THERE’S A FINE LINE BETWEEN PASSION AND BURNOUT
And Shilpa crossed it. Here’s what she learnt in the process
We all experience stress at times, but burnout, which results from prolonged and excessive stress, is on a whole other scale. Feeling emotionally drained and unable to meet constant demands? Lacking motivation? Always exhausted, feeling empty and overwhelmed? Memory and concentration failing you? That’s burnout. And I should know. Because three years ago, I experienced it so severely that I had to take three months off in order to recuperate. It took two years to recover fully.
The day it happened was unremarkable. After a long day at my desk I knocked off at 6pm to cook dinner for friends. For months if not year I’d been working too hard and felt exhausted. I was running on empty and overwhelmed, but I knew I had to keep going – my friends were on their way over. As I took the ingredients out of the fridge I started shaking uncontrollably. I just couldn’t stop the all-over tremors and found myself collapsing on the floor. I was still conscious but couldn’t move. I just lay there on the cold hard floor, watching the minutes passing on the wall clock, unable to get up and carry on. It was the wake up call I needed.
For me, work had always been an obsessive passion. I was a workaholic and never got enough rest. Down time was spent partying, not relaxing, and I was always pushing myself to lose weight and get fit, often working out twice a day. Basically I was always ‘on’. And work was my world.
I’d had periods of extreme exhaustion and my GP told me I had adrenal fatigue – also known as burnout. But I carried on working. I just didn’t know how to stop. There’s a big connection between passion and burnout, and it’s a fine line. When work is a real passion it demands high levels of concentration and absorption, and you flow into it, often working without stopping. It’s hard to take breaks and move away. You say yes to everything. Your drive keeps you going and you don’t notice it’s making you ill until it’s too late.
The problem, of course, is that stress is unavoidable – especially at the moment. Whether we are employees or self-employed, the need to keep our heads above water means we are feeling constant pressure. There’s a sense that we have to keep pretending everything’s OK, even when it’s not. We push forward and do what it takes to achieve our goals. If you’re an employee your ambition is your driving force, you want to stand out, even while working from home – you feel like you can’t afford to take sensible breaks for fear of dropping the ball. If you’re running your own business, it’s a passion that can drive you to work day and night to make it successful. As a result there’s a strong desire not to show weakness so you just take the bad days with the good.
But burnout isn’t just a bad day – take it from me, it’s debilitating. Burnout reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical and resentful. Eventually you may feel like you have nothing more to give and can become depressed. The negative effects of burnout spill over into every area of life—including your home, work and social life. So it needs to be tackled before it takes over.
In my case, burnout meant life as I knew it stopped for three months. From January to April I didn’t leave the house. Depressed, I couldn’t get out of bed. I was shaky and weak, consumed with a dull exhaustion and brain fog. I lost all my passion and direction. I was used to being always on the go, but now I didn’t want to do anything or speak to anyone. I was simply overwhelmed. The only solution was a total change of lifestyle, so I took up yoga, improved my nutrition and started meditation. I now follow an Ayurvedic diet, eating according to my circadian rhythms. I have a strict routine and I am much, much healthier.
Now I’m a business coach and I see a lot of entrepreneurs driving themselves to the point of burnout. I get enquiries from women about starting a new business and they want to do it in a hurry. These are often people who’ve lost their jobs and want to make their mark quickly – but this is a seriously bad idea. Without doing a business plan, thinking it through and doing the market analysis, there’s a serious danger of failing. The anxiety to make money fast often means working longer and longer hours to try and make a success of it. And this leads to burnout.
I now have a have a very clear sense of work/life balance and I’ve reined in my passion for work, which had actually become an addiction. If you’re successful you just want to keep going, but as you age your energy diminishes, so create good habits now. Don’t work after 6pm. Give yourself a break at weekends. Invest in personal time. Have routines. It’s hard but you have to let go of that guilty feeling that you’re not doing enough and switch off.
Words: Marina Gask. Shilpa Panchmatia is a business growth coach.