One day, after a regular day of feeling mentally and physically drained, I came home and scrolled through my social media. I stopped on a post that mentioned the following phrase by an individual named Katy Leeson: “We need to stop glamorizing overworking. Please. The absence of sleep, good diet, exercise, relaxation,
and time with friends and family isn’t something to be applauded. Too many people wear their burnout as a badge of honour. And it needs to change.” This post has resonated with me for a very long time, and amongst many factors, helped me leave a job promoting this concept of burnout.
Why is it that we glamorize this idea of overworking to the point that we experience burnout? This is a multi-faceted answer, and honestly, we probably don’t have the time to discuss the why. But I would like to touch on my experience of burnout on how it affected me.
According to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11, 2019), “burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.” Honestly, I was feeling all three factors to an extreme magnitude at this time. I was working a job that, although was close to four and a half workdays, the workload equated to working every single day of the week. That meant weekends, holidays, even Christmas Eve. I would say I was always hypervigilant, often overthinking everything, and constantly experienced elevated anxiety levels. That said, my anxiety was the worst it had ever been. I had panic attacks regularly, running on four to five hours of sleep and was beginning to despise the person I was turning into. Although the work I produced was never affected, my family and partner experienced the repercussions of the burnout I was experiencing in the workplace. I never spent time with either party. I had some extreme episodes of moodiness, started to experience depressive symptoms, and I debated switching out of the profession because I doubted my abilities.
I decided to take a leap of faith and move to a job that understood the importance of self-care and practiced it. It was a scary move. I wasn’t going to have the same certainty as my previous job (i.e., irregular hours, buying my own materials, and no benefits). But, I can say that it was one of the best decisions I have made.
The first couple of months at my new job, I felt like I was recovering from the intense amount of stress and pressure that I had experienced. This included experiencing more symptoms of depression (e.g., not wanting to get out of bed), imposter syndrome, and the continued feeling of exhaustion. It took my mind and body probably three months to feel rejuvenated. I began seeing a therapist, reassessed several of my goals, created better work boundaries, re-established a healthy sleep regimen, and increased my physical activity and mindfulness practices. Over time, I found happiness again. The passion and love that I have for my profession resurfaced. My personality re-emerged, and I was able to do simple things such as take my dog for a walk, watch movies, call friends and family, and just finally take some time for myself (and not feel guilty about it)!
The takeaway message from this post is that your self-care is essential. Burnout is not okay. As corporations and businesses, we need to be doing more to protect the mental health of our employees. This idea that society has created of over-working is not feasible long-term. What are you willing to give up in order to meet those constant deadlines? Your cognitive functioning (e.g., memory, cognitive proficiency)? Time with your family? Elevated levels of depression and anxiety? Our current mindset needs to change.
*World Health Organization. (2019). International classification of diseases for mortality and morbidity statistics (11th Revision). Retrieved from http://id.who.int/icd/entity/129180281