Where Is Your Burnout Focus?
What do you think of when you hear the term “burnout?”
Many people associate burnout with images of a candle or fire. The flame died down and there isn’t much left to burn. There is a light — but it’s faint and near its bitter end.
For me, I imagine it as a rear wheel drive car burning out its tires in a parking lot. The car is burning energy, running down its wheels and yet going… nowhere.
No matter how you look at it, burnout will cause harm to our physical health and mental well being. It’s up to us to prevent it.
“But Anna, I can’t help how much work comes my way. There is simply so much to do in my job.”
Sure, we may not be able to control how much work comes our way. However, anyone can control where they choose to shift their focus.
“Stressors disrupt your body’s balanced internal state; your stress response is your body’s attempt to return to normal. To rapidly transport nutrients and oxygen to your muscles, your blood pressure and your heart and respiration rate all spike. At the same time, any processes that are less important in the short term — such as digestion, growth and reproduction — slow down.”
“Health.” No Hard Feelings: Emotions at Work (and How They Help Us Succeed), by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy, Penguin Business, London, 2019, pp. 23–24.
Let’s break this down a little bit.
Your external environment can affect your internal operations. Stress is your body’s attempt to return to normal. This seems backwards, doesn’t it?
We often look at stress as a bad thing, like something we need to end right away. Instead, it’s as if the body is telling the mind, “Hey — I noticed your environment is a little off, let me rearrange some of your body’s priorities so we can get back to normal.”
The way I see it, your body is doing it’s best to help you get through the stress by downplaying some of its basic functions.
Problem is — if the body is taking a break so we can recalibrate, what happens if we don’t take the steps to actually recalibrate?
This is where the physical symptoms of stress arise: poor sleep, colds or illnesses, weight loss or gain, and digestive issues (to name a few). Unfortunately, we don’t have full control over our body’s internal functions. But we can use our physical symptoms as cues that we need some rest and/or self-care.
When faced with high demands at work, many people sacrifice their health. Instead of spending time with our spouse, we respond to emails late at night. Healthy home cooked meals are replaced by takeout. Plans with friends get postponed. We skip workouts.
This is where we have to ask ourselves: Where is my burnout focus?
Will you choose to focus on the work in front of you or will you choose to focus on taking care of yourself?
For my fellow people-pleasers and overachievers, choosing the latter will feel much like self torture… at first.
Keep in mind, when you face burnout, your body will stop some of its functions so you have more energy to focus on that external threat (ex: looming deadlines, unread emails, ailing parents and sick kids). We have to be aware of this and do what we can do to protect our well-being.
Taking care of yourself does not mean you stop working. Making time for yourself doesn’t make you a selfish person. Telling your boss you need help does not mean you’re not fit for the job. Spending time with friends does not mean you’re not committed to your career.
In fact, it can mean just the opposite:
- Taking care of yourself might simply mean investing in a professional meal prep service so you don’t have to grocery shop or cook. This saves you time and energy you can then give to family or friends.
- Making time for yourself is a simple commitment to turn off all devices for at least 20 minutes a day. What you do with that time is totally up to you: Go for a run, read a book, walk with a friend or listen to a podcast. Do something for you.
- Being open with your supervisor creates brainstorming opportunities to find better ways to complete projects. Your boss may not know what you’re going through and they might have some valuable advice.
- When work feels draining, spending time with friends laughing can replenish our spirits. Time away from work allows us to hit the “reset” button so we can come back refreshed.
Make an honest effort to separate you from your work. Don’t do things only because you feel obligated or because someone suggested it. Ask yourself how you can best take care of yourself… and then find a way to do it.
Listen, if you don’t focus on yourself during stressful times, you can’t work to your peak potential anyway. It may seem like giving your time to the job is the best way to get ahead, but that’s not always true. In many cases, taking care of yourself first so that you can perform at your highest level is the best way to go.