We all know that some stress is good for you, right? I mean, performers and athletes claim that stress keeps their skills sharp and motivates them to achieve their personal best. Stress is the subject of plenty of scientific research. The Yerkes–Dodson law is just one piece of data that illustrates how performance increases with a certain amount of arousal. But when stress levels climb too high, performance starts to decline. And if this pattern continues, negative signs of stress crop up. Anxiety, tunnel vision, hyperactivity, you may recognize them. And when we don’t manage and reduce chronic stress, signs of burnout appear.
So imagine, a colleague just can’t let go of her need to finish a project. She explains that she really wants to finish this because it matters. When you tell her that you heard your director say, “We may not get funding unless this project goes through,” the colleague might lose it temporarily. “Oh no, did he really say that? I’m screwed.” And the next day, she calls to say, “I’m taking the morning off. I’m exhausted.” Is she stressed? It sounds that way. Burned out? No. Being burned out is deeper, heavier even. If your stressed colleague doesn’t manage her stress, she’ll keep pushing towards burnout. That’s when she’d say things like, “Does i really matter anyway? I feel like I’m screwing up this project. I don’t even want to get up in the morning. What’s the point?”
There they are, signs of burnout; apathetic exhaustion, cynicism, and feeling ineffective. If you start to see signs of burnout, here are some ways to help:
- Increase your control, decide what you will and won’t do at certain times of the day or which emails you’ll respond to first. Even the smallest act of taking control can relieve a sense of burnout.
- Get some support. When a goal project doesn’t resonate with you, or if you just can’t find any reason to keep at it, ask for help. The more you toil away at something you don’t want to do, the more discouraged you feel. That feeling exacerbates burnout.
- Create some boundaries. It may not be easy to say no or not today, but only communicating your needs to others can be empowering. It empowers you as well, as the folks watching you model how to say no.
- Most importantly, find some purpose in your work and why it resonates with who you are. This will do more than prevent burnout. It can be a source of deep satisfaction and joy in your life.