How the hell do you know if you are simply feeling overwhelmed or whether you are on the fast track to career burnout?
How do you feel when you juggle client commitments, requests from the school for toilet rolls and empty yoghurt cartons, with volunteering activities, preparing packed lunches and the gym?
Does it all feel too much? Do you feel like you’re going to snap? Do you feel it physically in your body? Are you exhausted, not just today but every day?
Let me tell you something about burnout. Several years ago, when I was in my 20s, I worked for one of the world’s top accountancy firms. I loved my work. Really loved it. But I nearly burnt out because I didn’t take care of myself. I was that woman on the brink.
Every morning I was at my desk by 8am, 8.30am at the latest. I rarely left before 8pm. I worked evenings too – and this is in the days before remote access, so working weekends meant driving into the office.
I often skipped lunch. I survived in the evenings on vodka and chocolate. I wanted to be successful. I wanted to prove that I was capable. I wanted promotion. I wanted respect. I thought that in order to get that, I had to work hard. (In later life, I realised that what I really wanted was to be loved).
This ‘need’ to work hard was killing me. I didn’t see it at the time. I look back now and think …. how the hell did I miss the signs.
I was on course for burnout.
When I started to self-harm, I realised that I needed to take action.
I quit my job.
One of the toughest decisions of my life. But also one of the best.
Since then I have discovered tools to get more balance in my life; now I take charge of my life and my career rather than let my career and life take charge of me. AND I help other women to do the same.
When I talk to women and they tell me that they feel constantly overwhelmed, permanently exhausted, with their stress levels getting higher and higher, I know how they feel. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.
What about you?
How to spot the scary signs of career burnout
Here are 5 telltale signs that you are on course for burnout. And if you are, NOW is the time to take stock and take action. Please. For your sake and for your family’s.
1 – You feel overwhelm all day every day
I just got back from a national conference in Birmingham on Friday and Saturday, then spent Sunday morning volunteering at my club’s 10k; my daughters have dance exams coming up and need lifts to rehearsals; I am booking interviews to launch my podcast in November; I’m confirming speakers for my January online conference; I have two new clients who want me to review their LinkedIn profiles; and I have an online class on Friday to prepare for. Right now I am feeling overwhelmed. BUT I know it is short term. It is NOT an ‘every day’ feeling.
Overwhelm is a problem when it affects you all day, every day. When it is constant. When you are so overwhelmed that you don’t know what to do or where to start. When that overwhelm becomes physical. You feel it in your body or in your head. When it affects your mood and your stress levels. When you start to snap at those you love. When you have SO much to do that you don’t do anything.
(And by the way, if that is how you are feeling, take action. Do something positive. Join me on Friday at my online class on how to cope with overwhelm.)
2 – Your heart sinks …
It’s a sign of burnout if your heart sinks every time your phone rings; every time your boss sends you an email; every time a new client books an appointment with you; every time a colleague asks for help.
If your heart sinks each time “please, not more work”, ask yourself: Am I trying to do too much? Do I need help? What can I outsource or delegate?
If your heart sinks each time and your first thought is “what have I done wrong”, that could be a sign that you have lost confidence in your abilities.
3 – You feel exhausted
If you feel exhausted ALL the time. If you are so tired you can’t sleep. If you can’t remember the last time you took a day off. If walking to the office feels like an enormous effort. If you have to use caffeine to jump start your battery in the morning. If you have to sleep all day for the first few days of your holiday.
You’re so tired, your body aches. You’re too tired to go to the gym. You struggle to wake up in the mornings. You struggle to fall asleep at night.
4 – You keep getting sick
If you keep getting sick – headaches, stomach problems, you get the cold that’s going the rounds 10 times worse than everybody else, you’re suffering from insomnia … these are signs that your body is struggling to deal with the overwhelm, the stress and the exhaustion. Your body is physically low. Your immune system is not coping.
5 – You are not looking after yourself
If you are SO busy at work or in business that you don’t eat or you feel you can’t stop to eat, come on, you know that’s not healthy. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s had days where suddenly it’s 3pm and I realise I skipped lunch. However if this is your daily routine – or when you do eat, it’s chocolate and crisps – you are not looking after yourself.
You are on track for burnout.
Looking after yourself is really important. It’s about eating well, sleeping well, taking time to rest and relax, being active, and doing things outside of work or business. If you don’t do any of these because you ‘don’t have time’, then now is the time to ‘make the time’. Nobody is invincible. None of us are super woman. At least, not all day, every day. Even Superwoman eats, sleeps and rests. In fact that’s how she gets to be Superwoman.
Are you on course for burnout?
If you’re reading this article, perhaps you’re simply curious about the signs of burnout. Or maybe you wonder if you or somebody you know is on course for burnout. More and more, when I talk to working mums, I see the nods of recognition when I describe some of the signs of burnout.
If you recognise some or all of these signs in your behaviour, take a long hard look at yourself. Are you on course for burnout? Of course, these are not the only signs. And it could simply be that you are feeling temporarily overwhelmed because you are in the middle of a major project. But feeling overwhelmed and exhausted and sick and anxious all day every day is different.
If you notice these signs creeping into your life, take action before burnout takes over your health, your life, your career. I took action and saved myself. Your action does not need to be as dramatic as mine. I saved myself from burnout and perhaps worse. I’ll never know.