How I Saved Myself From Burning Out

The signs you can look out for to avoid burning out

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

Around a year ago, I almost came close to burning out when I was working 13–15 hours a day on 2 remote internships and college work. I was lucky enough to recognize the signs early on and made necessary changes in my life to prevent myself from being completely burnt out before my career even began.

I used to be one of those people who would take pride in working insane hours with very little sleep. It was only when I reached my breaking point I realized how toxic that mindset was. When I started working, since I was really passionate about programming, I used to love working for 12+ hours a day with no complaints. After a few months, I felt I could take on more load so I took up another internship and since both of them were remote jobs, I could do both of them sitting in my house.

For the first 6 months, it was a cakewalk for me. I was pushing code and was fueled by coffee and adrenaline. However, after the 6-month mark, I had a bad breakup which is where things started to go downhill. To cope up with the breakup, I began to put in more hours at work to distract myself. And after a month of what was probably the darkest phase of my entire life, I started to realize that something has changed.

Feeling The Burn

I wasn’t as interested in the work as I was before. I began to procrastinate a lot. I was tired all the time and had no motivation. While my performance didn’t really go down, it was getting emotionally and mentally draining. I was lucky enough or maybe I was self-aware to realize that what I was going through wasn’t normal. The signs and symptoms I was feeling seemed a lot similar to that of depression. However, I assumed it was just the pain from the breakup and brushed it off thinking it will go away with time. But even after two months, the signs were still there and that’s when I realized I was burning myself out.

After doing some research on the signs and symptoms of burning out, my doubts were confirmed and I knew I had to do something about it. I didn’t want to be completely burned out at the age of 21 and more importantly, I was afraid that I might start to hate programming after that. Burning out is very common in software development and I didn’t want to become a statistic.

Common Signs of Burning Out

Here are some common signs and symptoms of pre-burnout that you can look out for

  1. Emotional exhaustion
  2. Reduced performance
  3. Mental detachment from work
  4. Physical tiredness
  5. Lack of motivation

The symptoms of pre-burnout and depression are very similar and it’s very important to distinguish between the two. If you feel confused between them, consult a medical professional. There are different treatment options for depression but burnout can be easily handled by making changes in one’s lifestyle.

Photo by Matteo Di Iorio on Unsplash

The Fix

What worked for me may not work for you but this is how I fixed it. I climbed a mountain! I knew I needed some fresh air and a change of environment. I am not an active person in general so climbing that mountain was quite the challenge for me. I almost gave up halfway but I wasn’t going to give up. While I was climbing it, not once did I think about work or stress about anything. I was completely in the present and enjoying every second of it. Once I reached the top of the mountain, for the first time in over 8 months, I felt at peace. It was the most beautiful sunrise of my life and the entire journey gave me a new perspective on life.

After coming back, I quit one of the two internships I was working at and cut back on the number of hours I work every day. I started to go out for runs regularly to keep myself active. All the signs started to fade away and I started to feel happy again. That was the affirmation I needed to realize I made the right choice.

I’ll be honest, I was scared at first. I didn’t reach out to anyone for advice or even talked to anyone about it. I still consider myself lucky to understand the early signs of burnout and fixed them before it got worse. But I highly recommend talking to a friend, a family member, or a medical professional. If the signs are ignored for long, it is very easy to burn out completely or even slip into depression. Understanding the root cause is very important in order to overcome it.

Burning out can be prevented with the help of some self-care strategies. Eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercises, good sleeping habits. Along with these, it is also necessary to evaluate your job. If you are not interested in the work or the working environment you’re in, it’d be best to change that altogether. If it’s a high-stress job, consider taking a vacation regularly and try to reduce the working hours if possible.

We have come a long way in terms of destigmatizing depression and openly talking about it. There is no shame in asking for help. Similarly, identifying burnout signs is just as important because we spend around 90,000 hours or one-third of our lives working, so might as well enjoy our work and not loathe it.

Programmer | Tech Lead | Cybersecurity Enthusiast | Traveller.

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