The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines occupational burnout as “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.”
Based on that definition, I’ve experienced burnout twice, once in my twenties and once in my thirties. But what to do about it? And how can we prevent it?
I read a lot of Hacker News, including some of the ‘Ask HN’ threads. This one soliciting advice about burnout received what I considered to be a great response from one user.
Around August last year I just couldn’t continue. I wasn’t sleeping, I was frequently run down, and I was self-medicating more and more with drugs and alcohol. It eventually got to the point where simply opening my laptop would elicit a fight or flight response.
I was lucky enough to be in a secure enough financial situation to largely take 6 months off. If you’re in a position to do this, I highly recommend it.
I uninstalled gmail, slack, etc. from my phone. I considered getting a dumb phone, but settled for turning off push notifications for everything instead. I went away with my girlfriend for a week and left all my tech at home except for my kindle (literally the first time I’ve been disconnected for more than a couple of days in probably 20 years). I exercised as much as possible and spent time in nature going for walks, etc.
I’ve been back at it part time for the last few months. Gradually I felt the feelings of burnout being replaced with feelings of boredom, which is hopefully my brain’s way of saying that it’s starting to repair itself and ready to slowly return to work.
I’m still nowhere near back to peak productivity, but I’m starting to come to terms with the fact that I may never get back there. I’m 36 and probably would have dropped dead of overwork by 50 if I kept up the tempo of the last 10 years anyway.
I’m not ‘cured’ by any means, but I believe things are slowly getting better.
My advice to you is to be kind and patient with yourself. Try not to stress about not having a side-project, and instead just focus on self-care for a while. Someone posted this on HN a few weeks back and it really hit close to home for me: http://www.robinhobb.com/blog/posts/38429