5 things I wish I told myself earlier when I was experiencing Work Burnout
Upon graduating from my master’s in Australia, I managed to clinch myself a job in a big tech firm as a data analyst. The remuneration package was awesome and the office perks were nothing but amazing. I get to wake up later than the typical office starting hour of 9 am, and was able to commute to and fro work after peak hours. The best part of it, I’m working on something that was my passion, data analytics. Life’s good isn’t it? Nope, things started to turn bad a few weeks into the new job.
I began to feel constantly tired and stressed about work. Panic attacks, difficulties in breathing, and sleepless nights soon followed. Work was the only thing on my mind after office hours and even on weekends. I started to beat myself for every little mistake and I couldn’t find the patience to talk to my loved ones, nor the joy to embark on my hobbies. And perhaps the most significant sign of all, the thought of committing suicide.
Yeap, you might have guessed it, Work Burnout was the culprit for all these signs. In May 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially started to recognize burnout as an occupational phenomenon that may require care. In their statement, the organization defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.
Having experienced all these, I know something has to be done. 4 months later, I resigned from this job without having found new employment in this pandemic period, and it has to be the best decision in my life. The only regret I have in this episode of my chapter was why didn’t I had the courage to leave the job much earlier when it was affecting my physical and mental health so much?
I was surprised by how many of my peers were suffering from the same thing and I hope that by writing this article, it can reach out to more people who are fighting this battle alone silently. Here are 5 things that I wish I told myself earlier while experiencing work burnout:
1. You don’t have to mind how others perceive you
During those few months, I was suffering alone. I couldn’t find the courage to speak to anyone about it because I was afraid of how others will perceive me if I were to tell them I was suffering from work burnout. Will they think I’m mentally unstable? Will they still want to be friends with me? Admitting you have psychiatric issues is definitely one of the hardest things because of the social stigma behind it, but I’m here to tell you, it’s okay to admit it even at the expense of losing your friends. You can treat this as a blessing in disguise as it helps you to identify your truest friends and say goodbye to those fake acquaintances. Admitting this problem to those around you can also create this awareness in them to be more sensitive in their choice of words when they are conversing with you. Win-win situation isn’t it?
“Mental health is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.” — Bill Clinton
2. Reach out for professional help if you need to
There’s a reason why we need chefs when we are hungry, lawyers when we need legal advice, and doctors when we are sick because they are all professionals in their fields. Since work burnout has already been recognized as a syndrome that requires attention, we should therefore seek professional help when needed. I remember there was a night where I couldn’t sleep and was experiencing some sort of anxiety attack. I went online to google “Mental Health hotlines in Singapore” and came across this page with several professional hotlines that I can dial and speak to. As much as you have guessed it, I couldn’t find the courage to dial the number and ended up tearing myself to sleep that night. What if I dialled the hotlines back then? Things might have gotten better to be honest and recently, I managed to talk to a friend who has been visiting a psychiatrist on her anxiety attacks, and how these visits to a professional helped made her felt more assured and confident of herself.
“Talk to your friends. Talk to your loved ones. Talk to health professionals. Be vulnerable. Do so with the confidence that you are not alone. Speak up if you’re struggling. Being honest about how we feel does not make us weak; it makes us human.” — Sangu Delle’s Ted Talk
3. Think for yourself first, and everything else thereafter
“What if I didn’t deliver this report to them on time? Will this affect my performance appraisal for my bonus?” These were some common questions I asked myself when I wanted to voice out to my manager that I couldn’t handle all the tasks on my hand back then. I placed my work before me and sacrificed my own physical and mental well-being. Looking back, it was not worth it. Sometimes, we just got to be selfish and hit the pause button so that we can take care of ourselves. The company will not close down even if you don’t deliver that data point on time and your manager will not mark you down if you tell him you can’t finish all the assigned tasks on time. If they do, then you should start having second thoughts on whether this company is taking care of their employees well enough. Take a break if you need to, we aren’t machines and health is our foremost priority in life, everything else is secondary.
“It is health that is real wealth. And not pieces of gold and silver.” — Gandhi
4. Know when to work and when to take a break
Singapore came in 32nd among 40 cities on the list for work-life balance that was conducted by tech company Kisi back in 2019. Working after office hours and even on weekends seem to be a norm, just like what I was undergoing back then, even though the work-life balance is what everyone aims for nowadays. It seems generally harder to achieve work-life balance but instead, we can aim for work-life integration. Working from home (WFH) is a normal routine nowadays in this pandemic season and I managed to catch up with a friend, who told me he restricted himself to only turn on his laptop or answer phone calls during office hours even if he finished his lunch within 20 minutes before the designated 60 minutes. At the end of the day, we just have to know what are the things that need to be done at work and for ourselves that are non-work related and schedule them to be done periodically to strike a balance between work and personal life. It’s all about integrating work with our lifestyle now to keep us healthy in this modern society.
“The (traditional) concept of work-life balance no longer exists; it’s now all about work-life integration, figure out what you want to do, lead yourself and find ways that will keep yourself healthy.” — Mr Sheikh from the Human Performance Institute
5. Celebrate every single success, be it small or resounding
Within those 5 months of work, it wasn’t all downs and pitfalls. I did achieve some milestones which looking back, I was quite proud of them though some were not very significant. Having a negative mindset while suffering from work burnout, these little milestones were often skipped and not celebrated even though they were signs that I was making good progress at work. I was nothing like a machine, Task A assigned, Task A completed, Task B assigned, Task B completed. There weren’t any pauses between each task which I could have reflected or rewarded myself for the completion of each task. As a result, we should commemorate even ordinary incremental progress as it can derive a sense of achievement at work and generate some form of happiness which can help in alleviating work burnout.
“The key to success is realizing that our goals aren’t going to happen overnight. Celebrate every little things because a small victory is still a victory!” — Unknown
I hope this article and the 5 points I wished I told myself earlier on while suffering work burnout help you in managing your work burnout better, or even prevent it if you have already started to sense some potential red flags. I’m not a mental health professional but I’m proud to say I’m a survivor of work burnout, and here’s a shout out to everyone making progress or fighting battles that no one recognizes. You have been silently winning battles and transforming yourself, be proud of every step you are making, and keep going because you got this!