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Several years ago, I knew someone in my company who suffered burnout. She was away from work for more than a month, and upon her return to work she was no longer energetic.
I have heard of other people but this was the only person that I had personally met. She needed psychiatric medical treatment in relation to burnout. However, I have seen many people who were close to burnout state without actually falling into one. I have been in a situation like this myself and did not realize it at the time.
The up cycle: It all began with the positive intentions. Stress is always physical and psychological. When you approach a new exciting opportunity, it starts with adrenalin and with arousal. I was excited about my new job and my energy was at its highest. I was unstoppable. I had the feeling that I, personally, could change the world. And this gave me the motivation to push on, and go, and go. If success came my way this fueled my motivation, gave me the dopamine that I needed. Then I continued at high speed.
Stress: Sometimes things did not go so well but as long as I could keep the balance of the positives and the negatives of the day it was OK. And it was not only about the job. I have a family too. So when I wasn’t working, I had to manage a whole family’s life. At the end of the day I crashed on my bed to regain energy for the next day. Sleep is such a wonderful medicine. Provided you have enough of it and it is interrupted. But many times, I did not sleep enough due to poor sleep quality. I slept less because I had work and life commitments.
And this was my choice. Until it wasn’t.
Chronic stress: And then everything becomes an everyday activity. Day in, day out. I had the same agenda every day/week – from the moment I woke up until I got to bed. There wasn’t a single free moment for myself or for other activities; however, when given the opportunity I did not want to engage in other activities. I was having back aches and my condition worsened over this period.
One would think that taking a vacation would have helped. It did help as distraction, but I was still not able to fully disconnect and relax. Vacation and having a break helped but it was not enough.
Burnout: Thankfully I never reached this stage. But I know the symptoms: being late, losing the desire to do activities both at work and personally, exhaustion, sadness, depression, sickness.
Actually taking a vacation was positive in a way that it broke the cycle that would eventually lead to burnout. Thus, I remained in the chronic stress zone, where I have seen so many people reside.
What is this state? When you are under constant or chronic stress you may have both psychological and/or physical symptoms:
And because stress is a physical thing too it is very likely that any kind of sickness can set in. There is a link between psychology and physiology.
When you are a manager, you need to first be self-aware of your own condition. But you also need to help your team recognize their own condition. How can you do that?
Many times, having a conversation is the most helpful thing you can offer to someone that is in a chronic stress state. Offering support is another. But this is not enough to break the cycle. Many times people only learn when they crash and burn. There are simpler, less harmful ways. Awareness about our condition and a willingness to act are needed.
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