Transcription of the Burnout episode of the podcast Doers Shakers Makers with Sierra Bailey.
[00:05] Have you ever wondered what it really feels like to experience burnout? Do you think that you or someone you love is going through it and want to help? Today we’ll talk about the signs of burnout and what it feels like. How to get over it and how I experienced it. My name is Sierra Bailey. Welcome to Doers Shakers Makers, a podcast for go-getters to inspire you in your business and life. A few years ago, I began a long bout with burnout. As it turns out, I was the last one to realize it. I did, however, work through it and came out on the other side with awareness to hopefully avoid it again and to want to prevent others from getting to that point or at the very least to get them through it unscathed. I actually mentioned kind of as an aside as I am doing the podcast, how my goal is really to have you avoid burnout.
[00:58] Well, today you’re going to find out why. This year, the World Health Organization placed burnout and it’s 2022 international classification of diseases, under occupational phenomenon. There’s more to that, but you can look it up if you’re interested. You know, Google is your friend. So now that it is considered a condition and a syndrome, there’s been a lot more attention being given to it in both work, in avoiding it and how to deal with it. And a lot more, thankfully, attention is being given to it in a lot of workplaces because it has been specifically tied to chronic workplace stress, that has not been successfully managed and that often times is a result of a bad work environment and the responsibility of where somebody is working. So burnout is different than depression in that it is specifically tied to our work and our relationship with our work. Patients who are experiencing burnout exhibit three criteria.
[01:57] They feel first depleted of energy or exhausted. Second, mentally distanced from or cynical about their job. And third, they have a problem getting their job done successfully. So by definition, burn out is a condition experienced by workers and other professionals in which they develop depression-like symptoms as a result of aspects of their role. Burnout may manifest as showing signs of physical, mental and or emotional exhaustion as a result of stress related to their job or workplace. So who experiences burnout? Well, really anybody who is working a great amount. We hear stories constantly about people in startups or high tech jobs, where they experience it. But the most likely to experience burnout are actually nurses, physicians, therapists, caregivers, counselors, and teachers. Now, I personally was not in any of those fields as I’ve talked about. I owned a jewelry brand. I was a maker, a designer, a do everything-er as I used to say, and I ran the company for 15 years.
[02:55] I however, experienced burnout that I didn’t realize was happening. I just thought, I’ve had depression issues my whole life, so I thought maybe I was slightly depressed, except for burnout was really in me, anger. I was exhibiting anger, which of course made my husband know that something was wrong. I was just not acting like myself. I hated the job that I created. I resented having to do anything related to the business I had built, which is pretty weird. When I would get orders, which was all day long, I would become increasingly agitated and irritated and often I would just stare at the screen doing nothing, a lot. I was detached to the point where I was sabotaging my own work, but really above and beyond anything else I felt angry. So other symptoms that people experience are anxiety, headaches, lack of sleep, fatigue, an increasingly cynical outlook on work and life, depersonalization, low morale, and an increasing tendency to make mistakes.
[03:56] And I experienced most of those but I didn’t really realize that it was all one together. The depersonalization is a really interesting part because that basically makes it that you are not seeing people as people, you’re just seeing them kind of as like a number or an entity and I was feeling that way a lot. And as I said, I didn’t realize it was happening, but I didn’t realize it was happening for about two years and I kept kind of bargaining with myself. I don’t know what I thought it was, but I did not realize that it was burnout. And when I finally did realize it, the minute that I made the decision to close my company, all of my symptoms started going away. It was crazy. A lot of what burnout can come from is from you giving and giving and giving and not feeling like you’re getting back.
[04:43] And with a business, of course you’re getting back. People are paying for your product or your services, you are having an exchange of goods. But I realized in the middle of the burnout when I was trying to fix what I felt. I didn’t know a word to what I felt and I didn’t really know how I was supposed to fix things, but I knew something was off and I knew I needed something. A little bit of it was that I had reached most of my goals with my company, and so I didn’t have anywhere to go from there really. I was at the top of it and it’s not that I was bored, but I, I felt very stuck. I felt very trapped and very stuck. And the other thing was when I started really getting to the point where I was trying to come up with bigger goals and things to do, what I realized was that my personal mission in life is very tied to helping people and making people feel like they can do things that they don’t feel they’re capable of.
[05:39] And I was not feeling that that was being satisfied by making jewelry. So I tried other things to bring that in, but it wasn’t enough to counter the stress and the real underlying feelings that were going on and ultimately the decision came to leave the company. How does burnout differ from stress? Because I just mentioned stress for like the third time in the last two minutes here. Stress causes an employee to over engage with their work environment. They feel anxiety that their productivity levels are not high enough that they will display symptoms like hyperactive, urgent behavior, perhaps standing out from their coworkers. So stress is more the like, “oh my God, I have to do all the things. There’s so much to get done, I can’t do it all” that you can hear it in my voice like that. Stress. Burnout is more like, “who cares?
[06:26] I don’t care if the place burns down.” You know? That’s what the person going through burnout would more say. Not the, I feel like I have to keep up. Stress has that anxiousness underneath it, which you can have anxiety with burnout. Burnout really is more of the disengagement and a lack of productivity. Burnt out people are not trying to do more. Burnt out people don’t want to do anything anymore. They’re done. They’re over it. You can tell somebody is starting to be burned out because they, it doesn’t matter what you say or what they think, they are not getting that productivity up and they are not caring if their productivity is up. They’re very detached from their work environment. So an employee who is burned out has already been affected by these stress levels for weeks or months during which time they will increasingly lose their energy.
[07:13] They are unlikely to experience new physical symptoms related to ongoing work-related stressors that have caused them to burnout as the physical symptoms of burnout are those of ongoing stress. The symptoms of a person who is burned out will experience, are primarily psychological related to feeling increasingly listless and unmotivated. So long term workplace stress is what causes burnout. So it’s basically you start to see the change from somebody who’s stressed out over all the time to just not caring anymore. The traditional stressed out feeling was no longer present when I was going through burnout. There was a little bit of the feeling that something wasn’t going right, but I didn’t care about it. I wasn’t working very hard to try to counter it. It was exhausting to do daily tasks involving the business. I had no desire to make jewelry anymore, which is a hard thing to do when you are a maker and you are responsible for making the majority of the jewelry. And the thought of what I once loved more than anything and that is designing a new collection filled me with such dread that that was what made me finally close the business.
[08:17] I couldn’t even fathom designing a new collection and I will tell you quite honestly, I decided in January of 2018 to close my company and to shut it all down. I had a nine-month plan in place of how to shut it down. Being respectful to my 15 years of clients and customers. I made jewelry until April. I in January decided not to make anything new. I gave my VIP customers a chance to order anything they wanted so I would make existing designs. I just wasn’t designing new, until April. I have not made jewelry since April of last year. A few things. People would still try to order things for a few months and I would honor that, but I have never looked back and I’ve never wanted to make jewelry again. So that’s really what burnout looks like. It looks like you just don’t want to do the thing ever again.
[09:13] You are over it. You are so sick and tired of doing the thing or of looking at the thing. That is burnout. So what causes burnout? Well, having a heavy workload, poor work-life balance. That’s why so many people stress the importance of it, although we still don’t really understand what that means. Dealing with distressing material or situations. Crystal clear example of that, are the people that have to review video for Youtube and Facebook are known to burnout very fast because of how horrifying it is to watch the material. Lacking autonomy, perceiving one’s work or industry to be futile, not being sufficiently rewarded, working in an unsupportive environment and experiencing unfairness or discrimination. When you lay all that out, doesn’t it make so much sense to you? You’re, going through that list being like, oh yeah, those are all things that are really hard to overtime continuously feel and if you’ve been through burnout, if you know people that have, you’re probably right now saying, oh, that makes so much sense.
[10:11] I get it. Of course, of course. How could you go through that for an extended period of time and feeling that way and sometimes it all adds up and you’re experiencing multiple of those. I think a lot also of what I was going through was the being alone so much of the time in my work. Sure I’d have people coming and working for me, but I really felt that I didn’t have that person that I could talk to about it all the time and that I could kind of share the stresses of it. Which is a lot of what led me to be doing what I do now and the way that I do work with my clients. Because if you continuously don’t have anybody to talk to about stuff, you feel very isolated. And alone and that is an unsupportive environment. It’s also unfair.
[10:52] How can you avoid burnout? I recommend constantly to people now to take time off. Don’t push yourself past your limits, respect your own boundaries. I also think that as entrepreneurs, we think walking away is a failure or a weakness, but actually holding onto something to the point of burnout or to personal demise is not the answer either. I for 15 years would make excuses of why I couldn’t take time off. I believe in 15 years. There are two instances that I can think of where I took an entire week off each time to travel. Other than that, I never did anything for more than three days and I always had worked with me. And quite honestly when I did travel, I had a smartphone or a computer or something where I was engaged the whole time. I still, you know, I am one of those people that enjoys doing that, but I have had to learn to not do that and to allow myself to back off.
[11:43] There’s a great book called Rest. If you go to the blog, I did a one-pager on it that really talks about the importance of all the ways to rest and rest does not mean quietly somewhere with your eyes closed. Rest can mean exercise and taking sabbaticals and just things to make it so that work is not the dominating thing in your brain at all times. For me, I upped the amount that I read because that’s my favorite thing in the world to do and I started instead of watching TV, I do jigsaw puzzles at night and listen to true crime podcasts and that is very soothing for me and really helps me de-stress. When I’m stressed out, I puzzle puzzle puzzle. It helps a lot. Now one of my favorite ways that you can avoid burnout is to volunteer. Guess what? There’s a magic number.
[12:25] I’ve talked about it before. The magic number to volunteer to be happy is 100 hours per year. That is two hours per week. Oddly 100 hours per year to 800 hours per year makes no difference, of less happy or more happy. But if you are just trying to fit in the minimum, 100 hours per year. So I probably go more on that 800 hours per year, but that doesn’t make it that I am any more happy or any less stressed. However, under 100 hours does. So aim for volunteering two hours a week or eight hours a month or one day a month, go and volunteer for the day. It also has been talked about a lot that if you batch your volunteering like that, so you’re doing it in a more concentrated amount that you feel much better. How else can you avoid it? Have projects besides your day job or main business.
Have side hustles and passion projects, community service. Again, the volunteering, so important of avoiding burnout. I read a very interesting study that said that teachers have a much more chance of never going through burnout if they have, even if it has to do with teaching, but they just take on a side project. Tutoring or having some sort of weekend workshop or something. Amazing that that one tiny thing can have a huge impact. As I mentioned, rest. So that’s exercise, sleeping enough, those seven to nine hours, taking vacations, taking breaks, also essential and having a monthly and annual check-in for your goals. Are you where you want to be? Are you challenging yourself? Are you feeling fulfilled with your purpose? That was a lot of what caused mine. I just stopped paying attention to what was making me want to get up in the morning.
[14:07] I had reached so many of my goals that I didn’t really know what to do next, so it just made it so that I wasn’t feeling fulfilled anymore and the excitement wasn’t coming. I wasn’t having those big accomplishments and it just left me feeling like there wasn’t anything there. So that can also be something that’s causing burnout. So what are the signs of recovery? How do you know? Let’s say you have realized you have burnout, you’re on the way out. You’re on the opposite way. How do we know when you’re recovering? Well, there’s no set treatment. Many people do find it helpful to leave their workplace either temporarily or permanently. But, others find it possible through proactive decision making and or with therapeutic support to alter their work environment and their attitudes to it in ways that remove or reduce the factors responsible for causing burnout. Like that teacher who takes on the side project and then feels rejuvenated.
[14:59] I understand if you have gone through years of school and have years of experience, it may not be an option for you to walk away. You may not want to walk away. You may still love what you do deep down. You just right now are feeling burned out from it. Perhaps you’re in a situation where you’re a single parent with children and you are unable to have that kind of luxury to just be able to walk away and start new. That’s a very, very real thing and most of us are in a situation more like that than in a situation where we can walk away. I acknowledge that I was incredibly lucky that I was in a position where I was able to transition. A lot of it was that when I closed the company, part of that plan that I set into place was to make money rapidly at the end that I could store up and have savings to get me through the beginning of starting something new.
[15:48] So if you own a business, it might be something like that and it might be like liquidating or selling or something that gives you that opportunity. If you are in a job like nursing or teaching where you don’t want to leave or you feel like you can’t leave, really look into something with volunteering or something that gives you two hours a week away from that work where you’re feeling fulfilled, that might have a huge help. So when a person has developed new coping strategies for ensuring that their work does not impact on their quality of life, they will be able to approach their job with less reluctance or anxiety. The volunteering, the seeing a therapist, the meditation, the exercise, whatever plan of action you put into place, you’ll notice that when you are starting to look at your job differently and you’re not starting to like dread it or have anxiety or that distance from it, those are signs of recovering. And of course, somebody recovering may start to show a happier and more relaxed manner in the workplace and be more forthcoming with ideas and more willing to take on projects.
[16:50] You’ll engage again or you’ll see they’re engaging again. The engagement will come back. That cynicism will start to fade. All of those signs of burnout that were not exhibited because some people do naturally just have those. If you had these symptoms show up, they will start to fade as soon as that burnout starts to go through recovery. Lastly, there are three types of burnout. There is frenetic burnout and that occurs when people channel so much energy into their work, often as a result of anxiety that the rewards of the role must eventually begin to seem negatively disproportionate to the effort they invest. You’re just not getting anything back out of everything you’re putting in. Disregarding the concept of work-life balance in order to channel maximum energy into one’s work is common and burnout occurs when a person works at an intensity to the point of exhaustion.
[17:37] This happens with a lot of startups. It happens a lot in the caregiving careers, especially for those that have to work the 20-hour shifts and longer. If you’re not properly caring for yourself, you’re just become exhausted and eventually burn out. The next type is under-challenged burnout and that occurs when a person feels trapped in a monotonous and under stimulating work environment, performing a role which does not provide job satisfaction. This contributes to an overall lowering of their mood. Oddly, I was kind of in a combination of all three. That is the life of an entrepreneur. We both get that supercharged, put everything in, but then at the same time, if you get to the point where you’ve solved all the problems and done all the things and you start to feel incredibly under challenged. And that brings us to worn-out burnout, that occurs when people give up after experience a period in which their work environment is consistently a source of intense stress or which yields negligible rewards.
[18:28] Ah, that is really for you people that start businesses that don’t go anywhere. It’s okay to walk away if you feel like it’s not working after a year or two. Don’t force it, if it’s not happening. No good will come of that. That is burnout. And you too can get through it. I got through it. You can get through it. If you’re struggling, please seek outside professional help. There are so many ways to access therapy, including on the phone. Help is a simple Google search away. I’ll let you go searching for things in your area and that look good for you. But know that burnout is not something that lasts forever. As soon as you change that work environment, burnout changes and goes away. So there’s hope. If you’re experiencing burnout, let today be that catalyst that makes you take a step in the direction of getting over it.
[19:15] Maybe volunteer, maybe look into taking a break, maybe talk to somebody, see what your options are. Look into it. You don’t have to experience burnout forever. It is not something that should be ongoing. It should be you realize that you’re going through burnout and you take action and do something about ending it. Thank you for joining me today. My name is Sierra Bailey, and this is Doers Shakers Makers, a podcast for go-getters. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe. And if you’re listening with apple podcasts, rating and reviewing, it doesn’t have to be a long review. Just put a sentence. “I enjoy this podcast.”; “This podcast made me think.” It’s as simple as that and it really does such a huge job to help me get found. I’ll be back next Monday to keep you inspired and get you doing shaking and making.
The Doers Shakers Makers podcast is hosted and produced by me, business educator and talented, tiny business expert, Sierra Bailey. Did this episode inspire you? Send me an email and let me know how!
Did you know that there is a group filled with people just like you, who love to learn, grow and connect? It’s the Doers Shakers Makers Facebook group, and we’d love to have you join us!