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People that know me well are likely reading this article title and thinking, “pot, meet kettle…” It’s true… I’m often the poster child for going too hard for too long and crashing and burning. But this is my blog and I can write about what I want and this topic has been something I have recently experienced and feel compelled to share.

Jason Isbell, one of my favorite singer/songwriters ever in the history of the world, has a song entitled Anxiety that starts out with the following lyrics, “Anxiety. How do you always get the best of me? I’m out here living in a fantasy. I can’t enjoy a {profanity} thing.”Having rarely dealt with anxiety myself, I didn’t really understand this song. Until suddenly, I did.

Over the last 18 months, I’ve experienced anxiety for the first time in my life. There’s really no way to describe it other than rapid heartbeat, inability to sleep, racing mind, sometimes no appetite. The worst part? Not being able to tell yourself to calm the hell down because you know you’re just fine and all you want to do is go to sleep. Instead, the rapid heartbeat keeps on going and the racing mind doesn’t stop racing. It first happened to me when I was traveling for a speaking engagement alone. I had absolutely zero reason to be anxious. I rarely get nervous anymore prior to speaking gigs and feel comfortable traveling on my own. However, I had been going hard at the bank with several new initiatives, busy at home with a remodel, and the trip was a quick one- traveling via airplane several states away and returning back home all in an 18 hour time frame.

I was slated to be on stage at 6:30 am for sound check the next morning and back on the plane by 10:30 am. At 2:00 a.m., I awoke, my heart beating rapidly and my mind racing. I couldn’t calm myself down to go to sleep, and the more I worried about getting sleep to be rested to speak, the worse it got. I called my husband and he talked me through it having dealt with a little anxiety himself several years ago. By 4 a.m. I was up, in the shower and on stage at 6:30 a.m. I remember the speaking engagement going very well, then I crashed on the plane and was back at work the next day.A similar scenario has happened since that trip, under nearly the exact same conditions… lots going on, basically ran down, and while traveling alone.

I’m most certainly not a self proclaimed expert on anxiety and definitely not here to give info on diagnosis or treatment especially given I am new to the game. What I am here to say is that I know what the root cause was for me: Burnout. As professionals, especially those of us who are working moms, involved in our communities, and always on the go- we juggle A LOT. We often push ourselves the hardest, wear all the hats, juggle all the things, and don’t give ourselves a break. As in a literal break. Our mindset tells us that breaks are for the weak. Successful people don’t need breaks. WRONG.

After long periods of intensity, one tends to burn out. It’s natural. It’s normal. It happens to the best of us. We all likely have different triggers that lead us to burnout,  but the important thing is to recognize when you’re headed on the path and make the appropriate changes to avoid it.

4 Signs I Knew I Was Dealing With Burnout

# 1 | I was experiencing anxiety and never had before
Your body talks to you all the time, but are you listening? In my situation, anxiety was the form of communication that my body used to tell me to slow the hell down. Almost as a way to say, “if you don’t, I’ll make you!” The racing heart and mind and the inability to control  it was a clear indication that something in my life needed to change.  I met with my boss, told him I needed to take a mental health day so that I could be a more productive and engaged employee and turned my “Out of Office” on. While I only took one day and should have taken more, that day saved me. I left my phone alone, slept in, worked on my new house, and relaxed. I came back to work a different person.

#2 | I Couldn’t Turn Off
Even when I was home, sitting at the ball field watching my son play, or unpacking boxes in our new home, I was still very much “on”. I was either checking my phone for emails, thinking through my next Girl Banker Instagram post, beating myself up that I hadn’t posted a new original article on the blog, or overthinking a work initiative. My oldest son, Brody would say, “someone’s grumpy!” For those of you who have had a grumpy day, there is literally nothing more aggravating than your snot nosed 8 year old reaffirming how grumpy you really are. However, that’s not what I want my 8 year old to envision when he thinks of me- the grumpy working mom that gives her all at work and nothing at home.

My friend and coworker Jill sent me a text one day that said, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes. Even you.” Just like our iPhones and computers, our minds work better if we use the power off button, wait a little while, and power back up. This simple concept spoke volumes to me as I had failed to unplug for a very long time. In fact, I couldn’t even remember the last time I had taken a day off to unplug.

Keep in mind that unplugging from our cell phones and social media is one thing, but actually “turning off” is a whole other thing. Being in work mode 24/7/365 isn’t healthy for anyone. Even the most productive, successful people take time off, schedule vacations, and focus on non-work things. In my case, I waited to long to recognize it, found that I was nearing burnout and eventually got sick. Don’t wait that long!

# 3 | I wasn’t excited and passionate about work
This was the kicker with me.  I was remodeling a home, living with my parents during the remodel, busy at work, traveling for speaking engagements, and basically never ever unplugging or taking time for myself. My family was getting all of my leftovers, which were crumbs. I have no one to blame… most of it was self inflicted, but it took it’s toll. I LOVE my job. I’m going to say it again, I LOVE MY JOB. I work with the BEST people and actually really enjoy going to work each day, but I found it harder and harder each day to get out of bed and get excited about going to work and that’s not like me at all.

This can be a tale tell sign of burnout and can happen even to the most passionate of employees. I recently posed the question of how my fellow girl bankers handle burnout in my private Girl Banker Facebook Group and received the following responses which I felt were comforting that we aren’t alone:

 ” I think it’s a season of life thing. We all experience it in some form or fashion. If you say you don’t, then you’re doing something wrong. As a working parent, we all struggle and we all feel it. Sometimes I myself wonder, why am I here? Then other times I’m reminded, both at home and at work, I’m important and I matter. So does everyone else.”
“We all go through these trials of anxiety and burnout. When you really stop and think about ALL that we do and manage on daily basis in our home life, socially and professionally it’s really kind of crazy to expect anything other than a little anxiety now and then.”

#4 | I couldn’t focus
I was finding that I couldn’t focus for long periods of time on any one thing. I knew I had a lot to do, but I had let it fester in my mind to this unattainable, impossibly to-do list that never ended. My mentor and friend, Allyson Twiggs Dyer forwarded me a blog post by Mel Robbins entitled, “Hot Off the Stress”. In the post, she talked about a near breakdown she had experienced and how she powered through it. One of my favorite points she discussed was the benefits of a brain dump- the process of sitting down in a quiet place with a notepad and a pen and literally dumping all the things that come to mind that are stressing you out and keeping you from being productive. You then highlight the 3 most important things and then circle the absolute most important thing. From that point on, everything else gets deleted and the focus is on that one important thing.

Just the concept of the brain dump sounded cathartic to me and I found it incredibly helpful in pushing through my burnout phase. It also helped me prioritize and understand what was holding me back.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I’m so encouraged that mental health is becoming more of a focus in the work place. We have to continue to kick the stigma that caring and focusing on mental health isn’t a weakness, but instead a strength. I’m no where near an expert on this topic, but I know that seeking out a therapist, taking time off to unplug, and having conversations about our stress and anxiety levels with friends is essential and NORMAL.

I have learned a lot about how unrealistic I am with myself at times. I know I am capable, I work my ass off daily, and I love what I do. Somewhere along the line, however, I had loaded up my plate and the weight eventually got to me. I had unrealistic expectations of myself and lost site of prioritizing, saying no, and breathing in and out. I hope this post is helpful to you, or at least resonates. I know I’m not alone and you aren’t either.

xo, Natalie