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Burnout - The Untold Story (Part III)

I have been on a mission to raise awareness of mental health at the workplace since many people I know suffered from the consequences their stressful life brought.

We live in the modern days, where most of us are exposed to too many stimulants, and that happened over only a very short period of time, I am talking about decades. That's something humanity cannot get used to that quickly. To adapt is the biggest strength of our species, no doubt about that, but adapting basically overnight to things such as the internet, smartphones, social media and so on, that can be overwhelming if we don't balance it out and stay connected to nature within us.

In the last chapter, I talked about the first two stages of burnout. If you haven't read it, head over there now. And if you are new to the blog, start from the very beginning over here.

girl sitting on a sofa, looking sad

I've taken my friend Kay's story (with her consent) to try to set an example, something many of us can get more familiar with than only stating the facts, stages, and what to do. I feel, personally, I have already learnt so much when doing my research and talking to Kay about the whole experience. That story needs to be heard, and we all need to slow down, pause for a moment; to observe where we are personally, how we feel, how we respond in stressful situations and how we deal with the pace of these modern times.

We have already talked about the first and second stages of burnout, just to refresh your mind, that's Honeymoon Phase and Onset of Stress Phase. Both topics were covered in the last blog post.

We will be following up today with the next stage and how this particular phase affected Kay's life.

Let's dive right in and hopefully you will find some comfort if you're going through the same, or just learn more about one's struggle which might be happening around you as well.

We need to slow down, pause for a moment; to observe where we are personally, how we feel, how we respond in stressful situations and how we deal with the pace of our life.


Chronic Stress

Kay has been experiencing quite the dose of stress at work lately, we are talking about months, possibly a few years (2nd and 3rd stage just blended in), and that stress didn't go away as her workload continued to rise, despite her management's clear view of one's capabilities and the lack of keeping work-life balance at least to some minimum.

person with sticker notes all over face and body

You could argue why didn't Kay just quit?

The answer is quite simple. Kay lived by her job, she was constantly in her work mode and she didn't have the luxury of time, nor any 3rd party interference from her closest circle, family & friends (because she didn't have the time to see them!), who would try to open her eyes and emphasize that this workload and lifestyle isn't normal and she was ultimately destroying herself.

This example takes me to one of the aspects of the Chronic Stress stage and that's SOCIAL WITHDRAW.

Kay felt overwhelmed at work, not only by her never-ending duties, but also by the constant sudden appearance of either her principal(s) or her employees, demanding attention. And that can be intense to experience on a daily basis.

Just imagine that you are working on a difficult project. You need to focus, and you have someone coming to you every twenty minutes with questions.

Kay has set boundaries, asking her employees to book time with her prior so she can plan her day without too many interactions, but that helped only partially. She was still interrupted by all the duties that were going through her, every food shopping, every order that had to be approved, every little problem was going right to Kay.

She had a team which was as well getting overwhelmed, she could see it. Ideally the number of employees would be doubled for all the duties and requirements the principals had, but it wasn't, and Kay couldn't do anything about it. At least she tried to protect every member of the team for years, make their work life easier by continuously training them, making sure they take their breaks, regular time off and holidays so they can return refreshed and mentally steady.. But that all at her own cost.

Kay withdrew socially. At the beginning, she made an effort and went beyond her comfort zone to maintain out-of-work relationships with friends and family, but those efforts were slowly fading away and Kay felt she needed to be left in peace.. At least when she isn't at work.

This had a further damaging effect on her, there was now no visible line between work and personal life and nobody to talk to about her feelings, worries.

two girlfriends hugging

We sometimes take all those meetings and calls with friends and family for granted, but it plays a vital part in our social life. Sharing personal feelings, experiences, worries and struggles can give us a compass, navigate us away from unhealthy social habits we live with. Hearing the opinion of an uninvolved person on your issues might as well be the "eye opener" for you.

I remember reaching out to Kay on many occasions, but she shut herself within, and when I actually managed to see her, she didn't want to talk about any struggle she was experiencing, she only wanted to "unwind" which at that point didn't do much to help her.

Hearing opinion of uninvolved person on your issues might as well be the "Eye Opener" for you.

Kay didn't ask for help, Kay didn't ask for anything, she set to work and function on autopilot and became APATHETIC.

When she first started to experience apathy, having little or no emotion, her mind started to lose its ability to feel emotional about anything; Kay thought that was probably a good sign, she is perhaps growing some shell or thicker skin in order not to allow work life hurt her personally. And in fact building a barrier around our emotions, creating safe space away from the turbulence of our feelings can be a natural response to overwhelming stress, trauma, or a coping mechanism to navigate difficult circumstances because it allows us to distance ourselves from emotions that might otherwise be too intense to process BUT this detachment, thought providing a temporary relief, has a massive impact on our overall well-being and relationships.

Feelings are very powerful aspects of our kind. Emotions we feel each day can change your direction in life, they can push you to take action, influence your decisions you make about your life, no matter if small or large, feelings are our compass.

There we are with Kay on autopilot.

Living life like a robot, not a human being. Being detached from the world, from her friends, family, feelings, emotions... Often wandering from one dysfunctional relationship to another, seeking some normality in her life, but her lack of energy, constant stress and emotional detachment made that impossible.

two birds sitting on a handlebar, one having beak open as shouting

Kay remembers getting irritated for no reason. She held her professional look at work, being friendly and supportive to her employees, but her moods were swinging at home and SHE BECAME VERY SNAPPY.

This is called Stress-Induced Irritability. You see - even this has a medical term and explanation.!

Stress has such a significant impact on our emotional state, that it often leads to increased irritability, i.e. being snappy. When we are experiencing stress, our tolerance levels decrease, and that makes us more sensitive and reactive to any triggers, and without developing coping mechanisms, we're bound to react impulsively, potentially damaging our relationships, without even realising.

Just to recap the 3rd stage of Burnout and symptoms Kay experienced:

Social Withdrawal;


Stress-Induced Irritability aka being snappy;

however we also need to add all the symptoms from our previous chapter where Kay struggled with:

constant physical tiredness;

Trouble Sleeping;

Losing Focus

This mix of symptoms already looks like it can take down a bull... Do you agree.?

What to do in this stage to prevent burnout?

If this seems familiar to you and you have been experiencing one, two or all symptoms, it's time to hit the brakes.

Book a proper self-time which won't be disrupted by any of your stressers, step back and have a think, by yourself, in a peaceful condition and try to listen to your inner voice, your instincts.

Modern society got quite far from understanding and listening to their instincts, nevertheless we all still have it in us! Talk with your inner self, try to discover why you are feeling how you're feeling, why are you responding to stressers in a way you do and why it seems impossible to break from the vicious circle.?!

neon sign - breathe

At this point it's helpful to talk to an uninvolved person. If you are hesitant with professional help, start small; start from your circle, your friends who were close to you. And I don't mean a colleague of yours / friend who you've known for a few months. Try to connect with long-time friends who've known you before you started to experience any symptoms.

Understanding and acknowledging what's happening, and implementing changes in your life you conclude are the cause of the stress for you is a massive step in the right direction - away from burnout.

By hitting breaks here, you will be preventing the next stage of burnout from which is harder to recover. The further we go, the harder it gets, so it's important to try to be true to yourself and listen to your inner voice, which is guiding you in the right direction.

sign on asphalt - big letters NO

Let's discover what Kay was supposed to do in order to prevent the next stage of burnout.

Foremostly Kay should have learnt to SAY NO! To say no to any additional duty or responsibility which was slowly piled up on her, say no to any unnecessary contact and tasks during her precious time off, say no to duties which were not part of her role, say no to trying to protect her team at her own cost, say no to constant interruptions when she needed to focus, say no to any critique purely constructed to push her further, say no to working for people who were not good leaders...

Kay told me that, looking back, she actually still thinks that saying NO in her job wouldn't make any difference and she thinks it would eventually lead to more stress for her, because the principals would grow increasingly unhappy.

The only way to remove the stresser in this position was to quit.

Removing the stresser from your situation is the fundamental step to avoid burnout.

You might be facing less tense conditions than Kay and in your case, perhaps setting clear boundaries of your duties will solve the problem; if you experience dense atmosphere with your colleague, that can be sorted by sitting face to face and clearing the air, or perhaps talking to your management about issues you are experiencing might be the way forward.

Whatever it is, try to focus on identifying every and each stresser and remove them.

Listen to your inner self and let the voice to navigate you...

It was an absolute pleasure for me to reveal another chapter of Kay's story, and we both believe, after reading Kay's story and my additional research and comments, that you feel more empowered whatever position you might be in.

We hope you'll be able to implement some healing strategies into your life to avoid a complete burnout. Remember, your well-being matters, and taking even the tiniest steps can make all the difference.

Share the story with your friends and loved one, or with anyone who you think might be suffering from deteriorating mental well-being at work, and together let's shine more light onto this taboo.

Stay tuned for the next chapter, where we go deeper into the last stages and share more insights on how to bounce back stronger.


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