Let’s Play Pretend: Becoming Crispy
“Burnout happens when you avoid being human for too long.”
I know what you are going to say. Yep. No need to actually say it to me…
Melissa, avoiding being human is how I function, NOT how I burn out.
Got it and for a very long time believed it. But then I hit a point that my patience tolerance was lowered, my brain was foggy and my ability to multitask disappeared. I tried more caffeine and then more caffeine. A few less hours of sleep and THEN life would get back to normal. All that got me was more irritated, more foggy and much less pleasant to be around.
Unless you were on the receiving end of my mask. My ability to continue to work, continue to excel and continue to maintain my image was fabulous. I was a rock star at being an imposter.
And thus I was a rock star of being crispy….not quite burned out, but pretty darn close.
Those who were privileged enough to see behind the mask were pretty vocal at what they were seeing. Concerned about my work getting all of my energy with my health getting none. Concerned about a disconnect between what I am passionate about empowering others about, with the inability to practice what I preach.
One day I looked at a picture of myself from three years prior and realized that the joy was gone from my eyes and I could not recognize what I saw in the mirror any longer.
That was the day that I decided to change.
As we discussed two weeks ago, Imposter Syndrome is a real thing. It is the disconnect between what we show on the outside of our masks to what we feel on the inside of our masks. It is the paralyzing fear that we will be “found out” and not respected for the individuals we are, the impact we have and the success we have had. The feeling that we are not good enough to be known and accepted.
But Imposter Syndrome also leads to a high level of burnout simply from not being able to maintain your superhero status indefinitely. No matter what you think. No matter how stubborn you are. No matter how long you have been doing it until now.
Accordingly Very Well Mind, burnout is defined as:
Burnout is a reaction to prolonged or chronic job stress and is characterized by three main dimensions: exhaustion, cynicism (less identification with the job), and feelings of reduced professional ability.
To define it further, Psychology Today states that the symptoms as the following:
Signs of physical and emotional exhaustion
Chronic fatigue. In the early stages, you may feel a lack of energy and feel tired most days. In the latter stages, you feel physically and emotionally exhausted, drained, and depleted, and you may feel a sense of dread about what lies ahead on any given day.
Insomnia. In the early stages, you may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep one or two nights a week. In the latter stages, insomnia may turn into a persistent, nightly ordeal; as exhausted as you are, you can't sleep.
Forgetfulness/impaired concentration and attention. Lack of focus and mild forgetfulness are early signs. Later, the problems may get to the point where you can't get your work done and everything begins to pile up.
Physical symptoms. Physical symptoms may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal pain, dizziness, fainting, and/or headaches (all of which should be medically assessed).
Increased illness. Because your body is depleted, your immune system becomes weakened, making you more vulnerable to infections, colds, flu, and other immune-related medical problems.
Loss of appetite. In the early stages, you may not feel hungry and may skip a few meals. In the latter stages, you may lose your appetite altogether and begin to lose a significant amount of weight.
Anxiety. Early on, you may experience mild symptoms of tension, worry, and edginess. As you move closer to burnout, the anxiety may become so serious that it interferes with your ability to work productively and may cause problems in your personal life.
Depression. In the early stages, you may feel mildly sad and occasionally hopeless, and you may experience feelings of guilt and worthlessness as a result. At its worst, you may feel trapped and severely depressed and think the world would be better off without you. (If your depression is to this point, you should seek professional help immediately.)
Anger. At first, this may present as interpersonal tension and irritability. In the latter stages, this may turn into angry outbursts and serious arguments at home and in the workplace. (If anger gets to the point where it turns to thoughts or acts of violence toward family or coworkers, seek immediate professional assistance.)
Signs of Cynicism and Detachment
Loss of enjoyment. At first, loss of enjoyment may seem very mild, such as not wanting to go to work or being eager to leave. Without intervention, loss of enjoyment may extend to all areas of your life, including the time you spend with family and friends. At work, you may try to avoid projects and figure out ways to escape work altogether.
Pessimism. At first, this may present itself as negative self-talk and/or moving from a glass-half-full to a glass-half-empty attitude. At its worst, this may move beyond how you feel about yourself and extend to trust issues with coworkers and family members and a feeling that you can't count on anyone.
Isolation. In the early stages, this may seem like mild resistance to socializing (i.e., not wanting to go out to lunch; closing your door occasionally to keep others out). In the latter stages, you may become angry when someone speaks to you, or you may come in early or leave late to avoid interactions.
Detachment. Detachment is a general sense of feeling disconnected from others or from your environment. It can take the form of the behaviors described above and result in removing yourself emotionally and physically from your job and other responsibilities. You may call in sick often, stop returning calls and emails, or regularly come in late.
Signs of Ineffectiveness and Lack of Accomplishment
Feelings of apathy and hopelessness. This is similar to what is described in the depression and pessimism sections of this article. It presents as a general sense that nothing is going right or nothing matters. As the symptoms worsen, these feelings may become immobilizing, making it seem like "what's the point?"
Increased irritability. Irritability often stems from feeling ineffective, unimportant, useless, and an increasing sense that you're not able to do things as efficiently or effectively as you once did. In the early stages, this can interfere in personal and professional relationships. At its worst, it can destroy relationships and careers.
Lack of productivity and poor performance. Despite long hours, chronic stress prevents you from being as productive as you once were, which often results in incomplete projects and an ever-growing to-do list. At times, it seems that as hard as you try, you can't climb out from under the pile.
So now what? Let me refer back to my “favorite” naturopath that said I needed to take a full year off of work in order to deal with my health issues brought on by consistent stress.
I have yet to take that year off. Have zero plans to do that any time soon!
But what you can do is call a spade a spade. Burnout is not bad or wrong. It makes you human. Burnout and Compassion Fatigue (more next week on that…) are secondary impacts for helping professionals and high achieving individuals.
The first step to any source of healing is to identify the truth of what is happening instead of continuing to cover it up with more work, more caffeine or more excuses.
Secondly, set boundaries after boundaries after boundaries. Boundaries are not like the walls that your mask allows to keep people out, but healthy protection to ensure that you have the balance you need to take care of you. Boundaries can be with your time (clear cut days off or ending times), your emotions (limiting the number of energy draining relationships) or even physically (sleep, nutrition and exercise). Boundaries define what you WANT to do instead of what you CAN do. They help you focus on what is important to you, instead of what you feel obligated to do.
Finally, avoiding burnout means creating space for yourself. For me it was not posting a blog last week. I needed that space over the weekend to rest, energize and focus on me. Was there some guilt? Heck yes. Did I feel like I was “failing” my weekly blog theme plan that is scheduled out until January 2021? Yep…thought crossed my mind a few times. But guess what? Life goes on, the blog goes on and no one even noticed.
What can you carve out to find some balance for you to avoid getting crispy? What boundaries do you need to put into place? And what space do you need to create for you for no other reason then you need it?
Next week we will address Compassion Fatigue in greater detail since it is similar, but vastly different, from burnout so don’t forget to check back weekly. You can always SUBSCRIBE by clicking the word and you will be emailed each week as new content is posted so you will not lose your momentum changing you from the inside out as we enter into our five week (ok, now four week..) series on feeling like an imposter through June.
As I have stated previously, being known for who you uniquely are at the core is a freeing experience. One that will take bravery and vulnerability, but one that can be achieved.
Always remember to take care of you. You are worth it!