Boundaries Before Burnout

Burnout, we’ve all experienced it at one point in our lives. According to NCBI, it can have a wide range of symptoms both physically and mentally. There are 3 main areas of symptoms that are considered signs of feeling this way:

  1. Exhaustion: People affected feel drained and emotionally exhausted, unable to cope, tired and down, and do not have enough energy. Physical symptoms include things like pain and stomach or bowel problems. 
  2. Alienation from (work-related) activities: People who have burnout find their jobs increasingly stressful and frustrating. They may start being cynical about their working conditions and their colleagues. At the same time, they may increasingly distance themselves emotionally, and start feeling numb about their work. 
  3. Reduced performance: Burnout mainly affects everyday tasks at work, at home or when caring for family members. People with burnout are very negative about their tasks, find it hard to concentrate, are listless and lack creativity. 

While there are no methods to diagnose this feeling, there are ways to avoid falling into the black hole. Mental health is no joke. With the pandemic hitting hard, we’re even closer to falling into our next recession adding more stress to our lives. Whether it affects you or not, it is inevitable to witness loved ones being a victim of this tragedy, or even having survivors guilt. Some of us are even working longer hours from feeling like they have nothing else better to do with their time! It’s inevitable how intertwined our professional and personal lives have become in the past month.

How I set boundaries

What has helped me despite the ambiguous changes in my daily life, is using my planner apart from mobile calendar(s) for accountability purposes. I find joy in writing down tasks and routines to help coordinate my days better. If you can spare 10+ minutes on your phone mindlessly, why not for your productivity? It only takes a fraction of your day.

Pareto’s Principle, the 80-20 rule, explains that 80% of an output result from 20% input. I personally find my days more productive and balanced seeing the tasks/projects for the week rather than stressing to find it mentally.

sample week schedule

Regular work hours are traditionally known as 9 – 5, so I set my productive slot around that, separate from morning gym routine, making it 7:30 am – 5 pm (more or less). I do this to knock out my main goals, then use the rest of the hours of my day as “homework”, or a hobby (anything therapeutic). That usually entails reading a leisure book or scrolling through social media for an extended amount of time. These days, I find myself on Youtube watching diet vlogs, workout videos, or ways to increase productivity for a boost of inspiration. On either Saturday/Sunday, I like to do a light workout to kickstart my weekend. I typically use weekends to wind down, attend a community event, catch up with friends, or family.

Me Time: Self-care

What I just mentioned may seem heavy for those who live more spontaneously. You might wonder when I give time to myself. Having a separate work space from where I spend leisure time helps me keep a balance of both. I knew working on my bed was not good for my health. There is no stability for your back, nor would I be performing well because of feeling sluggish I’d feel being in bed majority of my day. I’ve also started to meditate again, in the form of yoga, to help ground myself to start each day mindfully, and with a purpose. Meditation has impacted my overall performance in keeping me aligned with myself.

Work area

Truth is, there are many depths to this self-love/self-care act that it can mean anything as long as it makes you happy and is enhancing your overall well-being. Someone can spend time to themselves by cleaning their home while another can be on Netflix (or both!).

Time away can be really helpful depending on your destination. While traveling is an essential luxury, going to a location where the itinerary is stacked may not be as alleviating as going to a place with the purpose to relax. I’m glad I was able to do all the tourist festivities in New York, but also unwind at night around Manhattan to reflect on life, being in the moment. Cabo San Lucas was also amazing just itself being away from the hustling and bustling noise.

How I knew and what actions I took

  1. Identify the red flags – Mood changed to pessimistic for a longer than the normal time frame, and work became burdening. Or, maybe your personal life has been bugging you with friends/family or loved ones.
  2. Patience – After understanding the experience, I knew the feeling was temporary. Burnout is like a wound. Once the injury happens, there’s not too much you can do other than nurture it and give it time to heal.
  3. Communicate – I let those around me know the struggle I was going through as a call for help. Whether it’s taking a day off, or even an ear to listen to, it’s a reminder of how people still care for you.
  4. Initiate – Once you’ve acknowledged the feeling and have received help, it’s time to act on it.

Since my big girl job, I was able to identify my first burnout around August/September where my overall morale began to plummet. I found it hard to sleep at night, wake up in the morning, and even get through the day because of brain fog. I felt like I was barely keeping myself afloat with the below-average work ethic I output. Growing up without the knowledge of mental health made identifying burnout most challenging so I’m grateful for those around me who have helped me every step of the way.

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