Do you have a job? How many jobs are you holding down right now?

If you are employed I expect that you would answer one, or maybe two; and if that is the case then you would be wrong.

Each one of us has a multitude of unpaid work that takes its toll of our health and well being. At first glance, you might not connect these with “work”; but consider the responsibilities that come with them and you will see that they can lead to a great deal of work.

So what about being a parent? Unpaid, responsible, active, physical and mental work! Or being a daughter, son, aunt, uncle, or any other family member – they will often come with family responsibilities that require physical and mental effort.

How many of you are secretaries, treasurers, presidents or active members of not-for-profit organisations? It’s all work!

So you get the picture – when we look at our working life we often ignore many of the responsibilities that can exert stress on us because they are unpaid activities.

Now we cannot ignore our family ties, but do we have to say “yes” to everything? And if we belong to an organisation we have an implied duty to accept the responsibility of committee member when called upon. And of course we may be required to offer our services for projects and events – but must we say “yes” to everything?

Stop and think a little – how much time are you spending on others? And then tell me, how much time is left for YOU?

Burn out is a fact of modern life, and more often than not it will affect the enthusiastic, the passionate, the experienced. The very ones that make the world go round are the very ones most likely to suffer burn out.

But you don’t wake up one morning and tell yourself “I think I have a case of burn out” it is insidious. It creeps up on you silently, invisibly, relentlessly. It may take years before it actually becomes recognisable.

I remember reading about the Eskimos in northern climes. The bone chilling cold, the icy winds all could lead to frostbite without the sufferer even being aware of it. Often the first sign of the problem came with the tip of the nose turning white; not easy for a person to notice for themselves. So in the Eskimo community when they passed another member of the group whose nose was going white, they would alert them to the fact by rubbing their own nose.

Likewise, symptoms of burn out are often far more noticeable to others than it is to us. And we need to be alerted to a problem that we probably would deny.

Burn out is an outcome of stress, it leads to emotional fatigue, frustration and physical exhaustion. And as I mentioned, it is often those who are the most passionate about what they do that are the most vulnerable. Passion about our projects will often mean that we take on too many responsibilities; we set ourselves unrealistic deadlines or goals. We may refuse to delegate – after all it’s our passion, who could do it better?

But most of all, we fail to monitor ourselves – and sometimes the first symptoms can be explained away “I just need a bit of a break”.

But are you becoming a little more irritable with people? Have you blown up at work collegues or family members recently? Do minor inconveniences lead to big outbursts of frustration? Do you feel constantly tired, and do you feel there are not enough hours in the day to get everything you need to do done?

If you said yes to just two of these questions – you might be on the slippery slope to burn out.

To avoid falling into the trap you need to know how to avoid further trouble – so what can you do; it isn’t easy to feel like you are letting others down, but you may have to if you don’t want to let yourself down … down into the pit of full, raging burn out.

First – accept that you cannot do all everything. Set yourself realistic goals; recognise that you do have limitations, limitations on your time and availability. And learn that you will not be automatically thrown out the family. the organisation or the work place if you occasionally say “No”.

Re-evaluate your priorities. You would work back, get up early and manipulate appointments to be there for your children or your partner – but what would you really do to arrange some personal time for yourself? Hmmm thought so!!!

Put your work into perspective – now this may come as a shock to you; but you are not personally responsible for other people’s problems! So don’t buy into them, don’t become personally involved; do what you can and leave it.

Put into your work space (whether it be the home or the office) those things that give you pleasure, and take deliberate time off during your day. Take the phone off the hook, close the door and turn your back to the computer and listen to music – for just five minutes. Plan for these occasions and put them on your appointment lists. Make others aware that during lunch time you will be out of the office, or taking a cat nap, or listening to Elgar, or practicing relaxation techniques, or breathing exercises, or meditating or ….whatever lightens your day. It doesn’t really matter what you do, just do it and do it for yourself.

Most of us go through life like the Eskimo, living in a dangerous environment but oblivious to the dangers. And burn out is costly, personally and practically. It is often the most dedicated, the most experienced, the most passionate and professional that will be affected. And unless we are alerted to the problem, like the Eskimo we will probably fail to take preventative steps until it is too late.

So consider, how are you travelling, and what about the people around you? Do they need a little nose rubbing on your part to alert them to their danger? Burn Out is not inevitable we can avoid it if we recognise the dangers in time.

Michele @ Trischel

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