Over the last few weeks, I’ve been feeling a little despondent and low.
Even though I’m working, thriving, and connected to a basic sense of meaning and purpose, I couldn’t shake off this feeling like shadows were pulling at my feet.
Something was wrong. I started getting this sinking feeling that the life I’m living isn’t what I really want deep down. I wondered if my life choices so far had, perhaps, been mistakes.
I’ve never been too anxious about the future. I’ve always carried myself with the faith that all I needed to do was take the next step that will lead me to the next door, and if I end up walking through the wrong door, then I’ll just redirect myself.
Why was I now questioning if all those doors were ever real and true? Why was I feeling like something is fundamentally wrong with the way I’m living and the choices I’m making?
I wondered if it was imposter syndrome. I did feel like I was doubting my skills and feeling an overwhelming lack of achievement. Like everyone around me was getting their dream job, or publishing their second and third book, meanwhile, here I was working day in, day out with a lack of connection to my heart’s true calling. With no new degrees (apart from my Bachelor’s) under my belt to show for. Nothing tangible to prove that I’ve gained experience and wisdom in my life.
I felt like I couldn’t sit at the same table with well-accomplished people just because I had aspirations. Why was I not manifesting or materialising those dreams fast enough?
I’ve been feeling like a failure—and suppressing it. Telling myself it’s a pandemic and that I shouldn’t measure myself up against anyone in a challenging year like this year. But the feeling would keep coming back, and I’d be too busy working over 40 hours a week with multiple different jobs, with no time to truly tune in to how I really feel, and what I really want.
I started to notice that I couldn’t handle seeing notifications on my phone anymore, my replies were later than usual. I started feeling like I had no energy to multitask anymore. If I could run and catch a train in a minute, I would choose to walk slow and catch the one in 10 minutes. I felt flat.
Then last night I had an aha moment while listening to a podcast by Brené Brown. She interviewed writers, Emily and Amelia Nagoski, co-authors of the book Burnout: Solve your Stress Cycle.
She cracked it—I had burnout.
The term “burnout” was coined by the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, in the 1970s. He described it as being exhausted, listless, and unable to cope. In this podcast episode, both writers and Brené Brown delve deeper into what burnout means and how to manage the stress cycle.
Freudenberger explains that the three main signs you have burnout are:
1. Emotional Exhaustion
The fatigue that comes from caring too much for too long.
The depletion of empathy, caring, and compassion. Or rather, the persistent feeling of having a sense that one’s surroundings aren’t real.
3. Decreased sense of accomplishment
The sense of futility, feeling like nothing you do makes a difference.
Boy oh boy did I check all three.
Although I wasn’t feeling like all three signs were absolute, to a large extent I was experiencing all of those emotions.
I can’t describe how comforting it is to hear well-researched data on something as common as burnout. To understand why it happens, how to notice it, and how to manage it is invaluable. It changed my mindset, and inspired me to write down the practical tools they’ve given me on a Post-it note on my desk, so I can always remember: it’s not me—it’s the damn burnout. And there’s always a way to either connect, release, or express ourselves so that stress knows it can visit, but it’s not welcome to stay.
In this podcast, they talk about the seven ways to complete the stress cycle. I highly recommend you listen below.