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When is there too much stress?

A burnout is referred to as a ‘death by a thousand cuts’. So there is never one thing that will push you over the edge. It’s always a combination. A cocktail.
Let’s start with a few quotes from people who had a burnout. This might not resonate with you directly because you may not feel like this. But this is to give you a grasp of how it feels when it’s been too much.

“It’s not just having too much to do, it’s having committed to doing more than you know you have time for. It’s committing to things you know at the time you won’t be able to get to, but another voice in your head says, ‘I’ll make it work somehow.’”
“Different people manifest burnout in different ways, but I think for all of us, it’s some variety of a shutdown,” she says. Parts of your personality start to contract. Your range of expression shrinks. Your world view narrows.”
“Suddenly without direction, I started feeling more and more disconnected. My work was no longer motivating, and it became harder and harder to stay focused. I felt like I was failing – like I should be able to make things work, but for some reason, I couldn’t.”
“I wasn’t overworked, but I was exhausted all the time. I couldn’t concentrate on my work – even simple tasks like responding to emails felt monumental. I was only able to work at a mere fraction of what I knew I was capable of. Things that used to be easy were almost impossible. I was plagued with insomnia, and found myself forgetting meals. My creativity had vanished – I could barely even respond to emails, let alone design a product.”
“Joyful activities, like playing with my infant daughter, suddenly felt like an obligation and a chore.”

So I hope this helps you grasp how you might feel when it’s already too much. If you feel like ‘omg this is me’, that is a red flag…

After a lot of reading and talking to people, I made a list of red flags that kept popping up:
Symptoms you can look for by yourself (this is really different for everybody and therefore not list you can cross off)
It’s hard to concentrate over a longer period of time
Irritated and agitated (easily)
Emotional (more than normal, often on moments you don’t expect it)
Trouble sleeping (falling asleep but also sleeping through)
It’s hard to put things in perspective (it’s all big, heavy and important)
Low energy and not in the mood to do stuff (you would normally do)
You don’t enjoy things (starting with your work, but even your food might taste bad)
Depressing and anxious thoughts
Physical manifestations of stress: palpitations, hyperventilation, headaches, constipation
Trouble remembering stuff (you forget things more than usual)
Compulsive behaviour increases (addictions and ticks)

In your job you could look at the following:
Work-life balance: not working too much and really ‘tuning out’ when not working (no slack, mail or even Twitter with colleagues). Spending time with loved ones, investing in personal relationships and hobbies. Read more about why this is so important:
Being happy with (believing in) the direction the company is going. Do not underestimate how this effects you. Try speaking up if you feel like you are disconnected to the overall goals, beliefs, direction, mission and vision. Especially because it changes all the time.
After being ‘on your toes’ for a while, you have time to recover. Not having the ‘it’s never done or good enough’ feeling.
Good relationships with colleagues and team lead: having the feeling you can speak up and share doubts and/or troubles.
Influence and freedom in the work you do.
Feel that your work matters and has impact.
Working in a role that fits you (doing work you like and you are good at and work on things you love).

This is just an outline and it isn’t meant to be complete. We have a lot of different characters at Intempt, but we do attract a certain type of person. This person usually has a big feeling of responsibility and a big drive and ambition. This type of person in particular is vulnerable to stress:

“In a way it’s ironic that this problem plagues Type-A players the most. The people who want to do their best and accomplish the most end up limiting themselves unintentionally. In startup culture, this usually manifests in people trying to have peak performance at work while also going to all the social events and being great to their families at the same time. Then they’re hard on themselves for not getting perfect marks in every category. As soon as they meet their own bar, they raise it.”

Alright, so here we are: we now know we have a potentially dangerous environment (startup, fast paced, a lot of changes, a lot of freedom, not always clear structure) and we attract certain type of people: responsible, perfectionist, driven, ambitious and hard on themselves.


Yes, we can do something about it :)!

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