It’s a brand new day.
You’ve snoozed the alarm at least three times (if you’re that kind of morning person) and dragged yourself into the shower. Before you can barely grasp the soap, a deluge of your undone action lists stream into your consciousness.
A slow mumble begins to build in your mind about how you wish you were headed to a beach instead of having to brace yourself for the traffic and yet another miserable day of chasing a never-ending task list.
The mumble in your mind soon turns into a grumble in your mouth as you commiserate with a colleague about the prevailing insanity of your work load. You become restless as soon as you sit at your desk and face the tidal wave of emails. You feel the discontent stirring beneath your fingertips… and it’s time to make more coffee.
It may have been a long work week, or month – and finally yet another urgent project that needs immediate attention grabs you by the throat. And that’s when you begin to fumble.
The ball has dropped.
And for the life of you, you can’t seem to pick it up. The phone rings – and you just look at it in silent detachment. You feel paralysed as you see the emails flooding your inbox – and the only thing that you feel you can do is to run away. Or shut down.
Either way, you are in full tumble mode now. One day of detachment leads to two… you feel the anxiety growing but you don’t ask for help. You think that you might be able to snap yourself out of it – and even though you try to kick yourself in the butt and force yourself to get moving, nothing works.
Just like Humpty Dumpty, you feel like nothing and no one is going to be able to put all the pieces back together again.
Welcome to Burnout.
A highly individualised inner space that somehow you’ve created. (Everyone has this little private island too – so don’t beat yourself up about it).
Burnout Island is not a great place to be. It’s like living in a dream where you feel awake but you’re not really asleep. Switching to auto-pilot is easy enough because no one else has trained for shadowing your life like you have.
Staying in this no-where place for an extended period of time is not recommended. You will just get hungrier and thirstier for the things that once filled you with living-at-full-throttle energy.
Quick test: Are you at a Mumble, Grumble, Fumble or Tumble stage right at this moment? No one is going to know the answer but you – addressing discontent and preventing burnout is a million times better than its cure (but we all know this, right?).
1. Mumble: This is an early warning sign, like the rumblings of a distant thunder cloud that an emotional storm is heaving on the horizon. This is where you should stop for a moment and pay attention.
Maybe even write down in your journal the answer to the following questions:
- “Why am I feeling this way?
- Is my emotion linked to something true or something false?
- What can I do right now to address this anxiety before it grows?
Then take the action step you’ve identified that is going to help you deal with the discontent the moment it bubbles to the surface. Act like your sanity depends on it (it does).
2. Grumble: We all need the support of our colleagues to deal with work pressures so that we can just put on our work gloves and get on with it. But if this becomes a protracted feature of your work day and you hear yourself telling others things like: “I’m not coping”; “I feel like my head is going to explode”; “I’m sick of here” – Stop The Bus.
You are headed down a slippery slope and it’s going to take a while to recover if you allow the feeling of being overwhelmed to worsen into full blown chronic fatigue.
When last did you head to gym? Have you been paying attention to what you are eating? In times of intense stress, we often revert to our classic survival state. This will be different for everyone. You might be the type that tries to recover with excessive sleep; others will find themselves eating mounds of starchy comfort foods that only makes them feel worse.
There is an opportunity here to implement a quick remedy for the situation: take a few days off, escape to a place to get some perspective and balance, set up some healthy boundaries that allow for breathing room between work pressure and the life you live after hours.
If you don’t take these proactive measure, you are headed for full-on FumbleVille.
3. Fumble: If one ball has dropped, in all likelihood, more will drop. This is the point where you feel like you can still keep it together, even though you know deep down that things are falling apart and there is nothing you can do about it.
You might even still try to catch the balls but the feeling of failure only deepens as they slip through your fingers. A hidden panic begins to take over and you think that the only option is to do more and to do it faster.
Speak to your manager, speak to your spouse, speak to
your friend – and be honest about the things that are overwhelming you. This is important: it’s ok to admit that you are not Superman/Superwoman. Rather own your humanity than trying to kill yourself being a superhero.
It’s not worth it. Too many people care about you to see you descend into a personal darkness. You’re not going to be able to help anyone if you keel over at your desk anyway.
4. Tumble: Drat.
You’ve landed on the island. Funny thing is, we don’t always know when we’ve arrived. If you’ve been grumbling and fumbling for long enough, it takes a while for the momentum to eventually subside.
It’s often when we feel like we’re living a few inches away from our skin, like we’re trapped in an invisible bubble and no amount of frantic activity can help us pop it – that we might finally admit there is something wrong.
It’s time to check out.
You may have unconsciously checked out of many areas of your life already but now that you’ve woken up to the fact that you’re actually ON Burnout Island, you have permission to consciously check-out.
You might need to get professional help. You will probably need to do a spiritual retreat, as your alignment between spirit, soul and body is obviously out of whack.
Do whatever you need, for as long as it takes. Allow the recovery time to replenish the places in your life where your frenetic pace has drained the blood from your life.
The storm will pass. The dark clouds will eventually dissipate.
Use the time to burn your passport to Burnout Island. The Isle of Thriving is where you really want to be!
Can you identify with Mumble, Grumble, Fumble and Tumble? Have you been burnt out at some stage? Share your experience in the comments below – what did you do to recognise when you ended up on Burnout Island? How did you recover and develop strategies to grow?