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Exactly a week ago, I reached the bottom of a different pit. I had never been there before. The entire week I had been chasing after two major personal deadlines but all this work was after-hours. For small business owners who are still employed full-time, this may sound familiar. The only time you get to touch your business with no distractions, is when you get home. Imagine, a ‘normal’ day in a retail pharmacy ... I am on my feet pretty much the whole day, my jaws are sore from all the smiling (fake at times) and my emotions are bruised from the insults I get from dissatisfied customers. By the time I clock-out, all that’s on my mind is my bed. Food can wait and we repeat the routine come the next day. This time around, I was presented with an opportunity to pitch towards something that could change my life completely (still too early to tell) and there was no way I was going to let it slip through my fingers. And so I researched, revealed my soul, drove my tired body to the edge and my brain was in overdrive till it was literally over-heating. I remember the next day, I had to try cool my head using an ice-pack but that didn’t help much. Suddenly, I was lethargic and the day turned out to be the longest I have ever lived. The work was submitted on time BUT I was officially burnt-out.
A burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to meet constant demands. It just isn’t feeling tired, it’s not feeling vital.
You may experience these warning signs:
- Depleted physical energy: Suddenly you feel tired, you no longer have the energy you once had and getting out of bed gets more difficult. The latter, was my greatest challenge. When the rest of the neighbourhood came alive, I still wanted to be curled up in bed and go nowhere.
- Emotional exhaustion: a manifestation of this is you easily getting frustrated. Often you feel like you have no power or control over what happens next.
- Lowered immunity to illness: Our immune system is greatly affected by stress. This makes us greatly susceptible to colds, flu e.t.c
- Insomnia: It should raise concern when suddenly you are having difficulty falling and staying asleep
- Forgetfulness: Does it feel like you are losing your mind? You walk into a room and have no idea why you went there in the first place? That’s me. Had a couple of those episodes. Forgetfulness is an early sign of a burnout. Do not ignore it.
- Loss of appetite: You may start off not feeling hungry for some time until you skip meals. If it gets worse it could lead to significant weight-loss. I did mention, I hardly ate.
- Anxiety: Have you suddenly been tense, worried or on edge? It may even lead to heart pounding or worse panic attacks
- Anger: Sudden outbursts towards colleagues, family or friends which may turn out into serious and damaging arguments.
Here are some tips on how to bounce back:
- Make time for sleep: Sleep as though your life depends on it. It will re-charge your batteries, make you look younger and help boost your creativity. Aim to put in about 6-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep.
- Treat yourself: Take time to do something for yourself that makes you feel good. I love getting a professional manicure. It picks me up, instantly. Whatever you chose to do remember to do so within your means.
- Make meditation part of your work day: If you currently do not meditate, try a three-minute exercise where you focus on the words you want to embody. I often breathe in and tell myself, "I am powerful. I am beautiful. I am unstoppable." This will help reduce stress and enhance your self-awareness. Go ahead and try it.
- Take a long weekend/vacation and fully unplug: A few days away of not thinking about work help you recharge and greatly reduces stress.
- As you bounce back, you can integrate realistic expectations and more downtime into a sustainable approach to work and productivity. Constantly remind yourself that as a leader, you can not pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.
I am Michelle Tafadzwa