When to Say When

Identifying and managing burnout

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Burnout. It’s a term I’m sure we’re all familiar with, but if you haven’t already gotten acquainted:

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.

Do these qualities ring a bell? If so, you’re not alone — burnout happens to the best of us! What’s really important is how we manage it. Though burnout doesn’t spell the end of the world, it can disrupt our daily routines and spill over into other areas of our life, making tasks seem considerably harder than they might otherwise have been. Therefore, it’s crucial we learn how to prevent burnout where possible and manage it where necessary. The first step in achieving this is to identify its causes and symptoms.

Causes and symptoms of burnout

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Burnout can happen anywhere and at any time, be it at your job or at home. In the games industry, causes for burnout can span a wide range of stress-inducing states, from taking on too many responsibilities to dreading impending deadlines; plus, periods of sustained “deep work” such as crunch time ahead of submissions are often nearly impossible to mitigate or avoid. Any of the above can lead to burnout if the resulting stress is left unchecked.

Let’s take a look at some common symptoms of burnout:

  • Loss of motivation → You start to feel empty and listless, losing your sense of direction with regard to work, or life in general; You begin procrastinating a lot more, taking longer to get things done.
  • Fatigue → You feel tired throughout the day, with energy levels bottoming out early on — nothing seems to be able to get you moving.
  • Health-related issues → You don’t have much of an appetite; You either find it hard to get to sleep, plagued by thoughts of work and other stressful responsibilities, or wake up constantly throughout the night; You’re likelier to fall ill and slower to recover.
  • Sensitivity → You become much more emotionally charged and become easily irritated or overwhelmed by things that don’t normally faze you; Negative thoughts and feelings start to overwhelm you.

Causes and symptoms of burnout may vary from person to person. What I experience as draining and debilitating may not be as tough for another. By reflecting on your life and your own personal stressors, as well as putting into perspective what your current priorities are, you’ll be able to start breaking down and tackling the areas with the most potential to burn you out.

Managing Burnout

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Before we (eventually) figure out that we’re burned out, our bodies are already subconsciously finding ways to cope and get back to “normality”. By recognising the symptoms early on, we will have won half the battle and be able to better navigate our way out of quicksand — that is, avoid a full blown burnout. However, the unfortunate reality is that in most cases we’re already knee deep in the issue before realising, often to the point where our daily routine has started to actively accommodate its effects.

Learning how to deal with burnout is not easy, as everyone has their own preferred method of coping to discover. To help lighten the load, I’d like to share a few that I personally found helpful!

First, work-life balance. Draw the line, learn to take a break. I cannot stress this enough. Even if you aren’t burned out, without adequate rest you won’t be able to focus and will be constantly distracted. This can be hard because sometimes we are unable to put down our work: we keep telling ourselves there’s a lot more to be covered, and our minds keep stressing over it despite it being well past our work hours.

With the battle against COVID-19 still ongoing, working from home with your tasks just one button away doesn’t exactly make taking a break easier. When this happens, be kind but firm with yourself and reevaluate your priorities. Tell yourself that work isn’t everything and your health is of the utmost importance. If the task is urgent, break it down into smaller pieces and take it one step at a time. Once that’s over, reward yourself with a break and wind down.

Second, create a support system for yourself. Surround yourself with people who care for you. Reconnect with yourself, your family, and your friends. Talking to others can sometimes help put things back into perspective. Perhaps you’ll receive some insight or guidance from those who have been down the same path!

Next, spend some time listing self-care strategies that help you de-stress. This will help reduce the time spent trying to figure out what works for you the next time you start noticing the symptoms of stress or burnout. If you don’t know what works, take some time to explore new activities and figure out what’s best for you!

Lastly, take good care of yourself. When we’re burnt out, all sources of motivation run dry and everything becomes a chore. Sometimes even the smallest of things, like getting a glass of water, seems painfully difficult. I understand — but do it anyway. Pick yourself up and grab that glass of water. Start exercising, keep fit, treat yourself to a nice meal, stay hydrated and make absolutely sure to get enough rest. Before long, you’ll be back up and running without even realising!

Don’t forget to take these tips with a pinch of salt: as mentioned above, what works for me may not work for you. Take the time to learn about yourself, what causes your stress, what stress-relieving activities work for you, and so on. What you learn from these reflections will be your greatest asset in preventing and managing burnout in the future.

My Fair Share

Now that we’re rounding up, I’d like to mention that I myself am recovering from burnout at the moment! I never really expected it’d catch up to me — despite receiving numerous messages of concern over the past few weeks from colleagues, friends and family telling me to pace myself. Because I didn’t take those concerns seriously (oops), here I am writing this article.

The journey wasn’t easy, and learning to manage it was even harder. I didn’t understand what I was going through. I had zero motivation whatsoever and felt like I was in an eternal slump. I wasn’t able to sleep well, and I didn’t know where (or how) to draw the line between work and leisure hours. What made it worse was that, due to my own personal insecurities, I thought I wasn’t doing enough and told myself I had to work harder. Only then did I realise and acknowledge there was a problem, that it wasn’t “just stress”, and that it had to be worked on before things spiralled out of control.

It was hard when I first started — the small breaks didn’t add up and it didn’t feel like I was recovering. So, I tried to get to know myself a little better by writing down everything about myself: my lifestyle, my responsibilities, and so on. That helped me to visualise the sore spots that were worsening my burnout. From there, I planned out what I could do to ease those areas whilst incorporating the tips I mentioned above, and now it feels like I can breathe a little easier.


Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

Ultimately, don’t be afraid to take a break, especially when you know you need it. Step away from that desk, take a stretch, play some of your favourite tunes, and don’t forget to take care of yourself. If you’re starting to see or feel the symptoms of burnout, perhaps you might want to take a step back and fully assess your current state. Listen to the needs of both your physical and mental health, because after all, health is wealth and we’ve got a long road ahead of us.

When to Say When was originally published in Mighty Bear Games on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.