Burnout: Why Ignoring it Was a Mistake & What I Did (Too Late) [MarketHer Ep. 58]
By Kate Fodera
Burnout: a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.
And after a bit of research, I discovered that while this term was actually coined by American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in 1974, only recently has it has actually been recognized as a medical syndrome.
The surge of information and articles about burnout have been exploding across various industries and all over the digital space.
In fact, a quick Google Search shows how many results come up and how frequently online publications are talking about this:
Burnout is something that I was feeling, and feeling hard, these past few weeks.
As a perfectionist, I knew burnout was affecting me but I kept trying to push the feelings and the symptoms away. I kept thinking and/or saying, “I can take on that project” and “Of course, I’ll attend that meeting. Throw time on my calendar” and “If I just push a little harder after hours, I’ll be in a better spot to handle unexpected fires next week.”
I ignored the nagging pit in my stomach, the fake weight that I literally felt on my shoulders, and the fact that I was losing sleep at night by thinking, “What did I forget to do today?”
I recognized it, thought I could beat it, and I kept pushing through to the point where it was affecting every waking moment and then even some of my asleep moments as work would slip into my dreams.
Much later than I should’ve, I realized I had to do something about it.
I talked to my manager about needing some time off and not only did he encourage me to take a long weekend and book a trip somewhere but also to completely disconnect from work.
I debated for a while on whether or not I should (that pesky perfectionist mindset sneaking in) but he was right, I had to take time away from my computer.
Then I booked a long weekend in Las Vegas and decided that I would completely and totally shut off from work, something I have never ever done before.
Heck, when I was in Turkey last year, I went back to my hotel room, hopped on Zoom, and helped launch a client website.
Not this time.
While it was slightly painful to do so, I turned off all notifications for Gmail (personal and work), Basecamp, and Slack and went off the grid.
So, how did I know I was past this burnout breaking point?
I took some time before my recent Las Vegas getaway to write down how I was feeling, in the moment, for this blog post and then, today, I created a video to show how I’m feeling now after I took unplugged time away.
I’ll be honest, it’s tough for me to be… well, honest, but, MarketHers, I told myself that when I became co-host of this video podcast, I’d never be fake with you out of fear, so here we go.
I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect and to never screw up but even though I’ve recognized that, I’ve never experienced what I’m experiencing now.
It’s weird to explain but I really, truly feel as though I’ve had a never-ending stomach ache and I’ve been carrying a heavy weight on my shoulders.
I’m not sure if this feeling of being weighed down is what’s happening because that’s the area of my body where I carry stress but I feel as though I’ve been run through the wringer.
Not only am I experiencing the physical but I’ve noticed that I’m also on-edge and acting out in ways that are unlike my usual self.
I don’t have a ton of patience with anybody, I’ve snapped at (and then had to apologize) to co-workers when I feel as though my Slack messages didn’t come out quite right, and I’ve laid in bed, awake for hours feeling anxious about what the next day would bring.
Usually, I wouldn’t shy away from challenges or the unknown the next day would bring but I noticed that I wasn’t hitting the ground running -- I was taking a backseat in meetings and in my projects.
I think I feel that way because I know that when I’m this on-edge, small things feel like HUGE things so I didn’t want to risk leading projects because I knew that if something went wrong, it would affect me more than usual.
I tried to protect my sanity and my mental state rather than being the leader I am. And work wasn’t the only place where burnout is getting the best of me.
I’m taking it home with me… After I closed my laptop for the night, I’d drag myself to the couch rather than tackling cleaning or doing laundry. I’m drained, exhausted, and down on myself even more than I feel as though burnout is causing me to not be as sharp at work.
Tips to Avoid Burnout Before it Gets Too Bad:
- Turn off when you need to turn off. That could mean closing down at 5pm every night for a week. It could mean turning off your Slack, Basecamp, and/or Mail notifications every weekend or it could mean just taking an afternoon off if you need it. By listening to your body and your head, you can hopefully recognize when it’s time to step away and then do it. Just turn off. Seriously.
- Lean on your team to chip in and help out if you do need some time away. This can be as simple as setting up 5-10 min with a few trusted colleagues and asking them to respond or jump in if a client has an urgent issue or, if a project absolutely must get completed while you’re out, ask if they can help cover it and then work together, on that call, to figure out how you can pay back the favor.
- If you’re a manager or a leader, you need to set an example to your team. This was something that I didn’t quite grasp until I read, “‘I Can’t Step Away From Work” & Other Lies We Tell Ourselves as Leaders” by our COO, Chris Duprey.
Even after I read it, absorbed it, and agreed with it, I still thought, “Yeah, but my team needs me.”
By not taking time for myself to recharge, I was accidentally sending the message to my team that they also needed to work themselves to the bone, which is not what I want for them at all. It’s that age old, “Do as I say, not as I do” -- but I hate that.
I need to be a role model in ways other than just helping them professionally shape their careers and work with their clients.
- THIS IS HUGE: Taking time for yourself and away from my 9-5 does not mean that you can’t handle your job. It means that you’ve been handling it for too long without taking time for yourself to recharge and regroup.
Every person needs time for themselves and for their sanity that doesn’t include the day to day stress of clients, or strategy, or anything else the corporate world can throw at them.
At the end of the day, I realized that the burnout I was feeling was brought on by myself.
It wasn’t that I worked too hard because of IMPACT, but it's in fact, my own drive that pushed me to the verge of burnout, and it’s my responsibility to recognize when I need to slow down.
I'm sure most of us can agree we do this to ourselves because we don't find ways to manage our own time, or we say yes too many times, or we are overthinking everything.
To me, it comes back to the fact that we have to get back in-touch with ourselves, our bodies, and how we’re feeling and then trust in that.
Take the time and step away before burnout gets the best of you.
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