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Lost in the Everfree - Self care and spotting burnout.

Lost in the Everfree - Self care and spotting burnout.

So you find yourself deep in the forest, everything around you seems to be magically thriving of its own accord. The whole remarkable sometimes dark and mysterious ecosystem just keeps on growing, changing and going through its natural cycles. Except you. Stuck in the middle of it all. You are worn out and you're no longer sure you are still in going in the right direction anymore (despite having a map). That or you are completely stopped, ground to a halt. You know you have to go on but you just feel like you can't.

What happened? You had a plan going in? Other smart Daring types have entered this forest before and have emerged victorious.

How it did come to this?

I am alluding to how some of you (and I) feel as tech people when we are burned out but failed to spot the warning signs we were heading towards it. 

Truth is though while we are always pushing to be building better and faster there is one part of the process we are sometimes forgetting to maintain and give attention to. Ourselves.

Be it your site reliability people, product team, testers or developers we are all running at a furious pace so we can perform our part for the team to keep the deploys rolling out.

You need to take care of yourself and have your own scheduled maintenance lest you wind up slipping into to bad habits, poor decision making and eventually burnout. 

I'm bad at this but i'm learning. It's my hope sharing my recent reflections will be of some benefit and or we can start a conversation together about this.  I know i'm not alone in my struggle with balance and self care by a long shot. So. 

First of all how often do you give yourself a regular health audit? There is a great 'how to' post by blue hackers  which I revisit often. Despite feeling like a savvy and organised person it never fails to amaze me through the pace of work / life how the basics of self care can slip.

When these things start to fall by the wayside it's time to rethink things. Being good at spotting deviations from your normal routines and practises of self care will really help avoid winding up in burnout territory. So what kind of things am I / the blue hackers post talking about? 

  1. Awareness of your work life balance and your schedule for both work and fun/relaxation.
  2. The home and work environments and how you keep them.
  3. Your diet. Getting the right food, hydration and watching the refined sugar, caffeine, wine and beer intake.
  4. Understanding your levels of stress, fatigue and knowing your triggers. 
  5. Exercise and quality sleep. 
  6. Seeing triggers fire or signs of brain buzz, being forgetful, moody, anxiety, over personalising things, imposter syndrome. Are there some obvious red flags already up you haven't noticed?

You are not weak or sub standard engineer if one or all of these things is starting to show up wanting. It really happens to us all. Ill say this much, some companies in our industry have taught us all some seriously unhealthy attitudes to work/life balance.

I grew up in a professional environment where output was sustained by insane amounts of coffee, red bull and weekend partying as a means to blow off steam. It took a talking too with a doctor to realise this isn't at all sustainable or normal and the productivity you think you have isn't quality and its using you as the fuel for the fire.

Things are much different now days. Im fortunate enough to work with and for people who care as much about me and my mental health and wellbeing as they do their results. They understand why it matters as I strongly suspect they too were a product of the same environment and expectations in which I started my career. 

So if you are noticing things start to slip take some time out and decide if you can fix the things that are giving you trouble or you want to reach out for some help. Its entirely personal and up to you. This is not a quiet moments reflecting over things between Halo ranked matches and a nice 10.30pm double shot espresso (Remember those days? Were they just last week?). This means actually taking time out over a weekend or a small holiday to really think this stuff through. 

Be ready to take some time to go for a walk with someone, maybe a coffee and just talk it through. It can be this kind of rubber duck debugging for people that can help you really realise its time for a check up or maybe even to talk to a mental health professional. By the time you have short list of small tweaks to any of the aspect of your own self care I guarantee you will already start to feel a ray of sunshine breaking through the tree line. 

The other critical thing I have had to learn and re learn again and again is the importance of actually having leave booked and having plans for it. If you do not have a scheduled break to look forward to there is nothing but forest in front of you. You may not have made it through yet but time out is as good as checking our map against a GPS. 

When you look at your GPS you can check up your idea of where you are at, where you are headed and indeed if you are still taking the smartest route to get there. My own personal goal this weekend is to project the amount of leave I have have this year and break it into pockets of small holidays and events I will have charted as way points. 

Burnout is a terrible place to be. Love and respect yourself enough regularly check up on  routines of self care and balance. 

I hope this post finds you well and your spending your weekend dreaming up your next adventure when you get to other side of the forest. 

Mental health is a huge subject and largely one that should ideally be talked about with your support network of close friends, doctors and or mental health professionals. If you are in a bad place be it burn out, anxiety, depression and find yourself in crisis do not ever hesitate to ask for help.

In New Zealand we have Lifeline if you have an immediate need to reach out. Contact by phone Auckland (09 5222 999) or elsewhere in New Zealand (0800 543 354).