Dan Nielsen: Breaking Out of Burnout | the BIZ
Going forward is the only option. You cannot get any younger. You can’t change history.
Life is all about the second chance, but the first missed chances do not cease to exist. We just learn to live with them, learn to always move forward.
Except when someone suffers from burnout: when a person becomes tired, listless and perhaps unable to cope. Those who feel exhausted find it emotionally impossible to move on, at least for a while.
âBurnoutâ means roughly the same as ânervous breakdownâ. Both are loosely defined as a state of mental, emotional and bodily exhaustion caused by intense and continuous stress.
WebMD puts it this way: âBurnout is a form of burnout caused by constantly feeling overwhelmed. It is the result of excessive and prolonged emotional, physical and mental stress. In many cases, burnout is related to his job.
Burnout has been in the news in recent months, frequently in connection with healthcare workers – nurses, doctors and others – who are stressed by the endless roll-over of illness and death from COVID-19. National news articles describe healthcare workers carrying on despite feeling exhausted – and other articles talk about workers who can no longer tolerate the routine, so quit or retire.
Burnout comes in many flavors and strengths. People react to burnout in different ways. Each of us has a different mental threshold for how much stress we can tolerate for how long. And we each need to find our own ways to deal with stress, ways to reduce the outside factors that stress us out, and ways to deal with that stress.
I’m sure burnout has been a part of the human condition for centuries. But the term was not coined until 1974, according to the Association for Psychological Science, which says it is now recognized as a legitimate medical disorder by much of mainstream medicine and has its own diagnostic code ( Z73.0 – Burn-out state of vital exhaustion).
According to the association, many of the symptoms of burnout overlap with those of depression: extreme fatigue, loss of passion, and heightened cynicism and negativity.
Basically, when nothing seems to matter anymore. In other words, when you feel like you can’t move on.
Life is about moving forward. It is a journey to grow old and become wiser. We learn from our personal history and from the history recorded in the books. We put one foot in front of the other and repeat. Tomorrow is a new day with new challenges, new joys, new experiences.
Burnout gives us the impression that tomorrow will be worse than today. It makes us feel like we no longer have the energy or the ability to move forward.
Sometimes burnout can lead to a dramatic career and lifestyle change. For some people this may require professional help, for others it may just require a change in attitude.
Sometimes getting back on track for the future can take a step backwards.
At the start of my career, I experienced a mild case of burnout.
I had been working for a small newspaper for a year. I thought I was fine, reporting on local sports and government. If I had been more perceptive, I might have noticed the first signs of burnout and taken corrective action. But I was unconscious. Until early on a Saturday morning.
I was surprised at my work by a loud knock on the door. I took a look and saw a county deputy staring at me curiously. I realized I must have looked rather odd – and suspicious. Looking out the glass door to the newsroom from the darkness of 1 a.m., the deputy saw me standing on a desk, hammering a nail into the wall, wearing only running shoes and shorts sport.
I put down the hammer, got out of the office, and unlocked the door. We talked. I shared my driver’s license and my press pass. He continued on his way. I sat down at my desk and started to wonder why, while everyone was sleeping, partying, or patrolling the neighborhood for crime, I was at my workstation setting up a cork board.
My only activities in the last few months, I realized, had involved work. That Friday, I worked 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., went home for dinner and a summer run, went back to the office and worked on a story until after midnight, then I started to rearrange my workspace. Until I was interrupted by a law enforcement officer who walked past the newspaper building – lit up inside like a convenience store open all night – and saw a shirtless man with a hammer in his hand , standing on a desk.
After his visit, I sat alone in that quiet office at 1 a.m. and took stock of my life – and realized that I wasn’t particularly happy. I had some acquaintances, but no close friends. I was working way too many hours, because I wasn’t doing anything else. And I was exhausted. I went home and went to bed.
A few days later, I gave two weeks notice. Three weeks later, I was 2,000 miles from home in Michigan, living with my parents while I figured out how to move forward.
My burnout that year was cured by a mental reset. Basically, I spent a few months on vacation, swimming in the Thornapple River, reading a lot of books, and rethinking work / life balance. I had just started researching the Michigan job market when my former employer in Nevada called me out of the blue and asked if I was ready to return to work. I was.
A week and 2,000 highway miles later, I was back. But this time, I made a concerted effort to meet people and do things outside of work. I learned to scuba dive, ski a lot, go camping and made some close friends. I also limited my working hours to something close to normal. I stayed there for another two years before taking a deliberate step into something new and exciting.
The pandemic has put a strain on our economy and our society, probably in ways we do not yet realize. But I am convinced that we will reset, we will come back, we will move forward. We will learn from history. We will continue into the future.