Photo by Engin Akyurt on Unsplash
The other day I went for a pressure point massage to treat some neck pain I was having. During the session I asked my therapist, “how do you know that I am in pain there?" She began to explain, “some muscles feel smooth and organized (non-pain muscles) while others (muscles in pain) feel tight, rigid and tense”. For several months I tried to ignore the pain in my neck… No pun intended. To be fair, I did not actually ignore it. I tried to treat it with quick fixes, but the pain persisted. It was not until I decided to sit with the pain to figure out what was going on that things began to get better.
I know what you’re saying, “Carolon, where are you going with this and what does it have to do with burnout?” Two of the symptoms of burnout are emotional and physical exhaustion. You feel exhausted because of the emotional toll that the situation you are in is taking on you. This happens when we find ourselves in situations that drain us of any hope that our efforts will lead to a different outcome.
Imagine for a moment a project that you have been working on in which you encounter false starts, disappointments, and failures. You feel like you neither have the resources to fix challenges nor the autonomy to make the situation better. Slowly you begin to avoid tasks. Waiting for the next shoe to drop, you overthink everything and get stuck in analysis paralysis. You go home fried. Drained from the mental gymnastics of your day, you collapse on your couch, binge watch Netflix and hope that tomorrow will be better. Overtime this can lead to burnout.
So here is what you can do. No, it is not a fix all, but it is a start. Mentally pull the thing that has been causing your exhaustion close and get to know it. Yes, I know this is sending up all kinds of red flags and your face is going numb from the number of times you have rubbed it since you read my last sentence. But the only way to deal with what is burning you out is to face it. Name it. Then, figure out what’s in your control? What can you do about it? So, here are some reflection questions to get you started.
1. What are you really avoiding? Name it.
2. What is making this so hard for you?
3. What’s in your control?
4. What have you already tried? What’s worked and what has not?
5. If you were giving advice to a very good friend about this situation, what would you tell them to do?
6. Who can help you think through what needs to happen next?
That’s it. So now, go and find the person you identified above and chat with them about what needs to be done to alleviate the pain in your neck. No, it will not be a quick fix, but taking one step towards making it better helps you feel more in control of what is happening and thus help you to choose how you want to make the situation better.