Jan 14, 2015

Plumb tuckered out

by Michelle Douglas
A word has been whispering in the back of my mind in recent weeks and I’ve been doing my best to try and ignore it…


You see I don’t have the time for burnout. For heaven's sake it's the New Year! And, seriously, folks, how on earth can I have burnout when I love what I do? However, apparently a sense of enjoyment doesn’t necessarily cancel out any associated stress.

So, what exactly is burnout and does one go about avoiding it?

I did a bit of research…

Wikipedia tells me: “Burnout is a psychological term that refers to long-term exhaustion and diminished interest in work.

An article in Forbes magazine details 10 signs of burnout:
  1. Exhaustion
  2. Lack of motivation
  3. Frustration, cynicism and other negative emotions
  4. Cognitive problems (eg, inability to concentrate or see the big picture)
  5. Slipping job performance
  6. Interpersonal problems at home and at work
  7. Not taking care of yourself
  8. Being preoccupied at work…when you’re not at work
  9. Decreased satisfaction
  10. Health problems
I’m really tired and I’m not working at the same speed I have been for the past couple of years. My enthusiasm seems to go into hiding for long periods. And I’ve been forgetting things. But when I look at that above list, I know I don’t have burnout.

Wikipedia details the difference between stress and burnout: “Stress ultimately produces urgency and hyperactivity, whereas burnout produces helplessness or hopelessness. And although stress may cause a loss of energy and anxiety disorders, burnout often involves loss of motivation, ideals, and hope.”

Ha! So I’m stressed. Sigh. So what should I do to combat what seems to be my increasing stress levels? This is what I’ve implemented so far:
  1. Exercise—at the moment it’s swimming in the surf because it’s divine and invigorating.
  2. Reading—time restraints often mean I’m not as generous with myself as far as reading time goes. Since Christmas I’ve been avidly, maybe even obsessively, reading. It’s helping.
  3. I’ve planned a beach holiday for February (when my next book has been sent to my editor).
And this is what else I mean to work on:
  1. Diet—it’s proven that an apple a day is VERY good for you. (Man, I wish I liked fruit more)
  2. Meditation—I know, I know, I’m sure I made this a NY resolution last year, but I didn’t keep it up. Why do I find it so hard? But I mean to try again.
  3. I’m going to institute a cut off time for technology. I don’t need to obsessively check my email or FB every hour I’m awake.
I think it wise to listen to our little inner voices. I may not currently have burnout, but it doesn’t mean it’s not looming on my horizon. It’s probably smart to take stock now and do what I can to avert it. (Mind you, the other word whispering through my mind is hormones, but I’m really really ignoring that one).

I’d love to know if others have experienced burnout, stress or just general exhaustion. What did you do to pull yourself out of that funk? Or what strategies do you use to keep that festering beast at bay?


  1. I think we all need a break sometimes. We need time to recharge those batteries. I think you're doing all the right things and I really hope you enjoy the holiday in February. (I still haven't got the meditation thing worked out either.)

    1. It does occur to me that, Claire, that I haven't had a "lazy" holiday in an age. So, I have big expectations for my beach break. Am really hoping it helps recharge the batteries. Fingers crossed.

      As for the meditation thing -- I think we need some of Louisa's discipline to rub of onto us. :-)

  2. Hey Michelle! Self care is so important and I'm glad you're taking time out to address that! I've just had two weeks off and I feel so much better, having been exhausted before christmas. It's so hard to switch off these days, isn't it? There's always Facebook/twitter/24 hour news (and so many horrible things happening) - but you are so right to listen to your body. If you find a magic solution to dealing with all of that then please do share! I've heard about people taking a day away from technology once a week, and apparently that works a treat, but I don't know if I could do that. Look after yourself, rest up! xx
    (oh, and my meditation has gone to pot these holidays- hard to do that when there's a house full of teenagers!!!)... and no....don't mention hormones, not at all!

    1. Oh, Louisa, I can't tell you how glad I am that you feel rejuvenated after your two weeks off! That's very good news. :-) The switching off feels nearly impossible, doesn't it -- and I also think having an end of January deadline isn't ideal as I find it so hard to write consistently in December. But we live and learn. I also love your idea of taking a day off from technology a week. I'll have to ponder that, but I think having some extra quiet time could be exactly what the doctor ordered.

      P.S. Maybe we need to make a meditation resolution. ;-)

  3. Michelle

    I think we need to make time for ourselves find the time to do the things we really enjoy reading watching TV or movies meeting up with friends and having great lunches :) and talking finding friends that are good listeners and lots of hugs :)

    Have Fun

    1. Helen, you're so right! I need to work on doing those things without the accompanying guilt. We'll call it a work in progress. ;-)

      I hope you're getting to enjoy lots of your favourite things in your new retirement! You've definitely earned them. :-)

  4. Oh, boy - I read that burnout list and I've definitely been suffering from burn out for the last two years.

  5. Oh, Liz, sending lots of hugs. I have that awful weariness and the constant weight that I should be working...so it's hardly surprising my motivation has taken a nose dive. But to feel even worse than that for 2 years. Ugh! I don't even want to think about it. I hope things ease up for you soon.

  6. I am in the burnout stage, too, Liz! I need to slow down on the internet, get some exercise, cut out the soda & spend more time reading. Another big one is getting enough sleep! Now, just to get started.....

    1. Oh, Sharlene, sleep is a big thing too, isn't it? I never function very well without a solid 8-9 hours. Good luck on slowing down and slaying the burnout beast.

  7. I had one of those burnout moments quite badly about a year ago - taking a break is the best possible thing you can do! I also found doing some creative activities that weren't writing-related also helped to refill the 'creative well. Meditating is something I try to incorporate as well, I didn't think it would work when I started but even ten minute of peaceful time can make a huge different. I hope you manage to get some downtime soon!!

    1. Stef, I wonder when the idea of having a break became a luxury instead of a necessity? We seemed to be ruled by an idea of productivity -- which of course means we feel we should be doing something productive with our time, all of the time. I'm glad to know you hauled yourself out of the burnout slump, though. You've also doubly convinced me that I should be making the time for meditation. Thanks!

  8. Hi Michelle,
    Putting my hand up here too. I've been telling myself I'll take 2-3 days 'off', like a whole weekend, for 3 months. No down time at Christmas due to visitors (lovely), copy edits (far from lovely) and the book that's due. Right now my stress levels are way too high and I'd love nothing more than a few days with no computer and no commitments. In the meantime I've broken my big goals down into smaller goals so they're not quite so scary. I've been walking and, like you, trying to read. I find the worst thing is that with too much due I spend more time at the computer. I think I'd be more productive if I took decent breaks from it, even if only for half an hour. Here's wishing us both luck!

    1. Annie, taking a whole weekend off should not be that difficult, should it? I mean, we wouldn't expect our nearest and dearest to work 7 days a week. I like your idea of breaking bigger goals into smaller sized chunks -- that would help with feeling somewhat in control. I hope you manage to get a few days off to soon to rest and recharge…and that you get those much-needed breaks from the computer.

  9. Ouch, Michelle, isn't it awful to feel so out of sorts with yourself and your world.
    I tend to exercise more when I'm really stressed. But the best help is a holiday somewhere away from the computer and preferably with a wine waiter on hand. :)

    1. Sue, you're right. Exercise really does help. I have to kick my butt into gear a bit more I think (hard in all of this hot, humid weather). Mind you, the holiday I have in my mind is glorious and lazy--complete with no computer and an obliging wine waiter--and I'm hoping it works miracles. :-)

  10. I'm a bit of stress bunny, Michelle. If I don't exercise, my family knows about it.

    I definitely suffered from burn out after nearly 15 years in high stress corporate jobs. Took a while feel energised again after so long driving myself so hard.

    How about picking a day very soon and blocking it out as Michelle's Lovely Day out! Don't turn on the computer. Lock the office door. Get someone to hide the key. Do some exercise early, then plan a day all around the things you love doing.

    1. Hugs on having suffered from burnout, Jen, but I can't tell how relieved I am to hear that you bounced back from it. And, yes, I'm hearing you on the exercise (though mine is far less high-powered than yours).

      Do you know how good a "Michelle's Lovely Out" sounds? Oh, and I'm sure the planning of such a day would recharge the batteries too. What a wonderful idea. :-)

  11. It's a nasty feeling when burnout seems to be hovering, Michelle. Good on you for spotting early warning signs AND taking notice of them!

    I'm a stress-ball and sometimes feel as though there's too much to do and I'm not getting enough of it done. It can be overwhelming and I find myself falling into bad habits of using the scattergun approach. Which means I do a little bit of everything and nothing gets done really well or completed. Which means the problem just gets worse not better. I'm better at catching myself early to nip this in the bud.

    I'm doing a regular morning exercise (even if it's only 5 minutes) and stretches for my back. My next plan is to get a regular meditation happening - sadly, I'm awfully good at letting this one slide for some reason...

    1. Ugh, hugs on all of that stress-ball bouncing, Sharon! I know exactly what you mean, though. It's a crazy treadmill that seems terribly self-defeating. And unhealthy too!

      Fingers crossed that your regular morning exercise helps out. I'm sure meditation would help too. So...I wonder why is it so hard to make ourselves do it? It's one of those mysteries.