We’re less than a month into 2019, but we already have a contender for word of the year: burnout. Just ask Katelyn Ohashi, a former Olympic-track gymnast who ended up leaving that trajectory for a happier life as a “regular” college athlete at UCLA — except that she’s anything but regular.
Ohashi reminded the world of that when her mesmerizingly joyful, perfect-10-scoring routine went viral this weekend, earning praise from notable names like Kamala Harris and Chelsea Peretti. “This is just fantastic,” Harris wrote on Twitter, which Peretti echoed, tweeting, “Why did I cry.” Honestly, it’s hard not to cry after watching Ohashi’s floor routine triumph, which was made even more poignant by her struggle to overcome burnout.
Before Katelyn scored her perfect 10, with her teammates cheering and dancing on the sidelines, she’d recently opened up about how burnout led her to walk away from a path to the Olympics. “There was a time when I was on top of the world, an Olympic hopeful,” she said in a clip for The Players Tribune. “I was unbeatable. Until I wasn’t.”
“This girl’s joy is just being present,’ Katelyn says, as footage from her childhood training plays. “She just keeps going and going like nothing’s stopping her. Living day by day and enjoying every second of it. Flipping and flipping even at a young age. Even when she didn’t have gymnastics she was still in the gym. Gymnastics was her world. That girl that you would think had it all, all these medals in her room, podiums she’s standing on… She thought she had nothing.”
For Ohashi, her burnout led to a dwindling of her self-worth, creating a negative cycle she struggled to break out of. “Fans would tell her that she wasn’t good enough. She didn’t look a certain way,” she recounted. “She wanted to eat junk food and feel okay the next day and not have to worry about getting kicked out because she couldn’t make a scale, then constantly exercising after a meal just to feel good enough to go to bed. She was on this path of invincibility and then her back just gave out. She wanted to experience what it was like to be a kid again.” At her lowest point, Ohashi stressed, “I was broken.”
Ohashi was able to overcome burnout, she says, by taking some time away from the sport that led to it and allowing herself to rediscover her passion in a different light. “No one ever fully knew what I was going through and I never really could say or publicize what was wrong with me,” she said. “I was happy to be injured. I was told that it was embarrassing how big I’d become. I was compared to a bird that couldn’t fly… I couldn’t accept myself… It took me finding [my coach] and UCLA and having a different goal and path to follow to finally find joy and love within the sport again… that’s all it took to feel like a person again.”
While Ohashi was able to recognize when she needed a break, it’s not always easy to see burnout for what it is. Thrive asked Paula Davis-Laack, the founder of the Davis Laack Stress & Resilience Institute, which specializes in overcoming burnout, to share some warning signs for how to know when to walk away from your source of stress.
Your health is being compromised
“This is how I knew it was time to leave my law practice when I burned out: I was getting panic attacks every week and was in the emergency room twice because of stress-related stomach aches,” Davis-Laack says. “I have always been willing to give a lot to my career, but I was not willing to give up my health.”
You’re becoming somebody else
Is your personality changing? Are family members commenting on your consistent level 10 grouchiness? Persistent cynicism is one of the warning signs of burnout, Davis-Laack explains.
You’re caught in a values disconnect
Is family really important to you, but your boss could care less and expects you to be on call 24/7? The more you work in an environment that disconnects you from your own core values, the more likely you are to burn out.
New opportunities are waiting for you
Your work priorities, knowledge, and skills evolve over time, Davis-Laack says. The happy truth is that an experience with burnout might just help you discover that you’re meant to move into a new position — or new career — where your strengths and talents can be fully utilized.
Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.