About four years ago, in late 2014, Nida Sahar, a computer engineer based in Bengaluru, started to feel a lack of interest in her work. Every morning, she felt fatigued, didn’t want to get out of bed and go to work. At work, she would become anxious faced with the tasks she had to do and would head to the bathroom to cry. “I felt like I was wasting my life on things that didn’t matter. I wanted to win awards, to excel at my work, but I felt too tired and felt like I wasn’t going to achieve much in life," says the 32-year-old. Much as she tried, she couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong.

When the feeling didn’t go away for a month, Sahar consulted a psychologist and found that she was experiencing the classic symptoms of a burnout. “I was too emotionally attached to my work environment and was a workaholic. All my happiness was attached to achievements in my job," she says, “so much so, that I had forgotten how to live."

Burnout is a syndrome that results from chronic stress at work and can happen to anyone. Sessions with her psychologist made Sahar realize that she couldn’t go on like this—she needed a break. She broached the subject with her senior manager and was surprised at the support. “He had gone through the same thing early in his career. Taking time off would help, he assured me," she says.

Personal stress busters

A recent study released earlier in 2018 by management consulting firm, Gallup, of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23% of them reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes. In high-stress environments, what matters the most, according to the study, is to be social, have supportive relationships and keep in good health through exercise and enough sleep.

To de-stress, you need what Kedar Tilwe, psychiatrist, Hiranandani Hospital in Mumbai, calls personal stress-busters. “Be it a playlist or a physical activity like running or a hobby that works for you, do something that’s not about your job," he says. The reason for this is that in the daily grind of doing your job, chasing deadlines and constantly working, you forget the reasons you are doing the job.

Chartered accountant Ankit Sharma, 25, experienced a loss of purpose in a high-pressure job early in 2016. “At work I didn’t have anyone to talk to, I would go for lunch alone, take breaks alone," says Sharma. The extended hours—up to 12 hours a day—and the indifference of his colleagues led him to feel like he would never be happy again. A break-up from a five-year relationship didn’t help. He had a breakdown and had to leave his job. In the middle of 2016, he moved back to his home town, Jaipur, and started his own chartered accountancy consultancy. He has never looked back since then.

“It’s good to stop every once in a while and remind yourself of your aims and goals to reinforce your decision so you remain motivated," says Dr Tilwe. If a job doesn’t work, quit, do something else. It’s just a job. Keep a clear mind, establish your priorities and remember that there’s a life beyond your work, he advises.

Neelesh Hundekari de-stresses through regular breaks, classical music. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Neelesh Hundekari de-stresses through regular breaks, classical music. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

Make the most

You definitely need to have more to you and your life than your job and job title, says Neelesh Hundekari, 50, partner, AT Kearney, a global management consulting company. “If your entire happiness depends on your job, that’s a recipe for disaster as there will be ups and downs in any profession." Hundekari speaks from experience. Over the 18 years that he has been in the stressful consulting business, he has developed a strategy that helps him avoid the burnout, in spite of leading a hectic life which includes long weekdays and frequent domestic travel.

The first rule he has made for himself is that his weekends are sacrosanct. He spends time with his family, a group of old school friends and practices classical music on weekends. Then there are regular breaks every quarter, which helps him de-stress. “As a family, we take four vacations during the year and talk and share a lot," he says. Regular breaks away from the job, a close network of old friends and hobbies together form his stress busters that allow him to face clients positively during the week. “I avoid early morning flights, sleep well, relax with my family and through hobbies and all this, make sure I keep going with my job, which bring me happiness too," he says, adding that he hopes to continue to do the same till he’s 75.

In addition, keeping his body in shape has helped Hundekari tide through the stressful times. Along with proper sleep, he makes sure he goes to his gym four times a week. A 2015 study from the University of New England in Australia, found that exercise increases well-being while reducing stress and burnout.

Reflecting on her early career, Sahar feels she had the burnout coming. For the first five years of her career, every morning she would leave for work at seven and get back home at nine in the night, only to login to work again. When she experienced the burnout, she was putting somewhere between 65-85 hours a week, without a break, with a negligible social life or hobbies. “I had been planning my life around work, rather than seeing work as part of my life," she says.

Four years on, now a co-founder for a startup in Bengaluru, Sahar has consciously led a more balanced life. After working hours are over, she leaves the laptop in her office, socializes with her cousins, goes for movies, reads books and swims regularly.

Don’t be burnt-out

It’s easy to forget the reasons you chose the job in the first place. Remind yourself of your aims and goals in life and how this job will help you get there.

Anticipate deadlines and start early. Even half an hour more in the morning can help you deal with most things that are stressing you out. Anticipate deadlines at work and plan accordingly, so you’re not overwhelmed.

Work will never be over. Keep a clear mind, establish your priorities and focus on the essential tasks. Once they’re over, get out.

Get physical. Exercise reduces stress and stimulates endorphins, the chemicals that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.

Learn to say no. It’s okay to take a break and not take on too much on your plate.

Find some stress busters. Be it a hobby or a playlist, do something that’s not your job and keep a work-life balance.

If you feel like you’re moving through every day in a daze, without engagement and can’t find a solution, don’t be afraid to reach out to professionals or family.

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