You sit looking at the pile. Stare into space. Your body hurts from the stress. Your mind goes from frantic to dead quiet.
You know you have to get the report done for tomorrow and you haven’t even started. Worse yet, you don’t want to start. You don’t want to do anything except sit and stare blankly at the wall.
And that’s burn out – no energy or willingness to go on with anything knowing full well what the consequences will be – somehow you don’t care and yet you are very worried. Your whole life has become an incessant world of push and pull – you want to but you don’t; you know what to do but you don’t have the energy; you know the consequences and you don’t care; you don’t care but you worry.
The drag is the worst part – you seem to be dragging yourself around everywhere you go in everything you do in everything you say – it’s all heavy, really heavy like you’re pulling a monster truck every inch of the way!
Physically you’ll feel exhausted and you often get tension headaches or severe lower back pain for no apparent reason – you never had them before but now they become a regular occurrence. Sometimes, the lower back pain is so intense, you can’t even walk!
You have small accidents quite regularly – stubbing your toe, dropping things, and absent-minded run ins with chairs, walls, etc.
You check your work over and over again – yet there are still small mistakes like spelling or reversed numbers. You’re horrified by the small mistakes instead of taking them as they are – small!
Spiritually you feel empty, totally disconnected from everyone and everything. You just wish everyone would leave you alone. People just seem to add to the feeling of being burdoned and you don’t reach out for help either. Everything is meaningless to you – everyone another stress.
Emotionally you sense you don’t have time to get anything accomplished. You really want to distance yourself from everyone so you can get something done. You don’t visit with friends any more. You stop going to the gym. You stay at work longer and longer and longer and less and less done. Soon you feel like a martyr and soon a loser because you see everyone around you going home on time and yet there you sit. You sit trying to accomplish the smallest tasks that seems to take forever.
Your calendar is filled with missed deadlines and you wonder why – you got everything done before, why not now? Appealing to you are the escape mechanisms like alcohol, spending, drugs or even sex. However, at some point in the burn out process, you couldn’t be bothered with these things either. In fact, you know you have to get your act together but you don’t want to.
Every happy moment experienced by others is one that makes you feel even worse. If someone gets engaged or has a baby or a birthday or gets married, it’s hard for you to be happy – you just can’t be happy no matter what. Before, you would have joined in the congratulatory offerings and been genuinely pleased for the person.
You watch the clock too. You were likely a person who was never a clock watcher but now you are – you can’t wait until 5 o’clock comes around so everyone leaves and you’re alone.
Alone becomes more and more appealing because you somehow think you’ll get something done. But you’ll find that an hour has passed and nothing has been accomplished – you go into a blank world in your mind – you can’t move.
Clutter – one sure sign of burn out is clutter. The clutter increases or your appearance deteriorates because of your perception that you don’t have enough time to get everything done. You’re likely not sleeping much either so that doesn’t help – you look like it!
Work – you look at your work and it’s odd. Some of the things you say or how you phrase things is so out to lunch that you can’t even recognize it as work you have produced sometimes. You’ll have moments of brilliance mixed totally off the wall content. Sometimes you’ll say things just don’t make any sense and you know it. Everyone around you knows there is something wrong but most of them can’t identify it – you’re acting strange and that’s all they know.
You don’t have breaks – you don’t eat lunch unless someone drags you out and brings you something to eat –
Depression – is very close at hand – a deep, deep depression – you can feel that too. The disconnect with everyone and everything and the perception there is not time for anything or anyone is a sign it has crept in. The lack of caring and being hyper at the same time is a clue.
So what do you do about it?
The first step is to go to your doctor and get some help. Your doctor will likely tell you the road back to your normal self will be slow but there is no doubt you’ll recover. Your doctor will likely give you a letter recommending a medical leave from work. Take it. Don’t even hesitate. Take it. It’s the best beginning to recovery you can get and get some counseling from a professional who specializes in recovery from burnout. Even if you can’t get stress leave, take vacation time or a leave of absence. You need to get away from work for a little while.
Exercise – start an exercise program immediately and exercise as much as you can every single day – weights, cardio, yoga – and go outside as much as you can every single day – surround yourself with nature –
Eat good food – preferably organic – your body has taken quite a beating through this process and it needs nourishment. Take vitamins too – every day. It’s critical that you get some good vitamins and take them.
Journal – talk to yourself in a journal about what you feel, don’t feel, etc. Anything. Every day sometimes several times a day. It’s important to get it out.
Read good books both fictional and non-fictional. Non-fictional – read about learning to handle stress better and start adopting some techniques which suit you. Fictional will bring your mind into a world of fantasy where you can get lost for a little while.
Massages – start getting some massages. They help release the tension and the toxins that build up in your body. It doesn’t have to be expensive – you can go to a nearby school where they teach massage. In some cases, your health insurance will pay for it.
Talk to your family. Let them know what’s happening and what you need from them. Sometimes it’s just a matter of letting them know you’d love their support but you’ll likely be spending a lot of time by yourself in the next while.
Understand what stresses you the most and what you can do to help you control your stress. That’s very important so you never get to this point again.
Time – learn to schedule appropriately. At first, don’t put time limits on activities. For instance, say you want to exercise every day at 10 am – don’t put a limit on it – just leave it wide open so you have no pressure to finish. Soon, you’ll get a rhythm going and you’ll be able to access how long you like to exercise for.
Get into the habit of slowly introducing regular times to do things such as having lunch – you probably skipped breakfast, lunch and dinner in your most acute burn out stage. So set times and make the experience pleasant each time – food you like – not too much – create a ritual such as placing your knife, fork and napkin on a placemat before starting to prepare your meal and sit with music to have your meals. Keep regular hours to eat each meal. Make it a very pleasant event which you cherish.
Organize your space a little at a time. For 15 minutes, 1/2 hour or an hour a day, declutter your world. It’s very therapeutic.
And only you can know what else you’ll have to do – every life is different – every person is different – but the key is to give yourself the time to heal. That’s your first most important step whether it takes a week, three weeks or several months – you need the time – don’t kid yourself either – you know you’ve burned out – you know it deeply. But there is a tendency to deny it and keep on no matter what – it’s the worst thing to do. Take time to get better and get some better time and life management skills so you never experience burn out again. Yes, I’m talking from experience – been there, done that – and yes, I got over it successfully. If you want some coaching, I’m available and my fees are low because I simply don’t want to add more stress to your life with huge fees that you cannot afford at this point. Contact me through my blog here: www.wizetime.com. You’ll see I have a contact form.
Now – do one thing – only one thing – go get better!