Burnout can hit the most motivated writers and Type A high-achievers
We’re writers. We work for ourselves. We don’t need no lousy bosses to crack the whip. We can do it to ourselves–create the frazzle, the frustration, the deadlines, the endless to-do lists, negative feedback, and the conviction that we’re not doing enough fast enough.
We feel like hamsters spinning an infinite wheel, and the more successful we get, the tougher the challenges become. No wonder we’re prime targets of stress and its evil relative, burnout.
Stress and Burnout are Different.
As I said in Part I of this piece, stress is a condition of too much and is characterized by over engagement. Too many demands, too much pressure. Your emotions are overactive and hyped up. You face too many demands on your time and energy, and feel barraged and overwhelmed by unrelenting pressure.
The consequences of stress are primarily physical: your pulse rate quickens, your heart pounds, but you still feel a glimmer of hope.
You think that if you can just get everything under control, you’ll be OK again.
Burnout, a result of chronic stress, is a condition of too littleand is characterized by disengagement. You feel empty, emotionally drained, and devoid of energy.
Burnout reduces productivity and leaves you feeling helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Your motivation is gone, your creativity, kaput. You feel detached and depressed, and as if you have nothing more to give.
Keeping in mind that stress and burnout are different, the approaches to dealing with them are also different.
Coping with Stress
The symptoms of stress are primarily physical.
The American Psychological Association points out that an extreme amount of stress can affect the immune, cardiovascular and neuroendocrine and central nervous systems, and can take severe physical and emotional tolls. The APA lists five healthy techniques that psychological research has shown to help reduce stress in both the short- and long-term.
Right-size your to-do list. Embrace the zoom out.
Henrik Edberg, an author who writes about simplifying life and becoming happier, offers 33 practical tips about how to reduce stress. They range from right-sizing your to-do list (simple but brilliant!) to the benefits of zooming out in order to gain healthy perspective.
Create a coping plan and learn to “just say no.”
Lynn Ponton, MD at the Psych Central site, lists 20 ways to soothe the stress monster including detailed how-to’s of progressive muscle relaxation and the function of a “hassle” list that will help you distinguish between minor and major hassles.
Keep a stress diary.
From difficult people to poor time management skills, sources of stress are all around us. A stress diary will help you identify and manage your stress points so you will feel less frazzled and more in control. Here’s a templatefor a stress diary to get you started.
Organize the chaos.
Being better organized will help you feel less stressed and more in control. On her blog, Elizabeth S. Craig explains how staying organized gives her more time to write and offers tips on the tools she relies on.
Distraction and interruption.
Whether it’s the phone, IMs, emails, texts, a friend, a spouse, a neighbor, those interruptions add up to increased stress—and it’s not just stress. According to a New York Times article, distraction actually makes you dumber.
Unplug the router, or put your computer into Do Not Disturb mode to fend off distractions and let you focus on your task. Dump the multitasking and ban the interruptions and you will find your stress level plummet.
Coping with Burnout
Be alert to the signs of burnout.
Burnout is a sneaky thief of energy and pleasure. Burnout, a consequence of almost constant stress, doesn’t happen overnight and you won’t be able to rebound overnight. Be on the lookout for burnout if your joie de vivre is MIA, or if you:
Feel every day is a bad day.
Can’t drag yourself out of bed in the morning.
Have the blahs and are exhausted.
Take no joy or interest in your work, or feel depressed by it.
Feel overwhelmed or paralyzed by your responsibilities.
Turn to escapist behaviors, such as drugs and/or excess drinking.
Are more irritable and short tempered than usual.
Feel hopeless about your life or work.
Experience what Ernest Hemingway called the “black dog.”
From snark to insomnia, the subtle symptoms of burnout.
Alan Henry at Lifehacker points out that the best way to beat burnout is to start fighting back before you hit rock bottom and can barely get out of bed in the morning.
Luckily, the signs are usually right in front of us—it is up to us to take care of ourselves, pay attention, and take the appropriate steps.
For burnout, take a go-slow approach.
Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D. points out that “Burnout doesn’t happen overnight, so it’s unrealistic to expect it to go away overnight.” She advises a go-slow approach to recovering from burnout. “Consistent implementation of positive changes into your routine is the best way to see improvement.”
The four stages of burnout.
Psychotherapist, Mark Gorkin, LICSW, “The Stress Doc,” suffered severe burnout himself and used his own experience to become an expert on stress and burnout, how to avoid them and how to recover. On his website, he describes the four stages of burnout:
He suggests proven strategies for rehabilitation and rejuvenation.
Recovering from burnout isn’t quick or comfortable.
In a personal essay, CEO Carrie Severson reveals that recovering from burnout is actually as uncomfortable as what causes burnout. Hardworking entrepreneur, she was broke—financially, emotionally and mentally—and describes the steps she took to rescue herself and balance work with personal time.
The 4 risk factors for burnout.
Tchiki Davis, M.A., Ph.D., a Silicon Valley consultant, goes into detail about the consequences of poor work-life balance that result in burnout. She describes helpful techniques that you can use to rescue yourself from the destructive mindsets that lead to burnout.
The linked article, somewhat technical in places, delves into the significance of ineffective coping strategies that fail to protect from work-related stress. It also suggests that cognitive and behavioral therapies, such as ACT, may be useful for all burnout types.
Serious risks of burnout.
Belle B. Cooper, an iOS developer and writer, observes that burnout can impair personal and social functioning as well as overwhelming cognitive skills and neuroendocrine systems. She says that over time the effects of burnout can lead to memory, attention, and emotional problems.
She suggests ways to overcome burnout, some of which may seem counter-intuitive, like adding more activities to your day. If they are activities you actually enjoy, they can help us fight the resentment that leads to burnout.
Even though it doesn’t always feel that way, you have choices. Use them.
Stress feels awful. Burnout will stop you in your tracks.
Reframe the way you look at work and set boundaries, use organizational tools to quell the chaos and productivity apps to manage priorities, grab time for yourself, your friends and family, recognize the value of “goofing off” and “down time.”