A therapist once informed me that I had something called “Existential Anxiety.”
Yes, I had the same horrified look on my face that you probably have right now, but it’s apparently not as grave as it sounds. It’s basically wanting to spend every moment doing something productive, and actively contributing to what you’ve identified your purpose as. That sounds positive, right? It pushes you out of whatever inertia might keep you from identifying your purpose and pursuing it to the fullest.
The problem is not knowing when to take a break, folks
For a long time, work could never take a backseat to anything else in my life. If I was in a rom-com, I wouldn’t think twice about choosing my career if I was confronted with the usual Love vs. Work decision. I was obsessed with excelling at what I did and went the whole nine yards on everything. A good spell at work meant my life was what I’d always dreamed it to be, while a bad spell meant that I was a failure and a waste of space. You can already see where this is heading - a possible burnout situation.
But what if I was just stressed?
That’s a valid question, honestly. How do you identify if what you’re feeling is just a sense of dread at some tough deadlines or a state of complete physical, mental and emotional exhaustion?
For one, stress is a short period of overexertion, while burnout can go unchecked for a long time. So if you’ve been feeling exhausted for a suspiciously long time, it’s time to introspect on why your brain and body are short-circuiting. Plus, stress is a direct, surface-level response to an event or circumstance.
Burnout is fed by many factors, from professional ones like dissatisfaction with work goals and assignments to more personal ones like depression. Ultimately, it results in a sense of hopelessness, emotional exhaustion or apathy that makes you a zombie sleepwalking through your own life; going through the motions without realizing that you need a damn break once in a while.
If you let it put you on autopilot, the long-term consequences of burnout can be depression, poor physical health, self-doubt and substance abuse among other things. This, aside from hating a job or line of work that you might have once enjoyed.
Let’s talk about coping mechanisms
If you don’t have a great social support system, you’re on thin ice. Have a heart-to-heart with your family or friends, or even talk to your therapist if you feel like you’ve been under the wire for too long.
Now if you insist on being a Tough Girl get some self-awareness at least. Check yourself for being too cynical or snippy (more so than usual). If you’re dragging yourself to work every day, never feeling equipped to deal with the next day or challenge, your problem might be bigger than you initially thought.
From my experience, self-awareness is the most important step in identifying burnout. Other people can only help so much before you acknowledge you have a problem. So, stop telling yourself lies like “I’m fine” and “I’m just stressed” and accept the grim reality that you might be on the verge of burnout.