You’ve been hustling and putting out decent work out into the world. The clients are coming in, the pace is picking up, and your weekly calendar has less and less white space in it. Feels good, right? The days and weeks go on. Then maybe you get a not-so-easy to work with client. And you get some negative feedback on a project that takes you by surprise. Then you get three clients all on the same day which should be awesome but it is terrifying. You start experiencing stomach aches and skip meals for a few days to work on the inflow of big projects – you aren’t hungry anyway with all this work in front of you! But then, one day you sit down to create and feel like nothing is flowing anymore. You decide to work late since you can’t figure out how to solve the problem in front of you. That starts to become a pattern.
Your work quality is starting to slide and you know it. You start cancelling on your workouts or date nights in an attempt to catch up. One day you actually forget a deadline all together, until that is, you have an angry client on the other side of the phone asking for a status update. A few old friends call you and tell you they are coming into town and want to have a night out on the town with you. And to your surprise, instead of getting excited and relieved to have your support system, you have this sudden urge to cry paired with a strong urge to take a nap. That’s the last thing you want to do. But… so is your work. Honestly, you don’t really want to do anything. Just binge watch Netflix and eat Mac and Cheese – the box kind. Definitely the box kind.
How did it come to this?
Burnout is a sneaky devil. We often don’t realize something is wrong until we are so deep in the hole that we feel completely defeated. And our cultural tendency to “hustle and grind” isn’t doing us any favors. For the ladies reading this, you likely know that bossbabe fervor (and don’t get me wrong, I’m 100% on that girlboss train too) is all about working hard and relentlessly to achieve our goals. We are encouraged to work and work and work.
And this mentality is actually really effective in helping creative professionals build a business or rising up the ranks in a corporation, until of course we start to have some success. That’s when, quite
frankly, shit hits the fan.
Let me put this simply. Burnout is an EPIDEMIC in our culture.
A 2018 Gallup poll confirmed this. In a large survey of full-time employees, 44% said they were burned out some of the time, and nearly a quarter of them said they were burned out almost ALL of the time.
The thing is, burnout does not have to be a punch in the face. There are warning signs. The early signs are important to catch because you still have the energy and emotional resources to address the cause of burnout at the root. If you wait until you are fully burned out, you have very little concentration left, will be feeling vulnerable, irritable, and will have a lot more trouble thinking clearly about what to do. It is of course possible to make a comeback back from full blown burnout, but the consequences are far
more dire, and the comeback usually requires some pretty drastic and sudden lifestyle changes.
So let’s look at the early signs of burnout.
Here’s a few things you’ll notice in the first stages:
- An increase in the amount of anxiety you experience when you get a new task/project
- Feeling less focused or motivated by tasks you used to enjoy
- Forgetting to take a break or skipping meals accidentally
- A tendency to cancel on other plans because you need to unexpectedly work late more often or feel too exhausted after the workday
- Feeling tired even when you get enough sleep
- Restless sleep, or dreaming about work related things
- An increase in body aches, headaches/migraines
- Colds take longer to recover from compared to how you were before
- A coworker’s or client’s quirks/flaws get under your skin more than before
- You just “aren’t in the mood” lately with your partner
Let’s look back at the vignette at the start of the post.
In this example, the full burnout comes at the point where what would have been a rejuvenating night out with old friends feels not only like a chore but actually causes emotional pain. This is a big red flag that you are already in the full blown burnout mode if the things that you used to do to bounce back now feel like they make things even worse. But let’s look earlier than the Netflix + Cheese binging.
There were the stomach aches. The meal skipping. The late nights. The loss of motivation and creative focus.
The early signs were there, but instead of addressing these by slowing down, the warning signs were treated as problems that need to be fixed with MORE WORK.
And so the spiral continued.
If you see yourself in the warning signs above or even in the full blown burnout, it’s time to take a step back.
Without judgment, notice the burnout signs and be willing to get vulnerable with yourself to address them early and often. There is a way to bounce back from burnout before you hit the bottom, but it requires emotional honesty, intentionality, and willingness to make some changes. Make an investment in yourself to help you stay accountable as you redesign your work strategy and self-care consistency (helping creatives bounce back from burnout is one of the things I like coaching on most, so check out my coaching packages if your gut is telling you not to go it alone anymore).
And most of all, remember that our bodies are wise and are looking out for us. We just have to be willing to listen. Burnout is not a life sentence. It does not have to end in total despair and destruction. Just like if you have a infected cat scratch on your arm, it doesn’t immediately mean an IV drip and a week-long hospital stay. If you address it early, treat it appropriately with antibiotic ointment and a bandaid, and generally just take care of it, you can prevent the ER drama most of the time. And the same goes for your emotional health. Last week I talked about using your emotions to help you make aligned and intentional decisions. You can use this strategy to address the early signs of burnout too! So if you didn’t pick that up last week, I’ll link below so you can snag it and start using it today.