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Burnout – the mission statement (and what happened after my redundancy)

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Last time you heard from me, I left things on a positive note. Yes, I shared a lot about the struggle of redundancy and impacts it had on me mentally (which weren’t so positive), but then I proceeded to formulate my mission statement. I am not someone who writes a diary every day, but I do seek comfort in writing at key stages of my life. Back in September 2020, I wrote: “All great adventures begin in darkness” (source unknown). That’s where we left it…

Since then, I enrolled on a master’s degree course, started a new job (remotely), moved back to my home, decided not to replace my recently sold car (who needs one in lockdown?) and also got a puppy.

I completed my second master’s submission in mid-January, allowing a little break before the next one was due. I slowed my pace after having worked through Christmas. My puppy arrived home in that period too. It was only then that I went into a space which I wasn’t familiar with. I was out of fumes.

I wasn’t depressed (I thought), but I also wasn’t myself. I lost the strength to do anything beyond the absolute minimum, just earning to pay my bills. I would put make-up on, smile and work really hard (it felt extremely hard, based on the context). The days were long (Teams disease is real). Afterwards, I just couldn’t bring myself to think, speak to my friends, do puppy training or even make dinner. ‘What is going on?’ I thought.

The trap of lockdown

What I did post-redundancy will resonate as a professional hazard for any project professional. One plan collapsed so I reshaped the scope and rescheduled the milestones. In addition, I went bigger, better, quicker and cheaper where possible. Let’s maximise on the limited social life that has been forced on us through lockdown, I thought, and really get my head down.

What I did instead was introduce more stress on top of an already stressful time. My new job was a completely new role for me in terms of the control I had. My master’s course was extremely interesting, but still demanding, with deadlines. Having no car in winter weather turned out to be a bad idea. And the new puppy was a huge commitment, which can be further isolating in early months. My intention was to maximise on lockdown; instead, I ended up burning myself out.

Having done a little research, I learned I was not alone. I discovered using Google Trends that web searches for ‘burnout symptom’ rocketed in March 2020. Psychology Today meanwhile has published multiple articles about different types of burnout, such as corporate and parental. Dr Theo Tsaousides wrote specifically about ‘The Unsolvable Problem of Burnout: Why efforts to reduce burnout may actually increase it’.

Five steps to personal recovery

To be honest, I thought I had my post-redundancy masterplan nailed. Why? Because I have been through a lot worse and come out on top. In response, I pushed myself harder and harder (the only response I had available within my palette) until I just couldn’t do anything anymore. To be honest, I probably have gone through burnouts throughout my career. My automated response would always be to push on (and sometimes change jobs). But when they occurred, we weren’t in lockdown. This is the variable that made me really go nose down…

But I haven’t totally crashed, yet. I landed on a ‘Hudson’ and am working towards recovering my engines so I can spread my wings again soon. Here are my personal recovery methods:

  1. Nature is everything. I neglected it because of weather, and not having a car pushed me to go to the same area over and over; that alone made me feel ill. We (pup and I) are back out there now and spending weekends around greenery. Note to self…
  2. Abandon the guilt. Just because you are no longer travelling to your workplace, it is not an automatic agreement to extend the working day to 8 till 6. Stop suffering from work FOMO.
  3. Sometimes you need to say no. I always want to help everyone and do everything I can for them, even at my own expense. Sometimes, I just need to say I can’t.
  4. Abandon unhealthy food and drink. I am working towards a cleaner diet. I tasked myself with drinking three litres of water one day as a minimum and I felt more awake and my brain felt brighter.
  5. Take baby steps. Do things at your own pace and change your speed of life where necessary. I had to move some of my university deadlines to accommodate the above. Was I upset at first? Yes, I was annoyed with myself for weeks – but it freed up time for me to enjoy things outside work/university.

Final thoughts

I know my context is not yours. I am not suggesting my situation was caused by the job alone; usually that is the key association with burnout. I believe my burnout is the consequence of years of small burnouts and last year’s redundancy, combined with my current role maybe not being exactly what I would like to be doing. The pandemic and lockdown rules all contributed to my crash. I completely failed to recognise it soon enough. I allowed it to run for months, and that is more damaging than being honest and adjusting the masterplan in response.

Best of luck my friends. Whatever you are up to – I have no doubt you will succeed.

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