Burnout: My Story and Suggestions for Prevention

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My Story

Years ago, I was flying across the country sometimes twice a month. I was in college and I had a teenager and a pre-teen at home. My husband and I had just moved to the Atlanta metro area after living in a simple, sparsely populated corner of the mid-south our entire lives. When I was home, I was either studying, we were doing chores, or we were out exploring the city and the surrounding areas as a family. Of course our parents and other family were visiting us reguarly for holidays, or sometimes just because it was the summer. Hosting company was an additional stressor. College was a constant crunch. I was staying up late at night to make small increments of progress on my coursework. Even on my flights I was creating presentations, analyzing data in a spreadsheet or studying for an exam. There was never any down time and I felt it, but I couldn't quite pinpoint what "it" was. 

One day I was standing at the gate waiting to board my flight. I was exhausted, as usual. I had spent 4 days in California and I had a five plus hour flight back to Atlanta, where I would arrive at the airport, shuttle to my car, and drive for an hour or more in traffic. I looked around the gate and everyone looked so relaxed. Most were on their phones. Some were using earbuds, and others, who were traveling together, were chatting quietly. I noticed a middle aged woman walk to the window and take pictures of the planes.

Why was I so tense? My shoulders were tight and the tendons in my neck were trembling. I even had a twitch in my right eye. But everyone else seemed so relaxed. They were in knit clothing, sneakers or sandals and generally looked comfortable. There were a few people standing in the Diamond Medallion line dressed in suits. Frequent fliers of the business world, of course, but they still looked pretty calm and relaxed.

We were two minutes from boarding and I made the decision. I was not going to create presentations, analyze spreadsheets, read or answer email or study for exams during this flight. I was going to spend the next five (or more) hours listening to something that was completely unrelated to work or my personal life and the rest of the flight, I was going to sit in silence with nothing but the hum of the airplane engines. I quickly downloaded the audible app, and one of the first suggestions listed was this audiobook called "The Burnout Generation" by Anne Helen Peterson. I thought it looked interesting, but was expecting it to be about how a generation other than my own was stressed because of the pressure to keep up with social norms. I clicked to downloaded it as I was getting settled into my seat.

I had no idea this short audiobook would make such a huge difference in my life. I could relate to all her feelings, her thoughts, the way she tried to troubleshoot her way out of the burnout. It felt as though she wrote the book about my life, except for the part where she moves away from the city. It really gave me a lot to think about from a perspective I had never considered before. 

I listened to this book multiple times over the following weeks. Each time I listened, a different topic stood out to me that resonated more deeply than the previous times I listened. I started to take steps to save myself from complete burnout. I am convinced that I caught it just in time. Months later, I heard the World Health Organization had changed their definition of burnout from a stress syndrome to unmanaged workplace stress. It's truly a relief to be validated. Checkout this page from The World Heatlh Organization regarding burnout, the definition and preventative mesasures.

Download "The Burnout Generation" on Audible by Anne Helen Peterson.

I've continued to research burnout and be mindful of it so it does not impact my life again. I'm currently listening to The Great Courses "Avoiding Burnout" with Serena Wadhwa and Lisa Page. 

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Suggestions for Prevention

You must stay mindful of your life. Pay attention to things that stress you out. Identify your triggers and prepare for them. If things that didn't annoy you before are suddenly annoying, or if your performance or motivation at work aren't what they used to be, or even if you find that every time you get a meeting invite in your mailbox you grind your teeth a little, be aware! These are all signs that burnout could be sneaking into your life.

Step back, reassess, and think. Is it just this small thing or is it a combination of things that are stressing you out? Are you tempted to look for another job without a career plan? Have you become cynical at work? Are you losing your motivation and creativity? Are you calling out or working overtime? Are your exhausted but can't sleep?

Do your research and be mindful. Burnout can affect anyone. Talk to your friends, journal, join a support group or talk to a professional. The worst thing you can do about burnout is nothing.

Here are more resources on burnout:

Mayo Clinic 

Psychology Today


Check out my other blog posts.

Career Selection: What to do when you don't know what you want to do

Becoming a Top Performer at Work

Interviewing: Being Yout Authentic Self

What is a Lateral Move?

Is a Side Hustle Worth It?

Check out my Free Resources page

Check out my Continuous Learning page where I recommend professional development books, and provide a list of audio books I am listening to this year.

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