What I've Learned From My Burnout Journal (2019)
Updated 14 February 2019
"Here I am again... It's 03:30 and I can't sleep. I tried for a long time, with music, without music, tried a lot of exercises but nothing worked. I even got white flashes in front of my eyes again. So fucking weird. Got out at 01:45 to go for a walk again. I ended walking for 6 km and now that I'm back it's 03:30. And I'm still afraid to go back to bed, so I'm going to try and make use of my time. Tomorrow is going to be hell. January is turning out to be pretty awful already. What the fuck man. I feel pretty desperate... It's 04:00 now, gonna try to sleep again."
What you just read was an excerpt of my burnout journal. What's a burnout journal? I journaled every day throughout a chaotic and difficult period that started at the end of 2018. I've learned a lot from the things I wrote in my journal, and I want to show you a couple of examples today. Best case scenario, this post will help you recognize early burnout symptoms so you can avoid the things that I dealt with during this period!
Before I start this post about the contents of my burnout journal, I want to give a quick introduction. You might be reading this without being aware of what burnout is. In that case, let me quickly give you a quick overview of what a "burnout" exactly is.
- It's important to know that burnout doesn't happen overnight. You don't wake up one morning and - out of the blue - feel the symptoms of burnout. In fact, it slowly creeps up on you, with small ups and downs. This makes it extremely difficult to notice the effects in an early stage. A lot of people brush off early symptoms. "Put on your big boy pants", a.k.a. don't be a little crybaby and just man-up. These symptoms will go away eventually. If that's you, then you should definitely stick around!
Some symptoms of burnout are:
- Loss of enjoyment
- Increased irritability
These are just a handful of symptoms. I picked these on purpose because I especially noticed these symptoms while looking back at my burnout journal. I wonder if you'll be able to notice the same symptoms while reading my journal entries.
Let's not wait any longer and get started!
At the end of 2018, I entered a very busy period. Allow me to give you some context:
I work an office job as an engineer. More specifically, I work at a big contractor in the field of offshore & marine engineering. You may have noticed how the North Sea is quickly seeing a lot of development of offshore wind farms. This market is currently booming, and the demand for construction projects is rising sharply.
Naturally, my employer wants to have a piece of that cake. So my colleagues and I are running around the office trying to make beautiful plans that can convince our potential clients to award these construction projects to us.
These plans are always created under the following conditions:
- Not enough time
- A strict deadline (if you're a minute too late, your effort goes to the special filing cabinet a.k.a. the trashcan)
- Not enough info
- Not enough capacity/resources
At the start of December, I noticed that my workload at the office was getting a bit too heavy, perhaps... That's when I started to slowly feel burned out.
I want to show you how I journaled about this burned out feeling.
My journal during my burnout
This post is about my burnout journal, and what I've learned from it. Naturally, I should show you exactly what I wrote in my journal, so you can see what was going on in my head at the time.
Let's start with the first day. This is when I first started to notice how this heavy workload was influencing my happiness.
Date: 6 December 2018
Happiness rating: 7.75
Strange day. I was EXTREMELY productive at work. I don't think I ever did this much in a single day.
But right after work, I felt on edge. Like, really stressed out and feeling a very high pressure on my mind and body. Why? I don't really know, but it was a pretty shitty feeling.
I picked up my girlfriend after work, we had McDonald's for dinner (whoops) and just relaxed. I actually took a long shower, and just sat on the floor feeling the hot water pour down. It felt pretty hypnotizing, just what I needed.
Went to a friend afterward and just spend the entire evening on the couch talking about websites. Hopefully, this website of mine will continue to grow...
As you can see, this is where I first noticed the cracks. How?
- I normally never spend more than 10 minutes under the shower. This day, I just sat there for 30 minutes, doing nothing but noticing the hot water on my body.
- I noticed a lot of mental pressure after work
I was still happy though, as I rated my happiness with a 7.75 on a scale from 1 to 10.
Before diving further into any details, let's continue with the next burnout journal entry.
Date: 10 December 2018
Happiness rating: 8.00
A normal day, like many other normal days. A bit more relaxed and a bit less stressful.
But I keep having the same feelings. Is it a burnout? Maybe? Probably? I don't really know what to think of it. I feel like I'm constantly planning ahead, going from one objective to the other. My mind is always thinking about the next 10 steps, and I find it hard to take a step back and just peace out for a while. It's fucking hard sometimes.
I don't really feel that excited anymore, to be honest. I think I need a break. Some time to just relax, without having to worry about the future. Not just work, but also a lot of other small shit.
I think I overdid it a little in 2018. I mean, look at my holiday to Vietnam... It was madness (hindsight speaking). Hopefully, I'll be able to recharge during Christmas.
My girlfriend had dinner with some friends, so I had the entire evening to myself. Went out for a 5k run straight after work, which went well! Cooked dinner, worked on my website (there it is again.....) and played some games. Battlefield 5 is a total letdown so far...
Went to bed at 22:00 - trying to be smart and all - but eventually laid awake untill 0:00. For fuck's sake, why can't I just sleep? This is becoming an issue, especially since I set my alarm at 05:45 nowadays due to the job...
At this time, I was still pretty happy. I rated my happiness with an 8.00, which I consider to be very nice.
But I still noticed a feeling of burnout. The things that would normally make me happy didn't work anymore, because my mind was constantly worried about what I still had to do.
It felt like there was a dark cloud hanging above me, that could start pouring down on me at any moment. I was basically in sprint mode and needed to reach the finish line.
The real trouble started when I tried to be smart and went to bed relatively early. I tried to sleep, but when I couldn't get my mind to rest, I started stressing out about the lack of sleep that would send further down the burnout spiral.
It didn't have a big impact on my happiness yet, but I knew this was only a matter of time.
Date: 17 December 2018
Happiness rating: 8.00
A pretty good day, actually. Very busy at work, still, but did a lot again. But there's still a LOT more that I need to do this last week before the Christmas break. I am counting down the days...
Spent another 1 hour stuck in traffic, which really sucked. But luckily, I was able to pick it up again back home. I went for a run, which was nice, cooked dinner, showered and wrapped all the Christmas presents. The rest of the night was just relaxing: playing guitar and gaming.
I was tempted to drink a couple of beers to wind down but managed to say no. I'm afraid that it will turn into a coping mechanism or something. If I drink alcohol now, what wouldn't I do it more often? I can probably think of a reason any day. Anyway, going to bed now, tomorrow's another busy day...
This is another interesting journal entry because it clearly shows my thought process. This day was very busy again, just like any other day during this period. My mind was constantly worrying about the things I still had to do in order to reach my deadlines. This made it extremely difficult to relax and calm down.
The urge to just drink a couple of beers to numb my mind was very tempting... Luckily, I managed to say no, but the cracks in my mind were starting to show.
Date: 18 December 2018
Happiness rating: 6.50
Fuck me. Work was tough. Sleep deprivation and headaches. A feeling of pressure in my head.
I luckily managed to get home in time in order to squeeze in a short run. My girlfriend and I spent the rest of the evening on the couch. She fell asleep quite early so I tried to play some games to clear my head. Unfortunately, I still think Battlefield 5 is a terrible game. Tried to get to sleep after but failed again. Too many thoughts racing around in my head and it's driving me nuts. I need a break. 3 more days to go...
This day was definitely influenced by my work. The constant worrying and heavy workload were affecting my happiness.
Just like the previous nights, I was finding it really difficult to fall asleep. I couldn't find inner peace, and my mind kept worrying about the big list of things that I had on my plate.
I was counting down the days till the Christmas break. I was longing for this break, and I really hoped I could find some of my inner peace again during these days off.
Date: 21 December 2018
Happiness rating: 7.50
I survived the last day at work. YES! Arrived at the office at 06:30 and was finished at 17:30. It was a busy but extremely productive day. And most importantly, I survived. This madness will unfortunately commence again after the Christmas break, but for now, I don't want to think about that.
I finally have 9 days of rest. I love it.
I hope I don't get sick like I so often do when I finally get a bit of rest. Had dinner at my girlfriend's parents, drove home and crashed on our couch. Just watched Netflix the entire evening and went for an hour-long walk together. We should really do that more often.
This was the final day of a very busy period, as my office closed for 9 days during for Christmas and New Years Eve. It was just a temporary break, though, as the projects were not yet finished. The deadlines were still set in January, so I knew the chaos would continue again in the new year.
But for now, I was just really happy to have made it to this Christmas break without completely losing my mind.
As I expected, the madness continued in the new year right away, after a pretty "challenging" NYE. Despite feeling extremely tired and exhausted, I had trouble falling asleep again. I lied awake until after midnight, which was extremely frustrating.
Date: 2 January 2019
Happiness rating: 6.00
As expected, today was meh. Woke up 07:30 with my girlfriend but felt miserable. I was actually afraid I would fall asleep behind the wheel on my way to work. I felt like a zombie and thought I was going to faint or black out or something. Luckily, that didn't happen.
I forced myself to be an extravert at work. I introduced a new colleague to our department and showed him around a bit. But there was not a lot of time since my deadlines are still there... The next 10 days are going to be madness probably. My brain feels like a pudding at the moment.
As usual these days, I was exhausted when I got home. I'm just tired. I'm noticing more nervous traits, twitches and muscle vibrations as well. Fucking annoying...
As you might guess, that wasn't exactly how I wanted to start in 2019. That next day was luckily much better!
Date: 3 January 2019
Happiness rating: 7.25
I finally slept again this night. And it feels like I'm living in a different world. Went to bed at 22:00 or something. Woke up at 5:30 thinking "Fuck, I'm probably wide awake again at midnight". But it was already 05:30! Nice! So I woke up and got to work.
Today went exactly as it should have, meaning that I did everything that I had to do to reach my deadlines. I was extremely productive, which feels nice for once.
Spent the night with my girlfriend, walking around the block, playing a little Battlefield (which is getting more fun) and went for a run. I took it easy and only ran 5 km. And now I feel good. I'm going to continue working on my laptop until I absolutely feel tired as hell, since I don't want to lie awake in bed anymore.
(later that night:)
Here I am again... It's 03:30 and I can't sleep. I tried for a long time, with music, without music, tried a lot of exercises but nothing worked. I even got white flashes in front of my eyes again. So fucking weird. Got out at 01:45 to go for a walk again. I ended walking for 6 km and now that I'm back it's 03:30. And I'm still afraid to go back to bed, so I'm going to try and make use of my time. Tomorrow is going to be hell. January is turning out to be pretty awful already. What the fuck man. I feel pretty desperate... It's 04:00 now, gonna try to sleep again.
This was my biggest struggle during this burnout: finding peace of mind.
Work had never been this busy, and here I was, not being able to get my much-needed rest. I honestly felt desperate for some sleep, which only made me more stressed.
It was a vicious circle which I didn't manage to break:
- I know I need my sleep, so I go to bed early and try to do everything right
- I can't sleep because I can't get the thoughts in my head to stop rushing around
- Now I'm stressed out because I know how much I need my sleep
- The stress in my head only increases
- Repeat this loop for a couple of times, and WHOOPS it's already 03:30...
This struggle continued during these first 10 days in January. It resulted in quite some bad days, unfortunately.
Date: 9 January 2019
Happiness rating: 5.00
Worked from 06:00 untill 19:00. Add another 90 minutes in traffic and there's not a lot of time left at the end of the day, eh? I'm way too busy at the moment, but I'm finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel. I'm gonna reach those fucking deadlines. It won't be my absolute best, but I bet everybody will still be quite impressed. They better be...
Booked the holidays with my girlfriend this evening (10 days to Bosnia!), just relaxed a bit and went to bed. Thank God I'm sleeping better now. I better be, since I feel ab-so-lu-te-ly broken.
This was one of the final days of this busy period. I was slowly nearing the completion of my projects and was going to make my deadlines. It was a tough push to reach the deadlines, but the finish line was finally in sight.
My happiness was severely affected by my restless mental state, though. So even though I still managed to pull it together in the office, my overall life was looking much worse.
You see, in the end, I don't really care about my performance at work. It's my own happiness that I worry about most. Or at least, that's what I should.
Date: 10 January 2019
Happiness rating: 7.00
Today was chaos again. But it was actually good. I managed to do a lot and finished EVERYTHING. For fuck's sake, FINALLY. It's over. It'll be alright. PFEW.
Went home to relax and cook dinner. My girlfriend was exhausted as well, so just spent the evening running, gaming, making music and relaxing on my laptop. It was actually just what I needed. I still felt stressed and on-edge after work, especially on my way back due to the intense traffic. But overall, today was a good day again!
This was the final day of the chaos for me. I finished all my shit a couple of days prior to the deadline, which actually left my team with quite a bit of spare time to tie up loose ends. It was an enormous relief and I hoped I would quickly refind my inner peace.
Date: 11 January 2019
Happiness rating: 5.00
Got a call from my mom this morning, our dog Braska has passed away 🙁
It was pretty good at work. I finally had a non-productive day, and it was looooovely. I left early in the afternoon and planned to just relax the rest of the day. But it all went to shit once I got home.
I had ZERO energy, felt annoyed and restless. I tried to go for a run, but only managed to run 3 km. My head wasn't in it. Spent the rest of the night feeling frustrated. Picked up my girlfriend from the train station at night and, for some reason, it only got worse. Just went to bed at 23:30 with a lot of pressure on my head...
When I was 13 years old, my parents got a german shepherd puppy and called her Braska. She was 13 years old on the day that she passed from old age, which was obviously sad news for the family.
Luckily, I didn't have to be on top of my game at work anymore. I actually spent the entire day in the office cleaning up my shit, tidying up my emails, and managing a couple of loose ends. I was actually not productive at all, and I LOVED it. I really needed it, after having survived the most chaotic period at work in my career.
But when I got home, I still felt the influence of my burnout: no energy, agitated and no desire to do anything. You can read it from my journal entry. I didn't even want to write it out completely. I slacked off my burnout journal entry and just went to bed.
Date: 12 January 2019
Happiness rating: 6.00
Finally a day off again, because it's the weekend. My girlfriend and I visited a holiday-fair today. Even though I felt semi-sick and had headaches again, we still went for it. But it wasn't a success. It was super crowded, and we left again after being there for only an hour because we both felt quite overwhelmed.
We had dinner at our friends this evening. We don't see each other often, so it's normally pretty fun to connect again. But for some reason, I couldn't really stand it. I felt agitated and under pressure. I really just wanted to isolate myself, to have a bit of rest. To shut myself in a room without being bothered by anybody. It calmed down after a while, but it still bugged me.
I need to take it easier...
This is where I noticed the lasting effects of my burnout. Even though I had a day off and no deadlines to worry about, my mind was still exhausted from the rush. This would normally be a great day since I got to spend quality time with my girlfriend and friends.
But I was just not in it. I couldn't cope with being around others and just wanted to lock myself in a room. It's quite shocking actually, but that's really how I felt at the time.
I initially thought this would go away as soon as I reached my deadlines. But I was wrong. This period of feeling restless and anxious continued for a couple of days. Luckily, I managed to keep quiet at work and enjoyed a couple of easy and unproductive days. It was just what I needed.
Date: 20 January 2019
Happiness rating: 8.00
Finally had a couple of easy and relaxing days. I woke up at 09:30 feeling refreshed and well rested for once. Went for a nice walk with my girlfriend and enjoyed a lovely Sunday breakfast.
Went for a 12 km run in the afternoon, which was amazing. It's freezing cold, but the weather is actually beautiful. Nothing but blue skies. I really love these runs through the woods.
I made sure to really relax the rest of my day. Take things slow for once. Hell, my girlfriend and I actually watched an episode of Pokemon together lol. It's nice to have time to just breathe again. I love it.
I finally got out of this hectic period 45 days after entering the chaos.
This was the first day during which I was finally able to just breathe again, without feeling anxious about my state of mind. I was able to enjoy a long run again and just relaxed. This is my typical "boring" and uneventful life, but it's exactly what I love.
What I've learned from my burnout journal
See, I don't need to be constantly productive, on the road, or running around in order to be happy.
In fact, I am happiest when I can just relax, play the guitar, spend good time with my girlfriend and go for a run once in a while. These are the things that make me happy.
So what have I learned from journaling during my burnout?
That's the question I want to answer here. To answer this question specifically, I will list things that I need to start, continue and stop.
I want to start:
- Saying NO more often at work
- Relaxing more
- Sleeping better
- Meditating prior to going to bed
I want to continue:
- Spending quality time with my girlfriend!
- Spending time with my friends and family!
- To go for runs or long walks with my girlfriend
I want to stop:
- Stressing over stuff that I can't influence (like traffic, weather, etc)
- Setting too ambitious goals (both personally and professionally)
- Working on and worrying about this website so much
TLDR: I need to take things MUCH slower.
As I said, I don't need to constantly be busy in order to be happy. I find happiness in the small and seemingly meaningless stuff in life, like running or quietly sipping coffee with my girlfriend or playing guitar.
But that's just me.
You might read this and think: "Ughh what a lame and boring person".
I won't blame you. We are all different. The fact is that what makes me happy doesn't necessarily have to make you happy.
And that's why I want to invite you to start tracking your own happiness. Especially if you're also experiencing symptoms of a burnout!
If you want to start tracking your happiness in your own happiness journal, then you can use my templates right away (for free!).
All the data that I show in this article is created by my happiness journal! Before you know it, you'll be able to look back on your own happiness journal and learn invaluable lessons from it as well!
Get access to all my templates & stay up to date!
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Who runs Tracking Happiness?
My name is Hugo, and I'm from the Netherlands. I have a Bachelor's Degree in Engineering, a passion for data and statistical analysis and am an expert in happiness.
I've tracked my happiness every day for 5 years in a row. And I'm now using my knowledge to inspire you to prioritize your happiness. You see, I'm a strong believer in what gets measured gets managed. I want to show you what I - and many others - have learned while tracking our happiness.
My Happiness Essays have reached thousands of people around the world and have been shared in many places.
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