Stress management is one of those things that everyone has to deal with. Being stressed seems to be a common condition for most of us in our daily lives. I’ve had a full on burn out once and been very close to it another two times. Burn outs and exhaustion is not something that is easily spoken about or it’s perceived as a weakness but I think it’s actually the opposite. Everyone that I know that has had a burn out has been some of the strongest Project Managers and team members that I know.
What is a burn out?
A Burn out can be defined as a prolonged period of working too long and under too much stress/pressure. The causes of Burn out could be anything from having too much to do or to not having control in what you’re doing. My burn out was simply due to too much work that I had with immediate deadlines. I was working 18-20hours a day and it still wasn’t enough to get all of the work done. It also didn’t help that I was working with multiple contrasting timezones so I felt like I had to be working with them to get the most out of the day.
I’ve known colleagues who struggle when their values are conflicted by the work that they are being asked to do. This could be ethically like gold plating or morally when looking at the working conditions.
Spot the signs
There are a few signs but it will depend on your personality and circumstances for what it could look like. One thing to make sure that you’re aware of is knowing yourself and what’s different for you and it could look like any of the following:
- Physical or emotional exhaustion
- Depression / Detachment from people
- Feeling inadequate/ feeling like you cannot achieve anything
- Unable to function emotionally or physically. This was described to me as being in a forest and not knowing where the trees are.
What to do if you think you’re having a burn out?
I know that in my situation, I was unable to see that I was having a burn out. It was only a friend telling me that she thought I might want to see someone as I was struggling that I finally took help but on my subsequent times where I was close to a burn out – I recognised the symptoms and took some active steps to re-address the balance and make some small but critical changes.
If you are having a burnout; talk to your doctor and also to your boss/ HR Dept about getting some support and help in reducing your stress levels. This could be a period of leave or it could be reducing /removing stressful work.
Coming back from a burnout
You need to understand what caused your burn out and make some active changes. This should not just be done with your work but also on a personal level. Some ideas for personal changes:
- Do not answer your phone in the evenings or if you must, limit it to one or two times
- Do not sleep with your phone in your bedroom. Ideally, have it turned off or away from your bedroom
- Work with your team and bosses about controlling your workload and managing it effectively. Managing expectations here is key. For me, having the team understand that I would only be working one time zone a day helped them focus their demands and needs from me.
- Find a sport/activity that relaxes and chill you out.
- Work with your family and friends and rediscover your work/life balance.
It was important for me to work with my bosses and team to make sure that I could control the issues that caused my burn out and make some positive, proactive changes to it. I was fully supported in this by my bosses and this made all the difference.
Another factor that will be beneficial is to understand your stress levels, understand what causes you stress and work on your coping strategies for how to cope with stress.
Having a burn out is not a weakness. It’s a sign of strength and battling for too long.