Grappling With Burnout; Warning - This is An Epic Blog

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Seriously, I think Tolstoy may have spent less time on War and Peace. So I won't fault anyone for not slogging through it; this is mostly to help me get my own head together. But I will be truly grateful to anyone who manages to get through it and/or has advice.

Friday I melted down, and I have the blog to prove it. So this weekend I did some research on burnout because I think that's the problem. had some incredibly useful information. This is how the site defines burnout:

Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.

Burnout reduces your productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.

Uh, yeah. That perfectly describes how I'm feeling.

The site offered the following symptoms of burnout:

* Every day is a bad day.
Only when I'm at work.

* Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy.
I seem to spin my wheels all the time at work, without much by way of results.

* You’re exhausted all the time.
Umm, yeah. Most days it's all I can do to get through the day.

* The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
Yeah, they're either one or the other most of the time.

* You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.
The program I'm working on is falling apart at the seams and there's nothing my coworkers and I can do about it. Events and poor management leadership are destroying everything we work for.

* Feeling like you have little or no control over your work.
See above.

* Lack of recognition or rewards for good work.
Bizarrely, no. I got a promotion and an exceptional performance award in the past year, and management routinely compliments my work.

* Unclear or overly demanding job expectations.
My mentee described me as Super Woman last week. Nuff said.

* Doing work that’s monotonous or unchallenging.
Uh, no. That would be a nice change, though.

* Working in a chaotic or high-pressure environment

* Working too much, without enough time for relaxing and socializing
10-12 hours a day, 4 days a week = 40-44 hours a week, which isn't obscene but leaves no time during the week. Weekends have been devoted to travel so I haven't had any Jentime. Adding introvert overload to burnout makes for one cranky Jen.

* Being expected to be too many things to too many people.
I'm Super Woman, remember?

* Taking on too many responsibilities, without enough help from others
Still Super Woman. And we're drastically short handed. As the most experienced member of the team, guess who gets to pick up the slack...

* Not getting enough sleep
7-8 hours a night isn't enough to keep up this pace.

* Lack of close, supportive relationships
Nope. I couldn't ask for a better husband, family, or friends - including those of you brave enough to make it this far into this blog, lol.

* Perfectionistic tendencies; nothing is ever good enough
Oooh yeah. That'd be me.

* Pessimistic view of yourself and the world
I'm optimistic towards the world but way too hard on myself.

* The need to be in control; reluctance to delegate to others
No way, Jose. I push off as much as I can. But management reserves the toughest tasks for me, so I delegate the easier stuff to others.

* High-achieving, Type A personality
One doesn't graduate first in her college class or get called Super Woman without it...

Okay, so clearly burnout is the problem. And obviously it's work-related. The sad thing is that I know it's going to get worse; we're reorganizing and my new boss is an idiot. He's rough, rude, micromanaging, and incompetent. To the point where we call him Max Power. For you non-Simpsons fanatics, there are 2 ways to do things: the right way and the Max Power way, which is wrong but faster. Knowing this guy as I do, I know he'll ask me to keep performing the same duties - but with way more meddling and screwing things up as we go along, so I'll have to spend a lot of my time and energy fixing the problems he creates. Makes me want to put my head through a wall just thinking about it.

Sooooo...what to do about this? HelpGuide suggests getting a new job. Well, yeah, I'm working on it. That's easier said than done in this economy, even in DC, which is relatively recession-proof. My problem is that I work for the government, so finding a new position will involve a lot of red tape and patience. The private sector is a real challenge due to the economy, but I'm looking there, too.

But I can't go on like this in the meantime. HelpGuide offers four strategies:

1. Maintain a healthy lifestyle, as this will help manage stress;
2. Slow down;
3. Get support;
4. Reevaluate your goals and priorities.

1 is relatively easy; I just have to maintain what I'm already doing thanks to SP. Workouts are often the highlight of my day, and I refuse to give them up. Healthy eating gets harder as the week goes on and I feel more ground down. I spent a lot of time this weekend planning, shopping for, and prepping food. I bought good, healthy stuff and went a bit nuts on the veggies and yogurt. Monday through Thursday are crock pot suppers, and the weekend evenings are lighter versions of classic comfort foods (thank goodness for Cooking Light magazine and cookbooks!). I baked lots of healthy, hearty muffins for breakfast and cut up fruits and veggies for snacks. I also made lighter, healthier versions of brownies and chocolate muffins so I can indulge my PMS-induced chocolate cravings and stress-induced comfort food cravings without breaking the calorie bank. So I'm good to go there.

2 is the absolute hardest. Slowing down doesn't feel like an option. But I have to find a way to do it or I'm going to explode. This weekend I put away the to-do list and did things as I felt like doing them, focusing on one task at a time. That helped a lot. Cooking and gardening helped a lot too - I really enjoy them and haven't had the time for them. I feel refreshed and recharged. I think that I'll need to just take things one step at a time at work and refuse to go into overdrive. This is going to be tough, but I can't see another way to keep from losing it altogether.

3. My support structure is great. The trouble is that I haven't been using it as much as I should. I talked through a lot of this with DH this weekend, and he's ready to serve as a sounding board whenever I need it. And I always have my SparkFriends; you guys are awesome.

4. Reevaluating goals and priorities will need to be the subject of another blog; this one is already too long. But I know that I need to do it. In the meantime, I'm going to KISS this problem: keep it simple, stupid. Don't worry about the big goals, just keep moving forward as best I can. That should help.

The other two things I'm going to do are be gentle with myself and fake it til I make it. No fussing or fuming for what I do or don't get done. Do what I can, y ya. Try to do one or two things I genuinely enjoy every day and take as much pleasure as I can from them.

If any brave soul as managed to make it to the bottom of this blog, send me a message with the word "puffball" in it and I'll give you a goodie!

emoticon Thanks so much, emoticon
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    emoticon You know what you need to do, and I do think you are burnt out. But you have a plan to get out of that fire and get into some peaceful water.
    3693 days ago
    Being the over-achiever that you are, you WILL get through this. No other options are there? But seriously, you have a wonderful attitude for enduring this impossible situation. You'll emerge from the other side all the stronger. BUT. You know what you need to do to take care of you - even if you must take some unscheduled days off (mental health days). I waited too long last year, melted down and took 3 weeks off work. Everyone stepped up, the world didn't end, and while it was embarrassing (I felt like I failed), it was absolutely necessary.

    By refusing to give up your exercise, taking the opportunity to regroup and working hard to get Jen time you've taken those oh so important steps in coping. We're all proud of you!

    Oh, yeah, I understand the desire to do something more mundane - does it really have to always be so damn hard? Everything you pick up shouldn't demand everything you've got!

    Hang in there Puffball!
    Cinda emoticon
    3696 days ago
    Puffball. Haha. You're going to be fine. I think you're on the right track and you know what's bothering you. Knowing is half the battle, because now you can stop it. Good job for doing the work lady!
    3696 days ago
    A great definition of burnout... At least you have identified what is going on and that gives you a start to making a change. The boss is out of your hands so you'll have to deal with the aspects that you can. Stay healthy and persevere. You can do it especially with a supportive husband and family. emoticon
    3697 days ago
    Ahem, Jen: Revision recommended -- "KISS" actually means "Keep it Simple, Sweetheart" -- only because we perfectionists respond better to positive terminology, being already wayyyy too masterful at beating ourselves up!

    Your clarity has made it easy for us to read your epic breakdown (mild pun, huh) of Burnout Markers, and to enjoy both your insight and realism about this present plight. GREAT that you're already seeking ways to shift out of the toxic job situation, as that is soul-killing to endure day after day (duh). By taking those wise, restful, remedial steps right away, you're sure to prevent the damage that martyed 'hangin'-in' could cause your mind and body. VERY cool.

    Also fab to see your beautiful strong tally of positives. To a signif degree, it's clear, they cushion the ordeal as you make your way through, stepping stone by stepping stone.

    In case it's a while since you heard the mantra of the Serenity Prayer, here it is in brief -- a fine anytime-invocation (especially coupled with some calming breaths):

    Grant me Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    Courage to change the things I can, and
    Wisdom to know the difference.

    The biggie for SuperWomen can be that 'acceptance' factor -- to learn to relax and 'trust the process' while doing only what we sensibly can, serenely and bravely -- as you're doing here in this superb blog. Your remedies rock, Girl!!

    3697 days ago
  • MEGANBY2011
    I like your blog. You have identified the problem and some points that will help relieve it. I try and do two things every day just for me and that, somehow, gives me the energy to do what I need to do. I got that from the Official Stress Busting Challenge. You will get this under control. Sparkpeople is the perfect place for you to get some of that "me" time.

    Megan emoticon
    3697 days ago
    Take a deep breath...

    Sorry that your work is continuing to be an ongoing emotional issue for you. It's too bad that it has to be that way. I think you're doing the right thing though because you can only handle so much until you hit your breaking point and right now most of your energy is going towards getting you from Monday to Friday. Feel free to lean as much as you need to...we're all here to support and feel supported, right?
    3697 days ago
    It sounds like you need to make time for you and enjoy it. I hope you feel better soon.
    3697 days ago
  • no profile photo CD2660038
    Wow, this really is a classic case of burnout!!! I sincerely hope you feel less stressed and overwhelmed very soon, though! emoticon

    I have say, though, that it's no surprise that you have also found remedies for the problem and have already evaluated which ones you can use and how much! That's impressive, Jen. "Superwoman"-like would be another way to describe it ;-)

    Please take care of yourself, and your SparkFriends are always around, so just give a holler!!!

    emoticon emoticon emoticon
    3697 days ago
    Hang in there and just remember that we are all here for you and always will be. Take each day one step at a time. Pray to God every morning to not give you more than you can handle. And then thank him every night for bringing you through another tough day. In the mean time, always take that little bit of time for yourself. Sounds like it is extremely important right now. Love and hugs. emoticon
    3697 days ago
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