The Red Flags of Rest: How to Recognize Burnout
February 15, 2021
Let me tell you a story about the importance of rest. Several years ago, I was selected to create a big project for my organization. This was a huge opportunity for me. I was passionate about the content and couldn’t wait to begin construction. So, on the first day, I sat down with my cup of coffee and didn’t stop working until nightfall. Then I did the same thing again the next day. And the next day…
And the next day.
You can probably see where this is going. My exciting project quickly turned into a mental 4-day forced march. I was so determined to get it finished that I never took a moment to rest or relax. At the time I thought I was being diligent, but in hindsight, the warning signs were all around me.
Making Room for Rest
Our bodies and minds are pretty good about letting us know when we need to rest. Trouble is, we’ve largely been trained to ignore them. Our culture prides itself on a solid work ethic. Rest is often portrayed as laziness while exhaustion and sacrifice are depicted as necessities to achievement. If you want to succeed, you’ve got to work through the night on nothing but energy drinks and protein bars!
In reality, failing to rest and relax will only create problems. During my aforementioned project, I encountered several red flags that were warning me to stop and rest. Trust me when I say not to overlook these signs and symptoms of burnout. If any of these sound familiar, it might be time to take a break:
Red Flags to Recognize
- Lack of Creativity: A big part of my project involved writing. Normally this isn’t a problem since I enjoy writing and flexing my creativity. However, after the second day of nonstop work my well of ideas ran dry. It felt like I was literally fighting with my brain just to type out a single sentence. Creativity is like a reservoir. If you don’t give it time to replenish, you’ll eventually use it all up.
- Sloppy Work: Mistakes are something we want to learn from. But if we are too tired, our work becomes sloppy and the only thing you can learn from that is that you need to rest. If your work demands attention to detail (like mine did), failing to rest can be disastrous. It was fortunate that I allowed myself to get a full night’s sleep before I sent in my final draft. When I looked at it the next day, there were typos everywhere! Good work requires focus, and you can’t focus when you’re physically and mentally exhausted.
- Low Energy: Will that last 5 items on your to do list really make a difference? Be sure you save energy for yourself and those around you. Remember, every time you say yes to something, you say no to something else! Don’t spend all your energy in one place. Take only what you need to get you through the day.
- Bad Attitude: This one is a little embarrassing. The truth is, I pushed myself so hard that I became frustrated and irritable. The smallest problem would make me seethe. At one point, a minor inconvenience caused me to snap at a coworker. You can imagine how mortified I felt afterword. For educators, this red flag is particularly important. It’s our responsibility to model healthy social-emotional relationships for our students. We need to show up each day with a healthy attitude and a smile to share.
Time to Recharge
Let’s not kid ourselves, 2020 was a grueling year for educators. We had to master remote teaching practically overnight. COVID-19 frustrated our plans and students struggled to adjust to the new learning reality. With 2021 promising plenty of challenges, it’s important that we all take a moment to refresh ourselves. Just think of it as part of the teaching process (because it is!)
Spend some time out in nature if the weather permits. Find your Zen by listening to an audiobook while coloring or crafting. Celebrate the success you’ve had in the classroom and reflect on what you would like to do differently. Commit to spending at least one hour doing whatever helps you detox from the day. Trust me, your brain will thank you!