Are you a hero, falling on your sword for the good of the people around you? Maybe it’s time to hang up your cape.
You may have this heroic narrative about yourself that feels satisfying in many ways, but that narrative might be slowly killing you each day as you try to live it. You could be
burning yourself out and not even know it. But if you learn how to listen to your body, you can learn to tell when it’s time to stop, to slow down, to change course.
Ignoring these signals could be perilous in the long term, and could cost you far more than a little rest.
“But vacations are expensive!”
Yes, but so is hypertension. So is heart disease. Letting stress overwhelm you in the long term reduces your productivity and puts you at risk for serious disease, and even death.
Burn-out is beyond the stress and hassles of a bad day. We all go through those sometimes. But how do you know if you’re headed for burnout? None of the things below should be a reason to declare red alert or panic, but two or more of these signs together could be a signal to make a change.
Changes in personality
Are you snapping at people? Are the people around you avoiding you because they don’t want their heads bitten off? Are you a normally extroverted person who’s suddenly staying home instead of going out with friends? If your personality is dramatically changing and the people around you are giving you that feedback, this might be a warning sign.
Your emotional responses may also be dulled or blunted. You may come off as being constantly distracted, as always having something heavy and pressing on your mind. Can you still share the joy of a special occasion or an accomplishment with someone you care about? If things are going badly for those around you, are you still able to listen with compassion, or are you too distracted to stay emotionally invested?
No sense of purpose
Is it hard to get out of bed in the morning because … well, what’s the point? Meaning is important. It keeps you going through stresses. Having something to fight for allows you to do, as Winston Churchill said: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” When burnout is on it’s way, or already here, you’re unable to keep going because nothing seems to matter.
This is the stage where you feel that no matter what you do, there’s just never any payoff, never any way to “win” at what you’re doing. When stress overcomes you, the things that would normally serve as a payoff in your daily efforts no longer seem to deliver the rewards you need to carry on. When you feel like this, every day feels like a bad day.
When was the last time you were “pumped”: excited to dig into getting some work done, to work on a personal project, to seize the day (or even just the weekend)? If it’s been a while, you could be well on your way to burnout, if you’re not there already.
The new normal: sick
Are you constantly getting colds or the flu? Are you at the point where feeling normal and healthy is the exception rather than the rule? Constant, on-going stress with no payoff can weaken your immune response. Getting sick, on its own, does not mean you’re on the road to burnout, but it could be a warning sign you should pay attention to.
Unstring your bow
The string of a bow is under constant stress, which is how it drives the arrow when loosed. All the bow’s power is in its elasticity. But if that elasticity is over-taxed over a long period of time, it will lose all it’s spring, no matter how strong the bow is. And for that matter, bows aren’t invincible. Sustained stress on a bow can cause it to crack and break. If you don’t unstring the bow from time to time, in order to preserve the bow and the string, all it’s power is threatened and will inevitably be lost. You’re a lot like a bow–good under stress, elastic (or resilient), but also prone to being over-taxed, even broken.
Just how you unstring your bow will be covered in another post, but basically, you have to make relaxation a skill you’re actively cultivating and getting better at. In our busied, hurried society, it’s more important than ever to stop, let go, and even allow yourself to be bored from time to time.
In fact, we recommend you set aside an entire day each week devoted to resting and reconnecting with yourself and those people closest to you.
Regular therapeutic massage can also be a valuable tool in combating burnout and keeping your resiliency high.
You can book your next massage here, or give us a call at 425-243-7705.
Regular exercise, a good diet, and regular social interaction are some of the best tools in your self-care toolbox.
If you recognize yourself in any of the warning signs above, you might want to consider revisiting these fundamentals of self care.