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.
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'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.
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! 💥 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Additionally, we could summarize the 12 stages of burnout in 5 phases. Let's take a look.
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
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:
- Avoidance of decision making
- Change in appetite or diet
- Neglect of personal needs, among others
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)
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
- Social isolation, among others
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
Sourced from here
...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.
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.
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. 👂🏻
- 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.
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 👀 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? 🤔 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! 👩🏻💻👨🏻💻
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