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Cover image for You're on FIRE! πŸ”₯...in the WRONG way: a story about burnout 😡

You're on FIRE! πŸ”₯...in the WRONG way: a story about burnout 😡

Amelia Vieira Rosado
INTJ & knowledge hoarder 🧠 junior techie 🐣 blogging my πŸ’– out @ dev.to & technoglot.com πŸ’» lifelong learner πŸ€“ experimenter πŸ§ͺ anime-lover 😍
・10 min read

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

Hello fellow devs! Hope this post finds you well.

Today I'd like to talk about a topic that is close to my heart. I have been hesitant to share this one since it puts me in a vulnerable spot. But here goes nothing. I hope you learn something from this.

Obligatory Disclaimer 🚨: If you are struggling with mental health issues, please consider seeking help from a professional (if you haven't). This blog is not intended to serve as medical advice. The opinions and thoughts expressed below are my own. Proceed at your own discretion.

Another Obligatory Disclaimer 🚨: If you haven't experienced burnout or don't believe in it, fine by me. Just don't go invalidating my experience or that of others. I will NOT stand for it but will certainly not bother hiding any nasty comments anyone leaves on this post. I'm much better than that.

A trip in time πŸš€

Somewhere around 2018, I was going through a rough patch. My life was a mess, especially on the personal level. I'll spare you the unnecessary details. In a nutshell: I hated everything. I didn't want to deal with college. I didn't care about hanging out with friends. Heck, even getting out of my bed and taking a shower seemed like a drag. What was happening to me? The answer...

...I had a burnout πŸ”₯

I'm the type that is very self-aware, in case you were wondering. At that time, I was feeling something I had never felt before. I could hardly put how I felt into words, but the best I managed to say with regards to it was: "I feel very demotivated. Nothing really interests me anymore". A coach at the university advised me to go see the student counselor. So I did that. I made an appointment with her, went to see her and explained my situation to her. She suggested I do a thing or two, but before going much further, she asked for my student ID number.

At that moment I already knew what was gonna happen next. Despite my clairvoyance, I gave her my student ID number. She then peeked at my grades and said: "You're grades are great! There's no reason for you to feel demotivated. This is just a phase in your life."

We wrapped up that first session and she told me to make an appointment for our next session. I never did that. I bet she had good intentions, but I lost all trust in her the moment she made it about my grades. I was going through far more serious things on a personal level. My grades were absolutely secondary in this matter.

After that whole ordeal, I did visit a psychologist, which at least served to confirm that I indeed was experiencing a burnout. Again, I'll save you the details, since that's not the point of this post.

Cool, but what exactly is a burnout? πŸ€”

Anyway, if you haven't experienced a burnout yourself, you must be wondering what a burnout is like. Well, I'll tell you and I'll try to be as detailed as possible here.

Disclaimer 🚨: Do not take this to be the only truth out there. This is MY experience. Other folks probably had it much worse than myself. Do bear that in mind.

The best way I can put it is as follows: you feel empty and demotivated. Say I enjoyed coding and learning new things. POOF! πŸ’₯ Gone. When burnout knocked on my door, all of that went to sh!t. I no longer cared about anything. I doubted my career choice. I dreaded the university and the responsibilities that came with it.

Leaving my bed in the morning was difficult, to say the least. I felt exhausted throughout the whole day. My exhaustion was mental, but manifested itself in a physical manner. My body felt heavy. No matter how much I slept, that exhaustion never went away. Ever.

My appetite was also taking blows. I didn't feel like eating much. I didn't even feel like leaving my room, or the house. The sole idea of having to show face and interact with other people in the outside world made me anxious.

Grooming myself was a drag too. I just didn't feel like it. I looked forward to absolutely NOTHING. I didn't want to see anyone or speak to anyone. I had effectively isolated myself at this point. I hardly left the house, only leaving if it was absolutely necessary and unavoidable.

signs of burnout
Image source

I could go on for forever, but I take it that the picture is (somewhat) clear to you by now. Before moving on to the next section, allow me to provide you with a "scientific" definition of burnout:

Coined by the psychologist, Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s, burnout describes a severe stress condition that leads to severe physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion.

Much worse than ordinary fatigue, burnout makes it challenging for people to cope with stress and handle day-to-day responsibilities.

People experiencing burnout often feel like they have nothing left to give and may dread getting out of bed each morning. They may even adopt a pessimistic outlook toward life and feel hopeless.

Cited from this source

In case this doesn't seem sufficiently alarming to you, let me tell you something. If untreated, burnout can result in serious physical AND psychological illness. Yes, burnout can lead to depression, heart disease and even diabetes.

Fun fact (actually not fun at all): depression has been linked to a weakened immune system. Proof that I'm not making this up can be found here and here. For more info on the effects of depression in your body, read this.

The stages of a burnout

While browsing the net to provide you with sound information, I stumbled upon two kinds of articles: those naming 5 stages and those naming 12 stages of burnout. I'll highlight both since both of them are equally good, in my humble opinion. Feel free to skip to the subsection you'd like to read.

The 12 stages of burnout

This 12 stage model of burnout was developed by psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North. The 12 stages they describe are as follows:

1) The Compulsion to Prove Oneself: At this stage the individual becomes obsessed with demonstrating their worth through their work or otherwise.
2) Working Harder: In this stage the individual becomes unable to "switch off"; they can no longer leave things for tomorrow.
3) Neglecting Needs: In this stage erratic sleeping habits, eating disruptions and extreme lack of social interactions start to manifest. The individual neglects these basic needs.
4) Displacement of Conflicts: This stage is where problems are dismissed and pushed on someone else. The individual may look for someone to blame for how they feel instead of acknowledging that they are pushing themselves too much.
5) Revision of Values: Values that previously mattered to the individual are dismissed entirely. Hobbies are no longer interesting, you distance yourself from family and friends. Work typically consumes everything in the individual's life and is the only focus they have.
6) Denial of Emerging Problems: In this stage the individual becomes very intolerant and may start to perceive colleagues and those around them as stupid, lazy, or incompetent. Additionally, social contacts become harder as the individual experiences cynicism and aggression.
7) Withdrawal: At this point the individual no longer engages in social interactions. Social gatherings are seen as a nuisance by them.
8) Odd Behavioral Changes: At this stage, behavioral changes become obvious to family and friends. The individual is highly irritable and at times aggressive.
9) Depersonalization: Once at this stage, the individual no longer feel attached to life. They even entertain the idea that they no longer have control over their own life.
10) Inner Emptiness: The individual feels empty and may seek to overcome this by engaging in overeating, substance abuse, among other things. This becomes their sole source of "enjoyment".
11) Depression: At this rate, the individual feels lost, thinks that life has lost all meaning and that the future is bleak, dark and completely hopeless.
12) Burnout Syndrome: This stage can include total mental and physical collapse. The individual may require a medical intervention at this point.

The information presented above was inspired and sourced from here and here.

The 5 stages of burnout

Additionally, we could summarize the 12 stages of burnout in 5 phases. Let's take a look.

1️⃣ The honeymoon phase

This phase typically happens at the beginning of a new endeavor, be it a new business venture or that job promotion you earned recently. All is nice and dandy until the first obstacles arise.

Some of the characteristics of this phase include:

  • High productivity and energy levels
  • High job satisfaction
  • Readily accepting responsibility
  • Extreme optimism

2️⃣ Onset of stress

Stress starts to manifest itself and find a place in your life. You may start losing the optimistic outlook you had at the beginning.

Common signs of onset of stress include:

  • Anxiety
  • Avoidance of decision making
  • Change in appetite or diet
  • Fatigue
  • Forgetfulness
  • Neglect of personal needs, among others

3️⃣ Chronic stress

In this phase, your occasional becomes a personal resident in your mental space. You are under incredible stress on a frequent basis.

Common signs of chronic stress include:

  • Lack of interest in hobbies
  • Missing work deadlines and/or targets more frequently
  • Persistent tiredness (chronic exhaustion)
  • Physical illness
  • Increased procrastination (avoidance of responsibility)

4️⃣ The burnout phase

In this phase, symptoms become acute and critical. Professional intervention is highly advisable at this stage.

Common symptoms to look out for include:

  • Complete neglect of personal needs
  • Continuation or increase in escapist activities
  • Desire to "drop out" of society
  • Pessimistic outlook on work and life
  • Self-doubt
  • Social isolation, among others

5️⃣ Habitual burnout

This last phase transforms your regular burnout into chronic burnout. Stress is so ingrained in your lifestyle, that you are more likely to experience significant and ongoing mental, physical and emotional problems.

The symptoms that characterize this phase are:

  • Burnout syndrome
  • Chronic mental and physical fatigue
  • Chronic sadness
  • Depression

Sourced from here

The road to recovery... πŸ›£

...is a long one. Do not think that burnout will be miraculously "cured" overnight. NOPE. In my case, it's safe to say it took at least 3 months, if not more, to get myself back on my feet. Remember: Each individual is different. Some may take longer to go back to "normal", others may need much less time to recover.

prevent burnout
Image source

So, how did I overcome this? Here's a few things I did to get myself back on track (🚨 This is NOT medical advice!):

  • Accepting what's going on with me.
  • Acknowledging and addressing my feelings (Instead of ignoring how I feel. I had to come to terms with why I felt the way I did).
  • Journaling/Braindumping (Putting my feelings on paper or simply out of my head).
  • Gradually introducing physical activity in my life (even if it meant taking a walk in my backyard).
  • Spending time in nature.
  • Reconnecting with family and friends, little by little.
  • Getting enough sleep (at least 7 hours of sleep).
  • Eating well (lots of vegetables and fruits). Hydration plays an important role too.
  • Being patient with myself (I'm terrible at this, by the way).

One last thing I'd add here: Ask for help. You don't have to figure this out on your own. Reach out to someone you trust and are comfortable opening up to. Visit a professional if you feel like you have to (this is quite advisable. Please don't rule this out). And try not to isolate yourself; that does more harm than good. I speak from experience.

BONUS πŸŽ‰: How to help a friend or family member in need πŸ€—

If you know someone that is struggling with a burnout and would like to help lighten the emotional burden, try this:

  • Listen. Before you go on and tell the other person: "Do this", "Do that" and "Try this and you'll feel better", just....LISTEN. πŸ‘‚πŸ»
  • Be sure to validate their feelings. Instead of saying: "Everything's gonna be okay" or "You are just exaggerating things", try saying: "You have been working a lot lately, I can see why you feel depleted". Acknowledge how the person feels and show them that you are there to support them.
  • Offer help, but be specific about it. Asking a person who is dealing with burnout "How can I help" will likely yield nothing. They have no energy for that. Instead, be specific about the help you can offer. Maybe you can get them groceries or walk their dog/look after their pet(s). Offer the kind of help you know you can manage to provide and things will surely work out somehow.
  • Do a random act of kindness. You could get them flowers or their favorite pastry at a local bakery. Those who experience burnout tend to feel underappreciated and lonely, so these kind of gestures can warm them up a bit and show them that they are loved and not alone.

The wrap-up 🌯

Well, sorry to keep you on the line for this long. Hope I didn't cause you much boredom. If anything, I hope this was eye-opening πŸ‘€ to you and that you have a better understanding of the burnout syndrome.

Feel free to share you experience in the comments (only if you are comfortable doing so. No pressure). Have you experienced a burnout before? If yes, how did you cope with it? πŸ€” Be sure to share any helpful resources if you have them!

Please be considerate of others. If you think this burnout is not real and that folks like me are weaklings and exaggerating, keep your words to yourself. However, I won't stop you from expressing yourself. Do remember that there are consequences for those who violate the Code of Conduct of this platform. Just a friendly reminder. 😊

Anyway, folks. Take care of yourselves. The world is a mad place.

Stay sane, see you next time! πŸ‘©πŸ»β€πŸ’»πŸ‘¨πŸ»β€πŸ’»

P.S.: How about a checklist?
burnout checklist



Still here? Catch me on Twitter or find me elsewhere! If you like my blogs and are feeling generous, kindly consider to πŸ‘‡πŸ»

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Discussion (31)

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inhuofficial profile image
InHuOfficial • Edited

A wonderful post, I would just like to add a couple of items to the "The road to recovery..." section that helped me when suffering from depression (which is very similar to burnout in terms of lethargy, state of mind etc.)

Getting to sleep (so you can get enough sleep) can be a massive issue.

Here is one of the best tips I ever received. The advice here can be applied if you are just struggling to get to sleep in general.

  1. Have a hot shower about 30 minutes before you go to bed. (maybe 45 minutes if you have long hair - see next part)
  2. Make sure you dry your hair etc. and then go for a 10 minute walk outside. (dry your hair so you don't end up getting ill!).
  3. Go to bed - don't play on your phone, do anything else etc. go to bed.

This works because of a natural occurrence in our bodies. As the day draws to a close and we get ready for sleep our body temperature naturally drops.

By having a hot shower (raising your body temperature) and then going for a walk outside (lowering your body temperature) you "force" your body to recognise this state.

Also there are the ancillary benefits of a schedule (something that is important when you are down in any way), time to gather your thoughts in the shower and on the walk and a tiny bit of exercise.

On the last point - don't walk at a fast pace, just a "leisurely stroll", you don't want to sky rocket your heart rate!

Still can't sleep?

If you cannot get to sleep after 30 minutes or so...get up again!

Go do something that doesn't involve looking at a screen (blue light emitter). Read a book, clean something or just sit and listen to music with headphones on.

Don't worry if you don't feel tired, just relax. Eventually you will feel tired so go try again.

There is an important reason for this - you do not want to associate your bed with not sleeping, it can be very difficult to break that association.

If you find yourself being very tired until you go to bed, at which point you wake up and are wide awake, this is the issue you probably have, you have associated your bed with not being able to get to sleep.

By getting up and doing something else you can slowly break this association. as hopefully by the time you have read a book etc. you are so very tired that your psychological association between bed and not sleeping is over-ridden by pure tiredness.

After a few successful nights of falling a sleep (even if it is the second or third try) your brain will start to reset and it will become easier.

Batch cook meals

When you are in "I can't be bothered" territory, cooking every night becomes a chore and you end up eating crap. This then feeds a negative mood or disposition.

However you often find times when you manage to "pick yourself up" - at this point the first thing you should do is cook a load of meals. Don't worry about the 100 other things circling in your head - just think "food".

Go do some shopping if your need to and then cook.

By meal prepping there are two advantages:

  1. You don't have to cook each evening, reducing the decision fatigue of what to eat (which when you are struggling can use up a lot of mental energy).
  2. It stops you turning to takeaway when you can't be bothered cooking, it is easier to just put a pre-prepared meal in the microwave than call for takeout.

batch cook cheat tips

If you really can't muster the energy to even cook batch meals, just buy some pre-cooked chicken (assuming you aren't vegan or vegetarian of course! In which case some protein source that is pre-cooked), some microwaveable rice and one of those "steam veg" packets.

You can have a meal in less than 5 minutes using just the microwave that is healthy enough.

You can eat the same meal several days on the run by just throwing different spices or sauces on it.

Stopping over eating

One other thing when you are down is that you tend to over eat things like crisps, chocolate etc. as they release endorphins (pretty sure it is endorphins, if that is medically incorrect the principle is a hormone that makes you feel good for a short while) for a short term rush.

To counter this - go high protein!

Protein fills you up quicker.

So I used to have chicken on a stick and roasted chick peas handy as snacks.

Along the "high protein" route:

Skyr yoghurt, Lizi's Low Sugar granola (or any low sugar granola), and flavoured protein powder.

Massive amount of protein, low fat, low sugar and easy to eat.

Sugar is your biggest enemy when you are struggling with mood. That includes high carb meals with high glycaemic index carbs. Go whole wheat etc (slow release carbs).

Summing up

I could write a very long post on this alone so the advice is obviously very generic / surface level.

In summary - bedtime routine of shower, walk, sleep will help you sleep. Making eating healthy as easy as possible and a low sugar diet will help you stabilise your mood.

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theowlsden profile image
Shaquil Maria

That's a post right there.πŸ˜… Great addition to the main post!πŸ‘ŒπŸ‘Œ

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inhuofficial profile image
InHuOfficial

Thanks Shaquil!

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technoglot profile image
Amelia Vieira Rosado Author

Thank you so much for these tips and the thorough comment! I really appreciate your additions to the conversation! πŸ™ŒπŸ»πŸ˜Š

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samuraiseoul profile image
Sophie The Lionhart

Lovely post and thanks for sharing! I have experienced burnout and am still not sure I'm recovered. I took 7 months off work and just restarted as I need money but I still feel no motivation. Burnout truly is a beast!

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technoglot profile image
Amelia Vieira Rosado Author

I took 7 months off work and just restarted as I need money but I still feel no motivation.

So sorry to hear that! I truly hope you can find your way through this. Though I'm shocked that a long break from work has not been of much help in getting back your motivation😒

Burnout truly is a beast!

Truly is. I really felt like I needed to share this because I think burnout is not well understood among some. Additionally, there's the few that haven't experienced burnout and hence invalidate other people's experience with it. Thought I'd take a moment and spread some awareness 😊

Thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughts! πŸ™‡πŸ»β€β™€οΈ

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samuraiseoul profile image
Sophie The Lionhart

Yeah. I've had a lot of stuff personally I'm still dealing with too though. It's been a bit better recently! I'm trans and transitioning at work and in general and seeing my deadname and stuff all the time truly took a lot out of me! I feel like I'm on the up a bit but still got a ways to go.

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Naftali Murgor Kibet

It might also be great to also to:

  • Stop drinking high-octane coffee -read non tech books -Listen to music, any music of your choice can do -Have solid 8 hours sleep- this I always do -unplug from social media -Practice meditation
  • Drink water -And above all, burnout is fueled by the desire for instant gratification. That's my observation I worked as an independent contractor a few months ago, burn out is real.
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technoglot profile image
Amelia Vieira Rosado Author

Thank you so much for sharing these additional tips! πŸ™‡πŸ»β€β™€οΈπŸ˜Š

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murgornaftali profile image
Naftali Murgor Kibet

welcome. Stay safe

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ritaoportunity profile image
ritaoportunity

burnout is a bitch. Im in it right now. Journaling and accepting helps a great deal, as well as walks in the nature. problem is that you literally need to force yourself to do it. to anyone out there who feels the same - try to act on the thought immediately, it helps. e.g. "I should probably go out for a walk or something" - put on your shoes and do it. thank me later

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technoglot profile image
Amelia Vieira Rosado Author

This is wonderful advice! You have to indeed force yourself to do things, little by little. The more you ponder about the shoulds, the less likely you are to do anything in that state!

Thanks for adding to the conversation πŸ˜ŠπŸ™‡πŸ»β€β™€οΈ

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juanfrank77 profile image
Juan F Gonzalez

Wow, massive piece! A+ for effort and execution! I have not personally been burned out by coding (more like by college). Luckily I've been able to sidestep it in previous cases.

Hope you're now going from burnout to being on fire really and use that fuel your takeoff πŸš€

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vinayhegde1990 profile image
Vinay Hegde • Edited

This is a such a thoroughly written article about burnout with the what, how, when it happens and then the ways to get oneself back on track. Especially adding a touch of your own experiences around it πŸ‘

I resonated with it instantly and had a mini flashback to the time I was in a similar stage a decade ago due to lot of professional/personal mishaps. Recovery as you said correctly, is not overnight and takes time.

Few things I learnt thereon were,

  • It's natural to have this happen, suppression makes it worse.
  • Getting timely care (self and/or from people around you) and help is key.
  • Corollary - One can get only so much help as there are some battles one has to fight only on their own. Sooner this realisation, faster the recovery.
  • Go for small atomic goals/wins, they'll build up towards a big victory.

Lastly never lose belief, a miracle is always around the corner πŸ˜„

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technoglot profile image
Amelia Vieira Rosado Author

This is a such a thoroughly written article about burnout with the what, how, when it happens and then the ways to get oneself back on track. Especially adding a touch of your own experiences around it πŸ‘

Thanks for the kind words Vinay! πŸ™‡πŸ»β€β™€οΈ I truly appreciate it!

It's natural to have this happen, suppression makes it worse.

I wholeheartedly agree! Keeping things bottled up inside does not help at all! Emotions need to be addressed and managed, not shrugged off like they don't matter.

Thanks so much for reading this blog and for taking the time to share your experience and tips with us! 😊 Take good care of yourself πŸ™ŒπŸ»

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vinayhegde1990 profile image
Vinay Hegde

Sure Amelia, I hope you do so too :)

Glad to read your blog posts as always, I like the intent, presentation and tone. You've been writing really good stuff consistently across both tech & non-tech - please keep going 🍻

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technoglot profile image
Amelia Vieira Rosado Author

Thanks for the continued support! πŸ˜πŸ™ŒπŸ»

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theowlsden profile image
Shaquil Maria

Thanks for sharing! πŸ™‡πŸΏ

I hope this content can help some people realize if they are experiencing these phases and encourage them to get the help they need.

Great that you also have a section about how to help someone experiencing a burnout. As a person on the sidelines it can be difficult to just help, but you gave solid tips there!πŸ‘πŸ‘

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technoglot profile image
Amelia Vieira Rosado Author

Hey Mr Owl, fancy seeing you here, hehe! πŸ˜‚

Great that you also have a section about how to help someone experiencing a burnout.

I thought it was valuable to point this out and, well, it popped up when I was researching the topic anyway.

Glad you found value here! And thanks for the continued support! πŸ’ͺ🏻

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incrementis profile image
Akin C.

Hello Amelia Vieira Rosado,

Thank you for your article.
I think you wrote on a very difficult and, in my opinion, very important subject.
I once worked with a project manager who left the project because of burnout and I think 2 or 3 years later the person left the company.
Burnout is a topic that should be better known in the industry in order to recognize that success cannot be paid for with health.

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technoglot profile image
Amelia Vieira Rosado Author

Burnout is a topic that should be better known in the industry in order to recognize that success cannot be paid for with health.

Absolutely agree! The pandemic really affected our mental health but guess what? We don't talk that much about it (at least not where I live). I bet a ton of people out there are experiencing burnout and don't even know it, all because there's not enough awareness about it to begin with!

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naseki profile image
Naseki

Wonderful post on the topic! πŸ’–

Your post and the comments have already added so much value to this, so there's not much for me left to say.

I do find that even after you're recovered from burnout, it's a lifelong fight not to fall into the same trap again. You have to start recognising those 12 or 5 stages right away so you can take action immediately before you end up suffering from another one. I sometimes find myself getting into the first few stages again before I take notice of my stress and slow down again.

We end up in a burnout because of our tendency to start overworking to prove ourselves and this doesn't really go away.

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Amelia Vieira Rosado Author

We end up in a burnout because of our tendency to start overworking to prove ourselves and this doesn't really go away.

As someone who's been shaped to be an overachiever (that's brought nothing good, in general), I can wholeheartedly agree with this statement.

For me, it's a constant "battle" against burnout. I have experienced burnout more than once and I'm not even yet in my mid-twenties. This quite alarming to say the least (at least for me it is). However, as you pointed out, the subsequent burnouts one experiences, may be much easier to halt. The first one I experienced really damaged me and it took me long to get back on my feet.

It's not easy to live in a world that seems to be expecting a lot from you, but I think I've long given up caring about external factors. I do what I can, with what I have. These days with the pandemic and all the measures, I find it hard to not fall down the burnout slope, but at least I take breaks before things get seriously out of hand.

Thanks for adding to the conversation @naseki ! πŸ™‡πŸ»β€β™€οΈ

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smeetsmeister profile image
Jelle Smeets

Thanks for this post and for sharing something so personal! There are some good tips in there I can take into account!

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technoglot profile image
Amelia Vieira Rosado Author

Glad you found some value here @smeetsmeister !

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technoglot profile image
Amelia Vieira Rosado Author

Here's my contribution to Mental Health Awareness Week/Month (though it was not planned per se)! Hope you find value in it! ✌🏻

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jmau111 profile image
Julien Maury

Great contribution!

It's not uncommon to see what you described, especially in the COVID era.

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technoglot profile image
Amelia Vieira Rosado Author

Yes! COVID literally aggravated things for many people worldwide (and almost nobody is talking about how hard lockdowns have been on our mental health, but let's not get political about that.).

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egilhuber profile image
erica (she/her)

I'm in this post and I don't like it

This is the best burnout article I've read, though. The 12 and 5 phases were eye opening - guess I'll have to pull some action items out of this!

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Jatinder Pal Singh

I thought I was exaggerating but it makes sense now. I already had an idea that i was burned out but this post really helped me confirm and reassure that we can recover. Thanks!

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technoglot profile image
Amelia Vieira Rosado Author

I hope the tips are of help in the process of recovery! Best of wishes, take care πŸ™‡πŸ»β€β™€οΈ

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