How to Avoid Burnout (And Should You Worry About It at All)
How to Avoid Burnout (And Should You Worry About It at All)
Nowadays, if you ask someone from your work environment a basic "How are you?" or "How's it going?" question, you will likely hear a salve of complaints about how they are stressed, overworked, and burned out.
But is that actually the case? Are we working more than we did before in conditions that are worse than they have ever been? Is burnout a real pandemic, or is it just another widespread trend?
What is burnout?
Burnout is a colloquial term for a state where an individual feels physically, mentally, and emotionally drained as a direct result of working too hard under too much stress over a prolonged period.
What are the symptoms of burnout?
While we are all different, here are some common burnout signs:
Constantly feeling drained: the most obvious symptom of burnout is that you will always feel tired, even after waking up. Energy drinks and stimulants such as caffeine help you barely get through the day but make you feel even worse after the caffeine crash.
Mood swings: while this one is harder to notice, being burned out will cause symptoms such as increased self-doubt and helplessness and will negatively impact your outlook. When you are burned out, you might feel like you are worthless, that nothing ever goes your way, and that you are alone against everybody. If all this sounds like depression or anxiety, you are right, as it shares some similarities, but burnout is far less severe.
Performance drops: the first two symptoms – tired all the time and feeling like you can't get anything done – will lead to actual performance drops. You will start hating the activity in front of you, looking to procrastinate as much as possible, making you feel guilty and even more worthless, starting a vicious cycle.
How to treat burnout?
Being burned out, although not an immediate medical emergency, can create health problems if left untreated. Therefore, when you start noticing symptoms, you should do your best to manage them:
Reduce your workload: while it is impossible to stop working, reducing your workload will help. If you work independently, that can mean saying no to a few clients. If you are an employee, on the other hand, you can notify your supervisor that you have too much on your plate and that you are suffering from your burnout. You can also seek help from your colleagues, asking them to take some of your obligations temporarily. If you have vacation days, use a few, connecting them to a weekend.
Reduce stress: if your whole life revolves around commuting to work, back home, sleeping, and going back to work, no wonder why you are stressed and burned out. Put some enjoyable activities in your schedule, ideally with friends or family, and lay off some steam. This can be fishing, pickup basketball, or something as simple as a gaming session or a coffee with friends.
Make healthy changes to your lifestyle: because you are overworked, it is a good idea to prioritize activities that will let your body recover. Sleep should become your priority, so try to get 8 hours each night. Also, avoid coffee in the late afternoon and evening. If you can, clean up your diet, removing junk. Lastly, try to get some physical activity a couple of times per week, ideally outside, as it will do wonders for your mood.
It's important to say that burnout doesn't happen overnight but also doesn't go away in a day. If you feel burned out, work on that, and make a few changes we listed. You are likely to start feeling better after a few days, with noticeable changes coming even later after you reduce the pressure put on yourself.
Burn-out or tiredness?
As you can see, burnout is no joke and can really take a toll on your well-being. The problem is that feeling tired doesn't equal being burned out, just as feeling sad doesn't mean depression.
Even though we are more prone to burnout in recent years, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic forcing us to change our rhythms, switch work methods, and increase our general stress levels, we need to understand the difference between burning the candle at both ends, and feeling tired after a long day.
When it's likely not burnout
Burnout is working too hard, under too much stress, consistently, and over a prolonged period. What that means is:
If you do work hard and are under stress, but it only lasts for a few days, you won't burn out.
If you are under constant stress caused by external sources, non-work related (for example, you have a newborn baby, or one of your family members is currently sick), but you are not under pressure on your work, you probably won't burn out. In fact, if you have a pleasant job, you might find going to work like an oasis of peace, getting your mind off the pressure you feel at home.
If you work hard over an extended period that a prolonged rest will follow, you aren't likely to burn out. For example, if you spent the last few years developing your own video game that is about to come out, you will push yourself extra hard in those final moments to ensure everything is in tight order before the release. The adrenaline will mitigate tiredness, allowing you to perform at your best. Plus, you know you will go for a deserved vacation after the sprint ends.
Therefore, it's very important that burnout only comes after being stressed and overworked constantly, without being able to rest and recuperate your energy, which accumulates over time.
How to prevent burnout
If working under tension non-stop while neglecting sleep, nutrition, physical activities, and your social life is the modus operandi of your current job position, things need to change.
Making a change within the environment
First, you should assess the whole situation and see if your colleagues are experiencing the same. If most colleagues are satisfied, the problem might be on your end. Go ahead, talk to your supervisor, and ask for a change.
Maybe they can assign another person to your team to reduce the load on you, give you fewer assignments, or even allow you to work a few days a week from home to recover.
Additionally, let your employer and teammates know whenever you are going through an intense period in your private life, whether it's a newborn, a sick family member, or an exam you must study for. They can make it easier for you by sharing the workload. After all, you would do the same for a colleague going through a rough patch.
Changing the environment
If many other colleagues feel the same as you, your company's employee churn is likely to be extremely high, with staff constantly changing.
If that is the case, the writing on the wall speaks for itself, and you will need to find a healthier environment. It would make sense to look on LinkedIn where all those colleagues go after leaving. You can also keep in touch and ask them how they feel about their work/life balance in their new company.
Learning to say no
If you are working for yourself, either as a freelancer or you lead your own team, and you feel burned out, the only way to reduce your workload is to say no to clients.
While this is a hard pill to swallow, as having fewer clients will mean less money in the short term, it will not only let you recover but also allow you to provide a better quality service.
Because you will be fresh and more focused on fewer clients, your output will be much better. Better quality and more consistent output will allow you to raise your prices, creating a win-win scenario: you will work less and make more money.
Sometimes, a hard sprint is not only necessary but welcome
While it's good to strike a balance between work and life, sometimes going extra hard is necessary and welcome. In situations where a potentially life-changing project is in front of you, such as developing a AAA game for a big studio that can push you among the elite, it wouldn't be normal to go extra hard and give it your best, even if it means double overtime.
In those cases, no matter how hard you push, you know the exact date when it will end. Because of this, it is entirely reasonable to give your best effort and push some other things aside, as you know it's only temporary.
Those rare situations won't hinder your health and well-being long-term but have the potential to make a difference, as that final push might be what it takes to reach your goal. It would make no sense not to give your best to prevent eventual burnout when you have such an important and life-changing event in front.
Don't make redlining a lifestyle, and you'll be fine
Burnout is a serious problem that can severely affect your well-being if left ignored.
It's your job to strike a balance between hard work that brings optimal results and burning out. You will do that by being self-aware – don't neglect the signs of burnout.
If you notice that your work is starting to devour the rest of your life and negatively impact your mood, health, and relationships, don't ignore it! Reduce your workload, start taking better care of yourself, and you will see the burnout symptoms fading.
So, don't be afraid of hard work and sprints. As long as you follow them up with the rest you deserve, you will be fine and won't burn out. Therefore, code hard, but play hard too!