The Merriam Webster dictionary defines burnout as:
“Exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration”.
This word has been casually thrown into conversation with a simple exclamation like, “Ugh! I’m feeling so burnt out by this job.”
During my first job, the notion that ‘women can multitask better’ fuelled my drive to work without a pause. I would take on five tasks at a time, complete them before the deadline, and walk out of the office with my head held high. My social life was surprisingly booming, and I spent time in cafes, restaurants, and arcades after work. I would find time for household chores as well and go through my daily routine on barely 5-6 hours of sleep per night.
There was nothing holding me back. Or, so I thought…
The Onset Of Burnout
I was fairly overworked into my second job, and as the initial days of most new jobs go, there wasn’t much work to do. My first thought﹘as a mental image of me putting my feet up on the desk and hands behind my neck cropped up﹘was “I could get used to this life!”
Reality hit a few months later when I was dealing with personal issues while juggling a full-time job. And just as I overcame that, the pandemic hit, blurring the lines between work and rest. Gone were the days of working from 9 am to 6 pm. Tasks would sometimes extend into the a.m, and coffee was my best friend.
Birthdays went by without a peep; banana bread became the ‘it’ thing; birds came out to sing, and thaalis were clanged in the name of hope.
A year and a half into the job, I started noticing signs that suddenly cropped up; or perhaps, I took notice too late.
I spent weekends in bed, reading, scrolling on my phone, or watching a movie. On weekdays, I would wake up with the intense need to go straight back to bed and had to convince myself that the day would be over before I knew it. I relied heavily on notes and lists, and would often forget what was said 5 minutes into a conversation.
My mind felt like it was racing at 500 miles per hour and, in compensation, would completely shut down on me at the worst times.
That’s when the realisation hit me. There was only one word that could sum up the state of mind I was in – burnout!
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Making The Switch
I realised, over time, that what I enjoyed the most﹘ the very things akin to my personality﹘ were failing me. The ‘X’ factor in my writing that won me accolades seemed to be in hiding. The books I loved to read seemed too heavy to even hold. I knew I needed an out, and I needed it immediately.
When the time came to move on to better prospects in my career, a few questions lingered in my mind – how would I make time for interviews and assignments when I was working for over 12 hours a day? Would I be able to jump into another job in this state of mind?
A great offer came my way and I grabbed it. The role was perfect for me, and me for it! To me, this was a bright light that signified the end of my troubles, much like the light at the end of a tunnel. Now came the time to undo everything my mind had gone through in the past year.
But like most things, you can’t undo in a week what took a year to create!
The organisation freak that I am, I decided to create a schedule of sorts that ensured I gave the most to my new job and took time out for myself to heal.
How I Managed A New Job While Suffering From Burnout
My way forward involved two things: not repeating the same mistakes I had made, and giving myself the space needed to heal.
I give my 100% and will go above and beyond for anything, especially my job. But what I often forget is one can still do well at a job without giving it their sweat, blood, and tears. So, first, I made a promise to never put myself through this situation again.
Secondly, I acknowledged that healing is a process that only comes with taking the space and time you need. With practice and the help of the internet, I created a method to give my best to the new job and still carve out time for myself to heal.
Step 1: Working Within Office Timings Only
The first step to achieving work-life balance is ensuring adequate time for both. If my office timings said 9 a.m to 5 p.m, I made it a point to start and end work on the dot.
The work-from-home life gives us enough flexibility to work when we’d like, but sticking to it has given me the sense of routine and productivity I needed.
I also end up having time for myself post work without giving the impression that I’m slacking at my new job! Doing this from day one has helped me establish boundaries.
Step 2: Creating An ‘Achievable’ Task List
Your productivity in the first few weeks will determine your manager’s expectations. The naive girl in me was all set to impress by going above and beyond, but I decided not to follow that instinct. Instead, I created a list of daily tasks that fit into the office timings and set a standard of efficiency from the beginning.
I often ended up spreading myself too thin due to my own expectations, so don’t make that mistake.
Your manager only cares about efficiency and not how much you’re working per day, so if you get the job done, mission accomplished! That said, I have had my share of toxic bosses that would watch over me like a hawk. Make sure your output is seen far and wide in such an environment. Give your manager updates on the tasks you’ve done and highlight the work that fared well.
Step 3: Taking Weekend Holidays
Holidays don’t always have to be 5 days long! Every now and then, I took weekend trips to a hill station or city nearby. Without a leash holding me back, I would blow up most of my salary on extravagant purchases, so I eventually learnt to set my own budget and create a list of places to visit.
Motion sickness is my worst enemy, so I usually find areas close by to visit. This way, I don’t spend too much time travelling and can also make the most of my time away. Nature is the best healer, so anything with a great view of the mountains, and plenty of fresh air do the trick. Oh, and beaches as well!
Step 4: Practicing An Extracurricular Activity
I’ve often envied people who can shut off their minds and focus on nothing in particular. Staying still doesn’t come naturally to me, and I find myself wandering around the house looking for something to stay occupied.
Learning to play the guitar was on my bucket list since I was 15 years old, but procrastination got the better of me and I never ended up following through with it. Who knew that this very activity would be a saving grace for me during burnout?
An extracurricular activity or hobby gives your mind something lighter to think about.
It also adds a feeling of accomplishment at the end! So, whether it’s baking, learning an instrument, or even upskilling, take up something to rejuvenate your mind.
Step 5: Making Meditation And Exercise A Daily Habit
All I sought during burnout was peace of mind. I would take a few minutes every now and then to meditate and do some basic breathing exercises. This helped realign my thoughts and refresh my mind from burnout during the day.
Exercise releases endorphins that make you feel happy and satisfied. Burnout made me not want to do anything at all, which was then followed by feelings of regret and uselessness. Exercising showed tangible results, which instantly got rid of negative thoughts about productivity.
Step 6: Treating Myself Every Now And Then
One could argue that watching your bank account being credited every month is enough motivation to work, but that feeling soon fades when you’re burnt out.
I felt that nothing was coming out of toiling each day, especially when my mind was squealing to be given a break. Every month, I make it a habit to treat myself to something – be it a jar of Nutella, makeup on my wishlist, or something else.
That momentary happiness fuels my drive to work, so I’ll take it!
Step 7: Minimising The Use Of Devices
The latest generation believes they can’t live without their phone or laptop. But the truth is, most of them have never had to!
By endlessly scrolling on Instagram, I was keeping my mind alert instead of giving it the break it desperately needed. Moreover, watching other people enjoying their lives while I suffered from burnout led to existential crisis-like thoughts, which could very well be avoided!
A close friend of mine recommended that I keep my phone near my feet while sleeping, so my mind can rest well and I don’t wake up in the middle of the night to check my phone ﹘ and this works wonders!
It’s not always possible to take a sabbatical when you’re burnt out, be it due to lucrative offers, financial problems, or something else. No matter how desperately I tried to believe otherwise, burnout doesn’t simply vanish in a day. Acing a new job may seem like a task when you’re feeling run down, so take conscious efforts to heal ﹘ and most importantly, take it one day at a time!
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