Humans are known for our legendary adaptability. We survived Ice Ages, droughts, the pre-medical care and grocery store eras, even a withering onslaught of FreeCreditScore.com ads.
Give us a little challenge.
We can take just about anything.
But as any veteran of the all-night ad deadline wars can attest, we’re so good at adapting to our circumstances, it can actually be hazardous to our health. We get used to the pounding and we adapt to it.
Doctors tell me that when patients arrive with burnout symptoms, there is always a long prelude to the problem. Heart palpitations, headaches, back pain, insomnia, irritable bowel, hot flashes, exhaustion.
All the signals of stress pave the way to burnout, since burnout is the final stage of chronic stress.
If we don’t pay attention to the signals leading up to burnout, we can wind up having the adrenaline give us a false sense of transcending it all until our resources are gone – no forwarding.
Adrenaline’s high-octane cocktail masks the fact your body’s going down.
That’s burnout in a nutshell.
After months and years of chronic stress flooding your system with adrenaline and cortisol and suppressing your immune system, you simply run out of coping resources.
There’s nothing left in the tank.
Burnout can lead to stroke, depression and other very serious conditions – not to mention reduce the contribution, achievement, and joy in your life to zero.
Burnout is a three-way shutdown:
It marks the depletion of all your energetic and emotional resources, something you can feel in the total exhaustion that saps enjoyment from anything you do – in your work and in your life. The result is dramatically lower productivity, guilt, shame, cynicism, falling behind, not caring anymore.
The irony of burnout is that it tends to happen to the hardest workers – the most conscientious, the go-getters, the ones with the most endurance.
This makes burnout a serious threat to any organization.
Productivity tanks for anyone with burnout. Burnout creates disengagement, and that’s decidedly not a prescription for performance.
Preventing burnout takes a vigilant mind. It means paying attention to the stress signals and doing something about them – not simply adapting to them. You can avoid burnout by dedicating yourself to an ongoing stress management system.
Start by identifying the stressors and habits that are driving it – typically, excessive overwork without breaks for recovery, perfectionism, non-viable schedules, chronic conflict and giving too much of yourself emotionally without reciprocation.
Get Off Autopilot
Then make adjustments to turn down the stress by altering the way you do your tasks and expend yourself emotionally. Everyone needs to develop recovery strategies to buffer stress and chronic exhaustion, which can be the start of the withdrawal from life that marks the downward spiral of burnout.
Like your iPod or cell phone, you have to get your batteries charged on a regular basis, too.
Basic health maintenance is essential to ward off and recover from burnout. Make sure you exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and build regular stress relievers – such as recreational and social activities – into your week.
Researchers have found that a brief intervention – such as counseling sessions and courses – can have a dramatic effect in cutting chronic stress, reducing the number of subjects on sick leave in one study from 35 percent to just 6 percent.
One of the best remedies for burnout is getting support, so don’t hesitate to reach out.
Absorbing the pounding kills the chief productivity tool – a refreshed and engaged mind.
Taking care of yourself – so you can take of your family and your work – is the real home of the brave.
Joe Robinson is author of Work to Live and a work-life balance and stress management trainer and coach. He blogs at The Huffington Post, and his articles have appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Entrepreneur. For more on his trainings and programs, visit www.worktolive.info.