How to Fight the Sneakiest of Enemies: Burnout

Burnout is sneaky.

It's rarely the result of some catastrophic event. Rather it's cumulative — just another small, harmless thing that finally the drains last drop of energy and life out of you, producing debilitating symptoms. I actually have a list of 46 such symptoms. Obviously, as these symptoms occur in your business and in your personal life, they affect your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.

For example, do you experience any of the following? Your business isn't fun anymore, you feel out of control, and the work piles up with no end in sight? How about a lack of energy, frequent headaches, sleeplessness or grinding your teeth? Are you blowing up or growling at anyone who crosses your path, feeling apathetic, or have an increased sense of detachment from those you love? Have you experienced a loss in your sense of purpose, paralysis about what to do, or hopelessness? These are some symptoms of burnout.

To recover, you need to identify what steals your time and energy. Just saying you work too hard doesn't get at the heart of the problem. You have always worked hard. Think about where and how you spend your energy because energy is what you need to stay balanced; and everything you do has an energy consequence. To start your search, look at choice, balance, rhythm and recovery.

You have a choice on how you respond to situations. Psychological stress in itself has no power over you. It is not life's events, but how we react that determines if an event will have a positive or negative affect on our lives. Check out the energy costs of the choices you're making and the impact on your life and available energy. Maybe you need to make other choices. One choice to consider is to choose yourself first, because you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone or anything else. This is not a selfish choice, but a wise one.

Have you noticed when you ask someone how they are, they say "Busy!" with a sense of pride, like busy is a good thing? Somehow, doing nothing is no longer an option. Yet, quiet moments can create wisdom, connection, mindfulness, balance and peace. We need to balance busy with quiet. We need to find time to stop doing. One of my clients just picked a time to stop. The time was not dependent on his readiness to stop. He stopped because it was time to stop. Maybe we can learn from this. Pick your time to stop and then do so.

Most of us know about the circadian rhythm, the 24-hour cycle of sleep and awake. Recent research shows that there are smaller ultradian rhythms as well. These account for the ebb-and-flow of our energy during the day. Physiologically, our heart rate, hormone levels, muscle tension and brain wave activity increase at the beginning of the cycle. After 90 to 120 minutes, the body craves a period of rest and recovery. We yawn, get hungry, concentration drifts, we make more mistakes and we get cranky. People override this natural cycle with caffeine or just marching on. Recognize this rhythm and take a break. Research shows it may result in a 30 percent increase in energy in the afternoon.

Have you ever heard someone say upon getting ill, "Ah, I can finally rest"? Don't wait to get sick to give yourself the recovery time you need to stay well. Rest is as necessary to life as air. It is an ointment, a natural, nourishing and essential companion to our work. You need recovery from a long day at work, from thinking all day, from draining experiences.

Future columns will address specific remedies, but for today, try this. Stop and breathe deeply before you react, before you exert, before you blow up. Breathing summons energy; it relaxes and promotes balance and recovery. And it's such an easy choice to make.