The Burnout Complexity

How are you feeling right now? Energized or drained? Lively or bored? Engaged or burned out?

Last month I released my newest podcast episode, “The Possible Self,” with author and professor Dr. Maja Djikic, Ph.D. One of the topics Dr. Djikic discussed was burnout and lack of engagement, something many of us have experienced at one time or another, and something that has become a near epidemic in the workplace. Burnout doesn’t always result from job or life pressures. It can come from doing things that are uninteresting or unfulfilling.

I am blessed to do work that I love. Yet there are times when I’m feeling tired, rundown, and in need of…something. I remembered a blog post I wrote several years ago, and it reminded me of a “something” very important: rest. Take a read:

I’ve been busy. (“Ha ha,” you say. “Tell me something new.”)

Seriously, there is something new here. I have a lot going on, yes. But I also have this emerging core value I’ve been attending to. I haven’t found a just-right word for it yet, but self-regard comes close. It’s a familiar state of being, one I’ve honed for years now. And even though I genuinely feel such things as self-respect, compassion for my own shortcomings, and deservingness, my behavior doesn’t always align. I often “dis”-regard my own needs in light of an abundance of things to do and people to serve.

And so, I get tired. Exhausted, sometimes.

Earlier this year, I decided something had to give. And the answer, I knew then and know still, is not to simply do less. It has more to do with the quality with which I carry myself through life than the length of my to-do list. It has little to do with the amount of hours I sleep and is more about what I do with the hours I’m awake. Regard for my own needs is paramount if I am going to truly contribute in this life.

In the last week, a friend (who knows of this new pursuit), has prefaced several statements with “If you’re not resting, can you…” Each time I heard or read those words, I had a visceral reaction. I wanted to shout: “Of course I’m not resting, I’m busy.” Or, “I don’t need to rest—I’m energized.” At the same time I was thinking these thoughts, I was carefully managing my energy. Despite a packed work schedule, in the last three days I’ve made time for exercise, fun visits with friends, a great book, a good movie, and a weekday lunch with my husband.

After examining my reaction to my friend’s implication that I needed “rest,” I finally understood it. It’s the word, and what the word connotes to me.

Resting takes many forms of course. Some rest on the sofa while others rest on the dance floor. We can rest in motion, or rest…errr…at rest. Mental rest is different from physical rest. In my analysis of why the word itself produces such a reaction in me, I realized that I judge rest. In the crazy way I have it wired, some is deserved, some not. Some is for sissies, and some is to be savored like fine wine. Even the dictionary definition of rest seems polarized. Descriptions like “death” and “to lie unfarmed” sit beside “a place to stop and relax” and “freedom from anxiety.”

How do you view rest? Is it an essential chore, or a delicious and deserved reward? How do you practice rest? Do you crash exhausted or plan the things that uniquely refresh you?

I’ve reframed my point of view on rest. Does yours need a reset too?

If you have experienced burnout and exhaustion in your own life, examine the difference between the two, as well as the connection. The remedy is likely different even though the symptoms may overlap. Rest won’t fix burnout and doing something interesting won’t fix fatigue. Research on work-related burnout shows that it often returns after the source is removed because the underlying cause does not get addressed. For example, let’s say a person takes a leave of absence to recover from burnout. They may recover physically, but unless they reflect upon, acknowledge, and engage in the development to uncover the obstacles to their real wants and desires, they will likely return to an environment like the previous one.

If you haven’t had the chance to watch the whole podcast episode with Dr. Djikic, I highly encourage you to do so. She offers a practical process for personal development that results in sustained change. Or you can watch the 5-minute excerpt on burnout.

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