If those are the cases, talk to your manager about this until you can reach an amicable solution for both parties involved. If that doesn’t happen, then put in your papers and shift to a company which respects the work-life balance of the employees and treats employees as humans with a life to live beyond the confines of their cubicle, instead of some drone capable of working 24*7 without any complaints.


This is all I have for this week. See you next week, guys.

(If you are new to this blog, I publish articles for self-improvement every Wednesday at 6:00 PM Indian Standard Time. If you like my articles, do subscribe to my blog and if you really like it, do donate via the Paypal widget found below if you feel like it. A man can dream, right?)

Until next time,
An ever improving geek.

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