Burning out can lead to blowouts (How to prevent overextending yourself)

It is a very obvious truth that exhausted people aren’t fully productive, what’s not so obvious is the shape or form that exhaustion takes.

Photo by Sebastian Herrmann on Unsplash

Feeling that your exhaustion debilitates you beyond your ability to remain productive can only be the logical effect of a huge and constant impact on your energy levels… something significant enough to rob you of your energy in a pinch. There is one thing that can consume energy at such a high degree: stress.

Yes, that well-known word we continue to antagonize might be to blame for this decrease in energy levels resulting in mental, emotional and physical exhaustion, or burnout.

If stress really is the cause of burnout, it is absolutely worth examining it to its core.

Any situation that you perceive as demanding can and will cause stress. If driving to your office requires you to squeeze in between lines while fighting for a way to enter the road while no car lets you in, or rushing through the traffic lights while it’s about to turn red, and having to put up with the car behind you that can simply not stop honking, caring little if you have to cut off the car in front of you to get through the line… It is safe to say you have to be in an extra alert, focused and defensive state to make it through this traffic.

In other words, you have to be stressed to a healthy extent to put up with these demanding circumstances.

Basically, your stress will help you make it on time to work. Thanks, stress!

Of course, after this random peak of energy has ceased, your body will feel a little exhausted. Probably not exhausted enough to keep you from handling your shift.

Similarly, answering to angry customers, identifying perfect responses to problems, and solving difficult processes all require you to make use of your stress response to stay focused and active.

I hope these illustrations allow for you to fix your relationship with stress and stop condemning it for existing; it’s only trying to make you as productive as possible!

As cliche as it sounds, it really is all about balance. Though stress simply enhances your body to it’s strongest, most alert conditions, being in this state for too long is ridiculously detrimental. It’s like leaving the stove on -or any electrical device for that matter- for too long and at its highest potency.

As energetic beings ourselves, it is only logical that we too will burn out if we’re left “on” and at our higher “heating” levels for too long. The bottom line of this cheesy illustration? High levels of stress and for prolonged periods of times are the two deadly combinations that will burn the hell out of you.

Sometimes, you don’t even notice when you’re burnt out, making it harder to address and fix the matter. I’ve got you though! Here are some not-so-obvious signs you’re burning out:

1. You make dumb mistakes

That routine process you’ve done around a thousand times but that you just messed up (again)? Turns out tired and bored brains find it really easy to unfocus, thus everything around us seems like a better distraction, including our own mundane thoughts.

Seriously, thinking about how that overly fat fish in the fish tank next to your station might actually be pregnant and not just fat is a much more fascinating thought than that question you’ve answered to at least 20 people in the last hour… Except you answered it wrong because the fish looks pregnant. Great.

2. You’re being rude.

Ugh, no Karen, there’s no coffee, can you make it yourself and stop asking? And by the way, make me a few dozen cups because I don’t think I can cope with anyone today without a caffeine overdose.

As a product of irritability, rude behaviors skyrocket. Like a moody toddler who didn’t nap that day, your temper will resemble one of these little ones by refusing to treat others with empathy and patience and throwing random tantrums; adults just decide to throw more acceptable tantrums through passive aggressiveness and sarcasm instead.

Are you answering your emails/questions/calls in a more passive-aggressive tone? How are you speaking to your colleagues? How are you even thinking about your colleges?

3. The quality of your work

It is no surprise that exhaustion hinders your ability to generate ideas, look for solutions and dulls your creativity in general- all things which are fully necessary for good productivity. Moreover, you might feel too tired to do back and forth work, thus slowing down the time it takes you to complete tasks.

It will not be hard for you to tell when you’re not getting stuff done in time, or when you’re falling behind your workmates’ metrics. A clear drop in the quality of your work doesn’t mean you suddenly no longer can do things right, it just means you’re tired.

4. Your body screams: I’M TIRED.

Allergies, random body pain and aches (especially in your back, neck, and head), and skin conditions such as acne and rosacea are usually stress-induced or stress-worsened conditions. In case any of the above signs did not communicate the message clearly, your body will make sure you listen to it. If you’re not letting it talk, it will have no problem screaming back in pain.

Once you’ve fully accepted your exhaustion, maybe it’s time to recover your productivity not only at work but at life. Unlike the previously mentioned stove example, when burnout, stoves are hardly repaired as their inner circuits have to be fixed, replaced or simply disposed of. You, on the other hand, can fully recover your functionality, not without some commitment to the following suggestions:

1. Balance work and personal life

If you’re in working mode for most of your waking time, it doesn’t make sense to stay in that working environment when attempting to rest. Unplugging now and then might help: Have lunch or your breaks out of the office whenever possible.

Try not to make a habit to attend to your working duties when your shift is over. Sometimes it might be needed, but if you get your brain used to the idea that work doesn’t end after your shift does, guess what? I'll believe it.

Lastly, try to leave the person you are at work precisely there, at work. You’re not the manager anymore at your friend’s house-party, so stop trying to control everyone, Susan.

You’re not customer service anymore, so if your phone texts start to look like an email to your customers, you might want to stop right there. You’re also not supposed to answer to everything your friend says with “I understand your concern”, it’ll work the first time, then you’ll just be burnt-out… and friendless.

2. Exercise.

No eye rolling here! Exercise is a MUST. Stress levels are relatively elevated by the time your shift ends, so be nice to yourself and lower them by exercising for 30 minutes. Don’t go to bed carrying all that stress! This will allow for a fresh start the next day as opposed to simply accumulating stressful days!

3. Don’t be overly attached

Do you really need those extra hours? Do you really want to handle all of those responsibilities you asked for and that you now barely have time for? Be honest with yourself and acknowledge that there’s only so much you can take. Talk to someone to negotiate what responsibilities are out of your working capacity. You might be able to take on them again as you’ve regained control.

Honesty is much more valuable than a person who pretends to be able to do it all… and then fails miserably at it because they’re overloaded.

You’re not a disposable machine that burns and becomes dysfunctional only to be thrown away, so please, don’t treat yourself as something you can exploit till it no longer works! Keep watch over your energy levels and get the best out of it, and if you’ve already surpassed those, you can still regain full functionality because you’re amazing! And because you’re not a stove.