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I Burned Out Without Realizing It

How I learned I was burning out and what I did about it

Image Copyright @Dianele.com
Children are taught that if you put a frog in boiling water, it will quickly jump out. But if you put it in cool water and gradually heat it up, it won’t realize it’s in hot water until it’s too late.

That frog is me and I didn’t realize until today that I have burnt out.

As a Type-A personality and lifelong overachiever, I never really thought there was such a thing as too much. So I took it all on: a full-time 40 hour a week corporate job with increasing responsibilities, a 20+ hour a week part-time MBA program, and founded a tech startup that takes anywhere from 15-25 hours a week (and that’s on a good week). Oh and the 2-3x a week workout classes, MBA networking events, Friday-Sunday socializing times, monthly volunteer hours and this blog(!).

But like the frog that didn’t notice that the water kept getting warmer and warmer until it was too late, I didn’t think anything of the burnout warning signs until I started acting outside of my normal personality. I’ve always been a great sleeper but I started waking up frequently throughout the night. I broke down and overreacted to seemingly small incidences like classmates meeting together without me. I became a lot more irritable in general and didn’t have time to be around people – but felt really hurt when people didn’t include me in things. I started increasing my intake of sugar and caffeine to make up for the lack of sleep and went into zombie mode, where I half-heartedly went through the motions of school and startup work just to get tasks crossed off my list. My body started rebelling against me: nausea and indigestion and headaches became a regular part of my daily routine and I continued to push through physical pain into my full day work days, nighttime classes and weekend startup work, which only perpetuated the terrible cycle.

And my dating life was atrocious because I didn’t have the time or energy to date. I haven’t been on a date in over four months (a record for me!!). But the thought of not being in a relationship and being alone for forever stressed me out even more and contributed to the insomnia at night. And the cycle continued on while my life was looking seemingly perfect to everyone else on the outside.

The word cloud that co-workers, classmates and friends used to describe me

Fortunately this past weekend, I went to NYC to a Project Entrepreneur weekend intensive (put on by Rent the Runway Foundation & UBS – and yes, part of my weekend startup work) where Arianna Huffington was the keynote speaker. Arianna spoke on the topic of burnout in today’s culture and explained how this “always-on” attitude that our culture values is the equivalent of how cigarettes were treated in the 1960s: it looks glamorous and enviable and it’s what “everyone is doing” but in reality, it’s extremely dangerous to our physical and mental health. Once she started describing burnout and what it is, everything instantly clicked and connected together in my mind: the insomnia, the overreaction, the nausea and the stress/depression. It was all due to burnout and I was heading down a dangerous path.

If you too feel like you’re burning out, there’s some changes you can start implementing to get off the hectic hamster wheel. I started incorporating these changes into my life and I already feel less stressed and more in-control of my life:

1) Put Your Phone in It’s Own Bed

Multiple studies have shown how bad it is to fall asleep with your phone in your bed, not only because of the insomnia it can create, but also because of the potential radiation effects. Be a responsible cell phone owner and put your phone in its own charging “bed” at night in a room that’s not your bedroom. And get an alarm clock.

2) Create Boundaries Between Work Time and Rest Time

If CEO Arianna Huffington and multiple other top CEOs can put away their phones after a certain hour, so can you. And in fact, if you create “rest” time that’s distinct from work or screen time, you’re going to perform better throughout the day because you’ll be more focused and you’ll be able to think more clearly.

3) Re-Prioritize Your Life

You can do (almost) anything but you can’t do everything. For me, I’m contemplating the very difficult decision of putting a hiatus on either school or my startup, as unfortunately I don’t have the time or energy to do both right now. And that’s ok – everything will get done, but I just can’t do it all at the same time. And if you don’t re-prioritize your life, you won’t get any of it done well. If I continue on the path I’m going on, I will do a mediocre job at both my work, school and startup because of burnout.

Originally published at www.dianele.com

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