Diagnosing Burnout as a Busy Overachiever

I remember a story my mum told me this past summer about the first time I really experienced burnout. I think I was like 8 or 9, and I was in literally so many extracurriculars that I was being shuttled to multiple a night just to make them all on time. Not to mention going to school and all the homework that came with that. It got to the point where I was constantly stressed out, wasn’t eating right, and was generally disagreeable with everyone around me.

I’ve always been a person who has many interests, from dance to design and everything in between. It’s not a question of “what are we going to do today?”, but “what will we have time for today?”, and especially recently I’ve noticed that I’m going back to old patterns where I’m trying to do too much. Right now I have so much scheduled between music lessons, dance, my full time job, and my multiple freelance clients that I only have 2 nights to myself all week to practice and do client work. If my boyfriend has friends over one night, it messes up my entire schedule.

So for someone who generally has her sh*t together, doesn’t get stressed out too easily, and can manage a large workload, how the heck do you realize you’re burnt out, and what do you do about it?

 

Identifying Burnout

First things first, you need to figure out what burnout looks like for you. Can you turn into an angry sobbing mess at a moment’s notice? Are you procrastinating because you just have too much to do that you don’t know where to start? Are you avoiding talking to your friends and family or ignoring their messages because you don’t have the time to respond? Is takeout your meal of choice because of the minimal effort required to prep? Is your schedule so jam-packed you’ve scheduled yourself in bathroom breaks?

These are all things that can be signs of impeding burnout doom. A quick Google search tells me that the signs of burnout can be anything from loss of appetite, to chronic fatigue, to loss of enjoyment and isolation.

 

How I Mitigated Burnout – Short Term

In my most recent flareup of burnout, I realized that I hitting the point of “too much” when I pretty much just felt like crying and running away from everything. I love my life, I love everything that I do, so the fact that I felt so completely opposite about it all was really a sign. To really “fix” my problem, I thankfully had a 3-day weekend coming up because of a public holiday, but if this isn’t an option for you because of timing, I encourage you to take a sick day. Mental health is just as important as physical health. In this day, I first spent a couple hours cleaning the apartment. When there’s so much else going on, spending time doing dishes or laundry seems trivial, not fun, and just a distraction from the stuff I actually want to be doing. But I like having a clean apartment, and it physically stresses me out when there’s too much clutter.

With the dishwasher and washing machine running, I sat down and made a list of everything I “needed” to do, separated into categories like “personal”, “work”, “freelance”, and “social”. I gave each of these categories their own overall importance based on time constraints (for example, I didn’t have work until the next day, but I had freelance clients waiting on me), and each task within got a star rating from 1-5 stars on how vital it was to be completed.

Then I got the hell away from my apartment and holed myself up in a Starbucks for a few hours, where I was able to get all the client work done that I needed to do, as well as pay bills and other fun adult-y stuff that just needs to get done to be a Fully Functioning Member of Society™.

After that, I went home and just chilled out. I stopped worrying about anything I needed to do other than spending time with the boyfriend and just freaking relaxing for once.

 

How I Mitigated Burnout – Long Term

Now the above story is all well and good, but you’re probably here thinking “well wait a second, what about the next day?”, in which you’re absolutely right. Nothing I did really stopped me from going down the path of utter destruction, but it also wasn’t meant to. When you’re a classic overachiever or “busy bee”, sometimes it can seem like you literally just have too much to do. By categorizing and organizing everything, I was able to better see that ok, while it was a lot to do, it wasn’t too much, and I could actually do it all… given enough time.

After I had the reset day where I set myself straight, I took a look at how I was spending my time. Were there places that I could tack tasks like grocery shopping onto the end of another task like my dance class where it’s not a separate thing, just an extension of a larger thing? What things had I stopped doing because I didn’t have the time, that I really should be doing, like taking a nice long hot bath or shower instead of a super quick rinse off so I didn’t feel gross.

Now, I could just say to Marie Kondo your life just like you would your closet, but I don’t think that’s realistic. Some things still need to get done whether they spark joy or not, like grocery shopping and going to work. Instead, take a look at the things you can control, like extra curriculars and side hustles, and see what you could be cutting back on. Do you have a second job like waitressing to make some extra cash, but by doing it you’re losing out on hanging out with your friends on a Friday evening? That extra job might not be worth it.

Instead of looking at what things I could immediately ditch, I looked more long term – what things could I ditch a couple months from now? What projects, clients, activities are wrapping up soon that I can bow out of returning to gracefully? Just finishing up the first full year of my business running, I hadn’t really hit the point of “too many clients” yet, but I ended up hitting it right at the time where I was studying for a dance exam. All of the sudden, 4 of my clients needed something like, yesterday, I couldn’t miss dance because I had to keep up stamina for the exam, I had new music to practice, AND I still had to go to work.

But not all of those clients were retainer clients where I was working with them consistently every month, and after the exam dance would calm down. Even though I was reaching the point of burnout and over-stress, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel and it helped. It still allowed me to continue doing all the projects and things I wanted to, but I knew that the level of “things to do” wouldn’t last forever.

 

Your Gameplan

I’m a big believer in actionable steps to solve problems, not just fancy words and cutesy stories, so here’s what you’re going to do:

  1. Take a day to yourself, I promise the world won’t end if you do. Clean your home and make a list of everything you need to do.
  2. Look at all the things you’re currently doing and how busy they make you. This includes things like jobs, recreational commitments (sports leagues, book clubs), relationships, and anything else that takes your time.
  3. Determine what you can put off right now and cut long term, and do so gracefully.

 

Have you experienced burnout? What do you do to help mitigate your stress levels?

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