Picture this. A single shift turns into a double, a double into a quadruple until you’re quite sure that the liquid running through your veins is no less than 80% coffee. We’ve all been there, right?
Now imagine doing this for months. Or years. How long would you last?
In Japan, the type of occupational sudden death that results from this is common enough that it has a name – Karoshi.
For decades, employees were squeezed dry by the brutal work culture, to a point where they no longer saw what was wrong with it. They took fewer days of paid leave than they were allowed and worked overtime even when it posed serious health risks.
In the past few years, the government has finally taken cognizance and are making changes to labour laws. But how do you change the minds of people who’ve been surrounded by a culture that disapproves of taking time off, even if you desperately need it?
When I hit burnout and was forced to take a break, many things stopped me.
Foremost of those was financial instability. Many organisations might not have a sabbatical option, so you’ll have to resort to taking a vacation, or in the worst case scenario, quitting your job. It’s not an easy choice to make, but at the end of the day, you have to prioritise your mental health over everything else. And hey, if you’ve been a model employee and your company doesn’t make a small concession for your mental fatigue, they didn’t deserve you anyway.
At first, my existential angst kicked in at full gear. There was a sense of cognitive dissonance where I knew I needed a break but felt extremely guilty for taking one. I felt trapped in a limbo of anxiety at not being able to work to my full potential.
That’s the feeling that accompanies you into your break if you’ve hit burnout.
Do yourself a favour and repeat a different kind of mantra to yourself. Pick anything, as long as you’re being kind to yourself and reminding yourself that you deserve this. My personal favourite is “Even warrior goddesses need breaks sometimes.” (I tried “Take a break, have a KitKat” for a while, but it backfired on my exercise regimen.) If you’re still having anxiety, see a mental health professional. They will show you how to sneak up on your anxiety and drop kick it out of the metaphorical window of a high-rise.
Okay, so now that you’ve taken your big break, what are you going to do with it? To that I say, the world is your oyster and other cliched inspirational quotes.
But it’s true, your break is what you do with it.
You can go skiing in the Alps, learn a new language or even just catch up on your reading and errands. As long as you haven’t just found other things to stress out about, or aren’t thinking about work again, you’re good.
Of course, you should consider doing something that’s especially meant to relax your mind and body. Try some form of meditation, even if you think you’re too cool for it or not spiritually inclined. Have an exercise routine to tire yourself out if your day to day activities don’t. Or just take bubble baths, my friend. Treat yourself. And don’t forget to feel good about it.
Burnout and its aftermath don’t have to be the end of your world as you know it. Just wave goodbye to your guilt and anxiety and soak in those bath salts, warrior goddess.