Burnout is trending.
Here are just a few of the headlines I’ve come across in recent weeks:
Have You Hit a Wall? (The New York Times)
Beyond Burned Out (Harvard Business Review)
The Dangerous Reality Of WFH Burnout (And How To Treat It) (Forbes)
A Year Into Remote Work, No One Knows When to Stop Working Anymore (The Wall Street Journal).
I could go on and on.
As a former lawyer at one of the most competitive firms on the planet, I get it. I know what it is to be determined to shine in a hard-driving, highly stressful work environment. I understand the fear of falling behind and the drive for success, and place high value on honoring commitments and fulfilling responsibilities.
But at what cost?
The pandemic has served as an enormous magnifying glass, blowing up a pre-existing problem to outsize proportions. Overwork, chronic stress and burnout were troubling in the before times. Now we are reaching crisis levels.
Working from home, for those able to do so, has been an essential factor in maintaining the physical and financial health of the country. It is also making people miserable. The ability to work from anywhere has devolved into an expectation of working everywhere and all the time.
As a life coach (my second career), I have been helping people navigate these issues for years. Now, I am alarmed. Clients feel exhausted by back to back meetings, and pressured to be available and responsive at all hours. They tell me Covid has erased the remaining boundaries between work and life. Real balance is laughable when even breaks are hard to come by.
Stress is at an all-time high. Exhaustion is rampant.
I say, buck the trend. Give yourself permission to prioritize the personal over the professional. Save yourself before it’s too late.
A few companies are taking steps to address employee needs. Wellness webinars are on offer, and “Email-Free Fridays” are a thing. Far more can and should be done at an organizational level, but as a coach, I focus on helping people help themselves.
If you are feeling overwhelmed or run-down on a regular basis, please know you are far from alone. If you aren’t making time for non-work related needs, if you are snapping at your family or feel withdrawn or depressed, please recognize that it doesn’t have to be this way. There are steps you can take to improve your situation and your overall sense of well-being.
The simplest solution, basic self-care, is often the most easily dismissed. Most days we are more likely to keep our devices charged—God forbid they shut down on us!—than to refuel our own batteries. How crazy is that?
Sleep is crucial to well-being and is the foundation for all good health. Regular exercise and proper nutrition are equally important. Beyond these basics, we need to feed our spirits, and make time for pleasure and joy. This takes effort, intention and execution. It requires establishing boundaries and honoring them.
We all know this, but very few are following through. Why? Why do we pay lip service to the old axiom about no one going to their deathbed wishing that they had worked more, then live as if we have all the time in the world? Why do we wait for the scary diagnosis or other tragedy before we snap to attention?
We work to pay the bills, but our jobs also provide a sense of identity, purpose and validation. What we do for a living sends a signal to the world—about our values, our intelligence, maybe even our character. We take pride in working hard and being a team player. We feel a sense of responsibility, to do our jobs and do them well, to contribute meaningfully to our families and to society.
But in a world suddenly stripped of all the old distractions—dinner parties, concerts, school events or the countless other things we’ve been missing—work has oozed into every crack, expanded to fill every gap.
Don’t even get me started on devices.
Technology has enabled many of us to stay safe at home and do our jobs at the same time. In that sense, it has been a lifesaver. But our devices are meant to serve us, and enhance our daily experience. Instead, they have taken over, distracting and diminishing us more than we recognize. They dictate the pace—always on, super-efficient and never in need of rest—and we knock ourselves out to keep up.
It’s a competition we can’t win.
Millions of people have lost their lives to Covid-19. When my own symptoms began last March, they were fairly mild, but still terrifying. Having the thing that has shut down the world and is killing thousands of people a day is something you never forget.
It also has a way of putting things into perspective.
I spent my two-week quarantine mostly monitoring my breathing. Was the tightness in my chest getting worse? Was I capable of taking a full, deep breath? I thought about little else. All the things I typically worry about fell away, as I was reminded—not for the first time—that health, happiness, love and relationships are all I really care about.
One year later, I am healthy, grateful to be so and doing my damndest to hold onto that perspective. That means taking care of my physical and mental health and resisting the tendency to let work consume me. I schedule breaks and personal needs into my day just like I schedule clients and meetings. Meditation, exercise, time with my family and walks with friends all go on the calendar to ensure that they happen.
I encourage all of my clients–and all of you–to do the same.
Covid-19 is almost behind us. What lessons will you take away from this tragic episode? What perspective have you gained? I can’t wait to celebrate all the ordinary moments I used to take for granted, to see smiling faces everywhere and to hug everyone tight. And to work less.