You exploit your intellectual and spiritual capabilities to the maximum; you live on the edge of the feasible. Nevertheless, you are not happy with the results. Does this mean that you are at risk for burnout?
A spontaneous “yes” glides easily from the lips. On the other hand: no one would ever suggest that “living life to the fullest” puts someone at risk of burnout. For some, living life to the fullest also means working to the fullest of their ability. A mission in life, work that gives purpose and meaning to life and fills up (almost) every waking minute – this has always been and always will be one of the ways to lead a successful life.
But even those who are passionate about their work can temporarily lose their motivation in the light of a never ending wave of tasks that must be tackled. Everyone becomes weary and dissatisfied now and again. What’s important is to be able to properly interpret signs that may indicate a true crisis in the making.
The person behind the persona
For people who do in fact run the risk of burnout, this can be more difficult than it sounds. This type of person is, after all, not usually in great touch with their most personal emotions. Their inner landscape is dominated by such values as “duty”, “performance”, “being indispensible” or “persevering and staying the course”. Feelings indicating that another person may be concealed beneath the competent, performance-driven persona that is projected are swept away; they are deemed a suggestion of inadequacy or failure. And thus, they are either internalized or directed to the outside in the form of anger and irritability.
Identity crisis, anxiety, physical symptoms
Generally speaking, long-lasting crises of meaning, disappointment with life, a pronounced anxiety of not being completely up to the expectations, a permanent lack of motivation, as well as exhaustion, are distinct warning signals. What is important to bear in mind here is that it is not your life or your career that has always been pointless, or that you have always been inadequate to the tasks at hand. Instead, these feelings must be seen as a cry for help from the inside. From someone whose needs you have neglected – from you yourself!
But often it is especially managers who often have too tight a grip on their emotions. Thus, physical symptoms are the more reliable indicators that the success story is perhaps not the entire story. Headaches, backaches, gastro-intestinal problems and cardiovascular problems are frequently not the sign of a suspected ominous health issue but rather a sign of excessive physical demands, overextension and mental overload.
Warning signs mean: Stop!
Those who can correctly interpret feelings and physical signs of mental exhaustion can avoid imminent or threatened burnout. What is also helpful is to share this process of interpretation with an involved counterpart. Those who manage to reestablish contact to their inner self, to reduce their workload and perhaps find, or rediscover, a (new) source of strength have a real advantage in warding off burnout.