Colleagues start to annoy you, everything seems meaningless and uninteresting: is it possible to burn out even at your favorite job?
If more and more often you don't want to do your favorite job, and even thinking about it is tiring, you may have burnout. What leads to burnout? How can you avoid it? Which books should you read, which apps should you install? Olga Barysionak, the Product Manager of Intergiro, discusses a common problem of our time.
How does it usually start
— There is a common misconception that if work brings you satisfaction, joy, and pleasure, then it is impossible to "burn out" from it. But what is burnout?
The World Health Organization (WHO) has defined burnout as a syndrome that occurs as a result of chronic stress in the workplace, which it is not possible to cope with.
Burnout in a favorite, interesting, and exciting job can occur just as often as it does in a boring, tedious and uninteresting one. And although a lot has been written and said about how to act when a job does not suit you, for people who experience burnout while working at a "dream job," it often hits them suddenly and unexpectedly.
Burnout can be especially surprising when it happens after you exchange a tedious job for an "ideal job." When that happens, it seems that your long-awaited dream has become a reality: now you will enjoy every working day all the time. But, after some time passes, you suddenly find it hard to even think about work. More and more, you want to shirk your work duties, meetings, and new clients. Increasingly, you just want to do nothing. Even thinking about work feels tiring. You have more and more thoughts about how great it would be to go to Bali or Sri Lanka, open a beach bar there, and make coconut figurines. Sleep becomes less restful, and it feels like no matter how much you sleep, it's not enough. Colleagues are starting to annoy you. Everything seems pointless and uninteresting.
Causes of burnout
— Burnout from cool, interesting, and important work can happen for various reasons.
We often incorrectly prioritize our life tasks. Realistically, work is just one of the areas of life that requires our attention and energy. We may, however, get carried away with interesting work projects and new tasks, plunge headlong into the flow, and enjoy the process of creating a new product. We acquire new skills and competencies at the speed of light, establish new networking connections, and feel that we have never been so productive, cool, and successful.
So we become inattentive to our body's signals for an extended period of time. Day after day, we sit in an uncomfortable position, frozen in it for several hours without noticing the inconvenience. We may "forget" about lunch, or about the fact that we want to drink water, until a brutal hunger begins to torment us, or until an almost fainting level of fatigue begins to roll in.
Our body, which gives us the energy and resources on which our vital activity is based, gets tired. The body produces hormones and its systems provide the energy on which we rely to continue to function and create new things. If you "hammer" on your body, drowning out its signals with coffee, sugar, or other stimulants, you will not have to wait long for its systems to fail.
Due to the disproportionate application of your energy to work tasks, other areas of your life begin to suffer. Sports, relationships with loved ones, hobbies — all become secondary, a lower priority than work tasks. These non-work parts of life, however, are supportive; they give you a sense of confidence, support, and satisfaction. When they are not fueled by your attention and effort, they stop supplying you with resources.
Insufficient number of switches
Our brain cannot do the same job with equally high productivity for a long period of time. For the prefrontal cortex to activate, we need to switch our attention. This can mean switching between different types of tasks (holding a meeting with colleagues, reading documentation, writing code, planning tomorrow), or switching contexts. If you are focused on a difficult task, then after 20-40 minutes of concentrated work, it is useful to change the context and, for example, chat with colleagues, run up the stairs, go outside, breathe some fresh air, and focus on how you feel at that moment.
Also, very often we unconsciously get stuck in thoughts about work tasks when we are not at work: on the way home, at a meeting with friends, at home. Thus, we only think that our activity has changed, but our brain continues to process unresolved work issues. The development of mindfulness skills and the ability to make a conscious choice to be where you are at that moment can help with this. If you are meeting with friends, devote your time and attention completely to them; do not focus on aspects of the functionality of your application that remain untested.
Conflict with your basic values
Even if you manage to maintain a seemingly reasonable work-life balance, and the various parts of your life are nourished and supplied with energy, this does not completely free you from the risk of burnout. It can happen if:
- You have a high level of stress on a daily, constant basis. If relations with colleagues or clients are not going well, or there are issues in the team that cannot be resolved, then every day your strength is "undermined" by moderately strong stress.
- You have managed to adapt to the complexity of your key work task, and it has become routine and monotonous for you. Completing it no longer brings joy or satisfaction.
- Your expectations are not met. Perhaps you've been working all year hoping to get a promotion, but now it's clear that you won't get it. This fact became known, but your work duties remained the same. Or you expected to receive constant admiration and approval from customers for your brilliant contributions, and for some reason this does not happen.
Work will bring pleasure and satisfaction if what you do there correlates with your common, basic life values. If it does, you will spend your time not just vegetating at the computer, marking time from call to call, or participating in the race of "who will do more tasks, and be the winner for today.” Instead, you will do what you live for outside of work. If your life value is "sharing knowledge with others," for example, then at any job, regardless of your position, you will be able to organize your working day so that there is an opportunity to share your unique experience with those to whom it will be useful. If your value is self-development, then in any company you will be able to set up your activities so that you will learn something new every day, discovering new opportunities and skills. If your value is relationships, then you will be able to invest in acquiring new connections and acquaintances, getting to know new people, and doing common work with them.
Imagine that your body is a car. For a car to drive, you fill it with gasoline, regularly take it for service, do not interfere in its systems, and you carefully monitor error messages and warnings the dashboard shows you. If smoke is coming out from under the hood of your car, the first thing you will do is stop driving it. It's the same with burnout — if you feel for a long time that work no longer brings you pleasure, this is a signal to reconsider your behavior and change something.
How to avoid burnout
— There is a vast amount of literature about burnout, but I would focus on materials that teach mindfulness. With the skill of mindfulness, you can avoid the trap of burnout. Instead, you will see your capabilities and limitations clearly, and live life in accordance with your personal values. Resources for you can be books, courses for independent work, or therapy — as the fastest and most effective way to help yourself if you feel symptoms of burnout.
I believe that therapy is the best choice, since burnout can often be confused with incipient depression, which should not be treated with books; instead, it is better to seek the help of trained specialists.
— Books that I recommend:
- Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski and Emilia Nagoski. The book is aimed at women, it describes societal conditions that women face, which can lead to burnout, and suggests a plan to address the underlying issues.
- Can't Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen. This book addresses burnout among Millennials, offering a detailed assessment of why and how burnout manifests in that generation.
- Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving by Celeste Headlee. This book can help you come to terms with the fact that work may not be the most important thing in our lives, and that sometimes doing nothing and just sitting on the couch is not so bad.
— I also recommend installing meditation apps and learning to meditate. Headspace, Calm, Breathe, Mindfulness, and any other application that will help you to be alone with yourself for at least 10 minutes can work perfectly.
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