Burnout: the nemesis of the highly driven

Managing burnout can feel like an impossible task. When you’re working at breakneck speeds — often for days, weeks or months — with no end in sight, the thought of continuing to tackle job responsibilities at such a fast pace is enough to put anyone into a full-blown burnout breakdown. You might even feel like quitting your job, even if you’re highly driven and love what you do. 

What’s worse is that burnout is so common. Most high-performing individuals experience burnout at some point in their lives. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that this kind of exhaustion is serious — so serious that it can stop executives, entrepreneurs and other go-getters from achieving their dreams. 

If you’re currently managing burnout, what can you do? Let’s look at what burnout is, as well as how to tackle it when true exhaustion sets in. 

Burnout symptoms 

By now, burnout symptoms are well-documented. When it comes to job burnout, ask yourself these questions: 

  • Have you grown critical or cynical of your work?
  • Do you have a hard time starting your job in the morning?
  • Are you procrastinating far more than you might have in the past?
  • Are you often irritable, annoyed or impatient with coworkers, customers or clients?
  • Do you feel like you lack the energy to complete daily tasks?
  • Are you having trouble concentrating?
  • When you do achieve something, do you no longer feel a sense of achievement?
  • Are you disillusioned with your work?
  • Are you sleeping poorly?
  • Do you have other unexplained physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach cramps, bowel problems or bodily aches and pains?
  • Are you feeling depressed or anxious?

If you’ve answered “yes” to a majority of these questions, you’re probably experiencing burnout. Once you’ve established that you’re officially burnt out, the next step involves coming up with tools and tactics to manage and dispense with your exhaustion. 

Preventing burnout 

While not always possible, it’s best to prevent burnout before it happens. Here are some different ways to think about burnout, and how to stop it in its tracks before it turns into a life-altering problem. 

  • Don’t allow “slippage” to occur: You’ve probably never heard of the term slippage before, and that’s okay — I invented it, after all. After watching a number of executives go through the stages of burnout, I noticed something most of them had in common: when it came to their daily routine, they were allowing something very important to slip through the cracks. It could’ve been their eating habits, their sleep, their exercise routine, their downtime or even just their time spent outside. Whatever the case, they were letting go of a lot of preventative tactics that could’ve stopped burnout from happening before it hit. The goal, of course, is to stop slippage from occurring, thus preventing burnout before it sets in.

  • Address your emotional state: When your emotional state is calm and level, you’re able to handle more. This is probably best demonstrated through the concept of parenting: think about a parent who is well-rested and coming off of a vacation vs. a parent who has been up for three nights straight with a sick child. Which parent is going to be able to handle more adversity, conflict and difficulty in their life? The same goes for burnout: if you’re emotionally well, you’re going to be able to handle a lot more adversity in your daily job than if you’re feeling depressed, upset or unwell.

  • Turn inward and become introspective: Burnout is kind of like driving on the freeway at 80 miles an hour. While working at a breakneck pace will help you get where you’re going pretty fast, you’re not going to see anything along the way. Maybe that works in the short-term, but you’re going to get bored, restless and tired if you’re always whizzing by everything. Instead, try slowing down and reflecting on your life once in a while to stay grounded and centered. My top recommendation for this is to try journaling: writing about your experiences is one of the best ways to catalogue them with purpose and intent. 

Lastly, when it comes to prevention, it’s important to remember that none of these tips or techniques are considered “breaks” from work. Everything we’ve just discussed is actually a part of your work. That’s because your work won’t happen if you don’t do all of these things. You’ll either end up doing a worse job than you’d like, or you’ll decide not to work at all, because neglecting yourself and pretending burnout isn’t real is the worst way to stop burnout from happening. 

burnout infographic

Managing burnout when it occurs  

Unfortunately, sometimes it’s impossible to prevent burnout. The nature of modern work means that sometimes you’re going to have to put your head down and get things done. When that happens, slippage might occur, and you might be reeling from sleep loss, poor nutrition or a lack of exercise. What can you do?

Here are some tactics for overcoming burnout:

  • Dispense with guilt and take a break: One of the biggest reasons burnout persists after it sets in is because people who are most prone to burnout are those who work really, really hard. That means you’re probably not used to taking a break, even if you need it. Resting when there’s work to be done might make you feel guilty, anxious or stressed. But continuing to push through burnout is only going to make you, your work and your mental health suffer. Instead, take a step back and do what you need to recharge. Depending on what you like to do to relax, that could mean taking a nap, making a cup of tea, going for a walk, seeing a movie or even just changing your physical environment. Whatever it takes, take some time to yourself to replenish and “check out” from work.

  • Reintroduce play into your atmosphere: If you’re feeling burnt out and you’re stressed over a big meeting, project or presentation at work, you might think the answer is to put your head down and get serious. In fact, the opposite could be true. If you’re feeling anxious about a meeting, why would scanning and re-scanning your notes make you feel any less nervous? Instead, try having a little fun. Maybe you need to watch a funny TikTok. Maybe you need to read a chapter from your favorite book. Whatever it is, introduce a little levity back into your life, and see what happens.

  • Make it your mission to feel good: A lot of us get burnt out because we feel like it’s our job to accomplish things. That’s a very North American way of looking at things, but unfortunately, it’s deeply ingrained. Instead of trying to rid yourself of that belief, try looking at it this way: what if what you absolutely need to accomplish is feeling good? Instead of believing that taking breaks and playing a little and having a good time are barriers to your achievement, consider them tools you can use to accomplish your most important goal: feeling good. 

I think a lot of people make the mistake of thinking that burnout “cures” are frivolous things that get in the way of doing big things. After all, it might not seem like getting a facial or watching a football game are tactics to doing better at your job. But those types of things are absolutely crucial to your wellbeing, and that means they’re also crucial to your job performance. Consider them a part of the job description, if you will. 

Ask yourself these burnout management questions 

For those of you out there reading this right now and feeling burnt out, let me ask you the following questions:

  • What are you doing to give yourself a break?
  • What do you like to do when you’re not “getting work done”?
  • Are you getting enough exercise, sleep, water, sunlight and nutritious food?
  • When’s the last time you closed your computer early for the day and went on a walk?
  • Will the world end if you don’t get something done for a few extra hours? Days? Weeks?
  • When’s the last time you allowed yourself to play?
  • Are you giving yourself a break mentally, as well as physically? 
  • Can you let go of your guilt regarding work?
  • Are you able to make it your mission to feel good every single day?
  • Are you on board with the idea that all of these things will make you even better at what you do for a living? 

Hopefully these questions will help you look at managing burnout a little differently down the road. For even more advice on overcoming burnout and exhaustion, you can always drop us a line. From burnout to job advancement and more, coaches such as myself offer executives and other high-performing individuals the tools and tactics they need to manage their daily lives.  

I’m looking forward to talking with you!

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Kim Ades: Hello, hello. My name is Kim Ades, I am the President and Founder of Frame of Mind Coaching and the Co-founder of The Journal That Talks Back. Today is Fridays with Ferne and I'd like to welcome my daughter Ferne to the podcast with me today.

[00:00:18] Ferne Kotlyar: Hello, hello!

[00:00:20] Kim Ades: How's it going?

[00:00:22] Ferne Kotlyar: Great! Great. I'm really happy with the weather. It's very nice and the city is lovely at this time of year.

[00:00:30] Kim Ades: You're in Montreal.

[00:00:31] Ferne Kotlyar: Absolutely.

[00:00:33] Kim Ades: So Montreal is a French speaking place. How's your French lately?

[00:00:37] Ferne Kotlyar: [Speaks in French]

[00:00:41] Kim Ades: Wow! Look at you. Even your accent's getting better.

[00:00:45] Ferne Kotlyar: Merci bien.

[00:00:48] Kim Ades: So Ferne went to French school here in Toronto, but their French lessons aren't... They're more anglophone French, and now she is dating a French guy from France, so her accent is improving. Okay, so what are we talking about today?

[00:01:09] Ferne Kotlyar: So today we have another little case study. Again, it's a bit more general than a specific case, but I will jump right in. So this is the type of person that is uncomfortable asking for help. So they want to accomplish everything themselves, even when it feels like the world is crumbling down on them and they have a huge burden, they don't feel comfortable asking for help and they just want to accomplish it themselves. What advice would you have for that kind of person?

[00:01:44] Kim Ades: So I know a lot of people like that. A lot of people run companies and those people aren't so comfortable asking for help. Isn't that shocking?

[00:01:53] Ferne Kotlyar: [Chuckles]

[00:01:53] Kim Ades: And what we find is that people who are not comfortable asking for help have a series of beliefs around the concept of asking for help, and those beliefs generally clash with their goals. So what we do when we work with people like that is we ask them to journal, and through the journaling process, we uncover some core values, some core beliefs that are really actually standing in the way of their success, their happiness, their ability to thrive.

So let me give you some examples. Some people who don't like to ask for help believe that if they ask for help, it means that they are incapable, that they are not smart enough, they're not able enough, that they are weak, that they fall short somehow. And if you believe that about yourself, would you ask for help? I wouldn't. Right?

And so when I ask for help, it means that I am not good enough. So that belief fundamentally clashes with their ability to grow their business or to thrive, because nobody can grow business on their own, right? We need to ask for help.

The second thing is, or here are some other beliefs that might interfere. Could be "I can do it better. I can do it faster. It's so much more efficient if I just do it myself" and those are another set of beliefs that might not enable a person to ask for help. But what we see is, and this is just kind of skimming the surface, is that what people believe to be true will determine the actions they take and the actions they don't take.

In the case of asking for help, people don't feel comfortable perhaps because they don't wanna put someone out, they don't wanna impose on someone, they don't want to ask for something that someone else might not feel comfortable in delivering. And so they stay quiet or they stay small because they're afraid to ask.

Another person might not ask for help because they're afraid of the rejection, they're afraid to be told "no". And so what we see is that asking for help or not asking for help stems from a set of beliefs, and those beliefs will determine whether or not a person takes action around asking for help or not.

But what we do see, and this is very, very important to think about, is that extraordinary leaders leverage their resources. It's one of the key thinking strategies that they engage in consistently across all industries. So what does that mean? For them, they think that any resource is accessible to them, that includes asking for help. And there is never a shortage of resource.

So they don't think that way. They think there's no shortage of time, there's no shortage of talent, there's no shortage of money, there's no shortage of any kind of resource that I might need or want access to. All I need to do is determine the resource I need and then go and find it.

And so these extraordinary leaders, they're not only not uncomfortable asking for help, they understand that asking for help is, in a way, their key success factor. It's the way that they get to success because they understand that there's only so much human capacity they have, and that to get somewhere faster it becomes a lot more practical, a lot more efficient to get other people, helping you open doors, row with you, get to where you need to go with greater speed and agility.

So asking for help is definitely one of the top thinking strategies of extraordinary leaders. And so, you know, we have to look at the discomfort that people have in asking for help and ask ourselves what beliefs are driving that discomfort.

[00:05:59] Ferne Kotlyar: And what happens when it comes to personal issues? So I understand with respect to a business, if you wanna grow, you're gonna need more people, you're gonna need external resources, you're gonna need things that aren't just yourself to become extraordinary.

But what about personal matters? Like, you know, you have a kid, you have a job, you have a million things on your plate and you're not getting enough sleep, and you just want, let's say, a babysitter, but you should be able to take care of all these things by yourself.

[00:06:35] Kim Ades: Really?

[00:06:36] Ferne Kotlyar: You should, right? That's the idea of like, that's what's stopping somebody, but I guess I'm asking how this applies to a personal situation rather than a business.

[00:06:46] Kim Ades: Yeah. So again, there are a certain set of beliefs that step in the way, right? You just mentioned one. "I should be able to do this on my own. I shouldn't have to ask for help. I shouldn't need help. If I were smart enough, well put together enough, I wouldn't need to ask for help". And so those are a set of beliefs and those beliefs ultimately just limit us, they just get in the way, they just interfere with our ability to thrive.

And so even on a personal level, but let's look on a personal level, just the same way as we know that in business, we become wealthy or we grow our business by accessing resources in our personal lives. We also increase our wealth by increasing our community and our network. And how do we increase our network? How do we do that?

How do we do that? Is by letting people in is by inviting them to participate in some of the challenges we have and sharing those with others. And so if we isolate ourselves and we say, "no, we have it all together. I never need help. I got this perfect life going on", what happens is we prevent people from stepping into our lives and participating and helping us out, lifting, you know, lifting up some of the weight some of the times, but let's even get a little less complicated.

Let's just say you have people over for dinner. You invite people over for dinner, you've prepared a lovely dinner, and after dinner they say, "hey, can I do anything to help?" Oftentimes we say, "no, no, no, you're the guest. You sit down, you. You're my guest I'll take care of everything" because we have a belief that guests shouldn't be working.

Guests shouldn't be helping out, but what do we do? We're in the kitchen, working there at the dinner table waiting. And what we do is we end up creating a moment of discomfort. It's awkward. Right? And what we're certainly not doing is leveraging the opportunity to bring someone in, to welcome them truly at, in our home and participate in the ongoings of the house.

So when I have a guest over and they say, "can I help?" I say "yes, please put this food in this Tupperware", and that keeps them busy, that keeps them engaged, that keeps them feeling helpful, and it helps you and it lightens the load and it makes things more fun and, and easier going and helps you get back to the table for dessert faster. Right?

So, we think of the idea we think about asking for help in a way that contradicts our goals a lot of the time. Why did we invite them for over for dinner to begin with, to connect, to have a good time, to enjoy spending time together, to bring them into our world, into our families.

And then we say, "no, no, no, you sit over there. You can't cross the threshold of the kitchen", and I encourage people to think about it differently. Sometimes asking for help is a gift to the person you're asking help from, because that gives them an opportunity to participate, to contribute, to be valuable in some way that is meaningful to you. That creates connection. So asking for help in.

You can't grow a business by yourself, right? You just can't. So you need to ask for help. You need to figure out how to leverage your resources and at home, certainly it makes life easier, but it also serves the purpose of creating a connection with others.

When you ask others for help. Yeah, absolutely. I really appreciate that concept. I know that when I go to somebody else's house, particularly if it's somebody new and you're not super comfortable with yet, um, when you're sitting there kind of waiting for them to finish and clean up and you feel super uncomfortable because you don't know what you're supposed to do.

Like, am I being impolite? Am I like, what, what am I supposed to do? So if they give you a task, then I think it's a lot easier to feel more comfortable and to feel. Like you have a place and to not necessarily even need, you know, awkward conversation, uh, because you're doing something and that doing something together, facilitates a relationship, um, talking isn't the only way to build a connection.

Right? And sometimes when you are in the kitchen and you are doing the dishes or filling up the Tupperware containers or whatever it is that they're asking you to do, that's when. The less formal piece of the relationship starts to build. That's when the real synaptic intersection starts to take place.

That's when the friendship starts to really build at a whole other level. Because if you let someone into your kitchen, you let someone into your life. Right. And so it, it changes the game and it, I think ups the level of potential intimacy. So black people in your kitchen, let them help. Right? Give them an apron.

Say here, let them even, why is this into your dishwash? even into your dishwasher. So, and, and, uh, Fe's alluding to this very incredible thing that has taken place in my life. When I met Alan and we went over to his parents' house for dinner. Uh, his mother is the type of person who is not comfortable asking for help, but I got up and started to help anyways.

And I am the only other person in her whole life that she allows. Stack the dishwasher to load the dishwasher. I'm the only other person, because what I did was I stood beside her and I said, teach me exactly how you do it and I will follow exactly your instructions. So it's the greatest honor to load her dishwasher.

And every Thursday night, when we go there for dinner, I am the only one who's allowed to load the dishwash. It's an honor. It's my honor. Yeah, right. And, but what it does, actually, what that action has done for us over the years. I mean, now it's been a long time, but at the time it cracked open the possibility for intimacy early on in the relationship.

And I will say I have an extraordinary relationship with my mother-in-law. We are very, very good friends, a very good place. so good, great conversation. Fun. I know it took a weird turn in terms of, uh, doing dishes and helping out in the kitchen, but offer help too. Don't be afraid to offer help. Yeah. All right.

For those of you who are listening. I hope that you got something fun from today's episode. If you have a challenge or a subject, you would like us to discuss on the podcast, please reach out to me or for any I can be reached don't don't be shy. Don't be afraid. Yeah. Don't be afraid to ask. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

Um, reach me. Uh, my email address is Kim frame of mind coaching dot. Feny how do they reach you? My email address is Feny Kotlyar live.com. That's easy. Um, and we hope to hear from you and, uh, please like, please share, please spread the word about our podcast. We definitely want to get more ears tuned in. We will see you next week.

Have a great week everyone. Bye.

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