After a year of being locked inside the house, monitoring my spending habits, working out, and working from home, I found myself drained of all energy and very, very, cranky. How did I miss the big red flag with the burnout?
2020 was a difficult year for me, I am an extrovert, it comes naturally for me to want to be in the center of attention and be surrounded by people. Also, my main hobby is traveling. Given the circumstances with the pandemic, I spent most of my year inside, I did my best to stay away from people and the only trip I took was a road-trip to Croatia. I was mainly focused on work and workouts. While this isn’t particularly a bad thing, it can become one if done in excess.
Crazy work schedule
With great power comes great responsibility. While I love my job and being a project manager is something that I’ve always wanted to do, it is also within my responsibilities to make sure my team, my company and my client are getting the best outcome of our project. Working from Europe with the US West coast is not an easy job some days. My schedule starts at around 9:30 am and it finishes around 7:30 pm. I have all the main channels of communication on my phone and it’s ordinary for me to answer a Slack message at night. Not to mention that we are also on support 24/7, which means that I can get a call at any time during the day or the night, so my phone has to be on no matter what.
I know I am very fortunate to be doing what I am doing and to have an amazing team to support me, yet it can be a lot to take, especially after a year. To all of this crazy schedule, throw in a difficult client that is not always treating us right and has a tendency to overreact.
Work, work, workout every day
In March 2020 I decided that I will try to boost my confidence level and decrease my body fat by working out. I started off two times per week and worked my way up to 4 or 5 times a week. To this, I added the intermittent fasting diet that I’ve followed for a year now. I do have to acknowledge the results, yet it did take a toll on me.
I am not sure if there is such a thing as too much working out, yet I know that the state of always having muscle soreness and being in constant pain each time you move, is not normal. My sleep quality decreased a lot and even if I did get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, I was a train wreck the next morning. I was always tired and I started to hate the routine. It was no longer a pleasure, but a burden. I would have anxiety the night before the workout because I knew that I would have to do it again in the morning.
Count every penny
In 2020 my spending habits got soooo out of hand that I was shocked by how much I shopped during the year. I have 2 huge dressers in my apartment and another smaller closet, all of those got filled with crap that I didn’t even have the chance to wear since I was indoors most of the time. In fall, I had one week when I spent 1000 euro on random items that I didn’t even like that much, just because I wanted to blow off some steam.
After I saw the numbers I got so scared that I started budgeting to the extreme, I started to really keep my books up to date and do my best to pay off my apartment and start saving for travel. I went from one extreme to the other in 2 seconds. Soon after I realized that I was trying so hard to compensate for my foolishness from the fall of 2020 that it skyrocketed my stress and anxiety level by trying to decrease all my expenses.
Traveling at last
In February I took a leap of faith and I booked a trip that I wasn’t even sure I would be able to make. I paid 2700 euros for something that looked so unlikely to happen then the 3rd wave of coronavirus hit Europe. Each day a new country got on the yellow list (that required 2 weeks of quarantine upon return) or closed the borders for EU citizens.
Up until the moment we got on the plane, we weren’t sure if we would be able to go or not.
From the moment I got into the plane, I felt so relieved. Usually, I am having trouble sleeping in my own bed, yet now I slept for around 8 hours on the flight.
The aha moment
During the week I spent in the Dominican Republic I felt as if I was having an out-of-body experience, I started to relax and feel like a human again. In the first days, I was still a mess and I would react to almost everything, yet after a couple of very restful nights, I started to realize in what state I found myself before. I honestly forgot how it felt to wake up in the morning and feel rested. I forgot what it's like to see people around you dancing and laughing. To be unaware of the phone or that I need to do x,y and z. Checklists for better productivity or crazy hard workouts. I took a break from intermittent fasting and realized how much I missed having a glass of wine at a late dinner.
Getting back to my life
As much as I loved being there, after 8 days I was actually looking forward to returning home. My pets were waiting for me here, my team and my workout sessions. With a new and refreshed mindset, I did my best to return to my routine but without the excess. I cannot say that two months after, I am in the same green zone, yet I am more aware of the signs of burnout as I was back in March. The way burnout usually occurs is by constantly increasing the level without you realizing where you are.
It is this experiment where you can actually boil a frog by constantly increasing the temperature. Its brain will not detect the fact that it’s boiling in water and it’s killing it. Yet if you take the same frog and throw it in the boiling water the shock will make it jump out of it and save its life.
I feel like stress, anxiety, and burnout work in the same manner with us. We keep still and we boil until we die, without even realizing that we are hurting. As cruel as the frog experiment might sound, I think we should all take a moment to reflect upon our lives, just to make sure the water that we are in, is at the right temperature and if not, to get out of there before it is not too late.