This article was originally published here on Forbes.com.
The Four Telltale Signs Of Burnout
You’ve likely experienced burnout at some point in your career—a sense that you are overwhelmed, struggling to feel a sense of professional accomplishment or efficacy, and lacking support and empathy from those around you. In the past couple of years, many of us have seen up close the symptoms of burnout in our colleagues, and may even have felt them ourselves: low energy or exhaustion or feeling negatively or disconnected from one’s job. There are many good recommendations for preventing and dealing with burnout, but I want to focus here on four telltale signs that can be surprisingly subtle and easy to miss.
In aviation, the road to burnout and overwhelm, is paved with signs of psychological stress like momentary indecision or confusion, wasted movements, missed tasks, nonstandard verbal responses, and loss of situational awareness. Similar symptoms are recognizable in the business arena too.
No matter who I’m working with—whether it’s industrial teams, hospital teams, business owners, high-performing athletes, or salespeople—these four signs occur when your brain decides that the problems you are facing outweigh your ability to overcome them.
- Shutting Down: In the face of a seemingly impossible situation, you simply stop functioning. That might mean yelling, “I’ve had it! I’m done!” Or it might look more like closing off and getting unusually quiet.
- Compartmentalizing: When you compartmentalize, you shut down certain parts of the brain in an attempt to focus on just a few things at a time. By ignoring, denying, or repressing certain things, you miss the big picture. You might skip tasks or complete only parts of assignments, and your work may become erratic and inconsistent.
- Channelizing: Channelizing is like having tunnel vision. You focus on one thing to the total exclusion of all others. We can have such a tight focus on the task at hand that, oftentimes to our peril, we ignore changes in our environments, incoming phone calls, or other signals of important or time sensitive information.
- Overindulging Coping Mechanisms: When chaos and uncertainty strike, we tend to overindulge in the things that comfort us. Maybe it’s binging on TV, overdoing it on comfort foods and alcohol, endless social media scrolling, or maybe it’s sleep.
Learning how to absorb the blows and harness your adrenaline to focus on your Span of Control can help when it comes to countering overwhelming stress. If you can do that? You’ve got a shot. I dive deeper into methods for enduring stressful environments in one of my previous blogs, here
Sometimes there’s a fine line between utilizing our coping mechanisms and overindulging them—to the point that they interfere with other aspects of life—rather than help us deal effectively with challenges. The idea here is to be on the lookout for signs that you’re limiting what’s within your Span of Control by procrastinating, narrowing your awareness and attention, or even numbing up as you try to handle anxiety and stress.
Being on the lookout for signs of distress—in yourself and others—is the first step toward being able to address the sources of that distress. The important thing is not to wait for a crisis to hit to discover how you or your team respond to stress. Instead of finding yourself in a situation where you “didn’t see it coming,” notice the subtle—and not so subtle—patterns that you and those around you have developed for responding to overwhelm and burnout at work. Increasing awareness of these signs can set you up to begin addressing them before they topple into full-on burnout.