Stress or burnout? Writers can suffer from both.
by Ruth Harris
Look at your to-do list.
- WiP needs edits and revisions
- Editor/cover designer to hire
- Promo forms to fill out
- First draft to finish
- Get that new book/new series ready to launch
- The next-to-final draft need polishing
- Backlist covers need a refresh
- A box set waits for formatting and covers.
- An idea for a new series needs an outline
- Time to write a new book for an existing series
- Writing a newsletter for your pen name
- Writing a blurb / a blog post
- Analyzing results of AMS and FB ads
- Beta readers to be contacted
Now look at yourself.
- Snapping at colleagues, the strangers at the table next to you in a restaurant, the checkout clerk at the supermarket.
- Snarling at your dog who’s too afraid of your rotten moods to snarl back.
- Fighting with your spouse/roommate/bestie over…nothing.
- Can’t sleep.
- Can’t eat or you overeat.
- You’re losing/gaining weight.
- Productivity has slipped to zilch.
- You hate everyone.
- And everything.
- Including yourself.
We’re stressed out. Or are we burned out?
We feel like hamsters trapped on an endless wheel. We’re tired, crabby, frustrated, uninspired, and unmotivated. Our anxiety-meter has topped out and we’re not even running on fumes any more—we’re running on empty.
We talk about it among ourselves, moaning and bitching and rolling our eyes. Our sense of humor turns blacker and blacker.
We can—and do—complain about our plight but we’re paying real consequences, physically and emotionally. Our friends and family suffer the fallout. So does our work.
Stress and burnout are related but they are different although, according to experts, some of the signs and symptoms overlap. Whatever the specific definitions, stress and burnout reveal themselves with specific symptoms and are more dangerous than you might think.
Stress or burnout: how they’re different.
Stress is a condition of too much and is characterized by over engagement.
Too many demands, too much pressure. Your emotions are overactive and hyped up, you face too many demands on your time and energy, and feel barraged by unrelenting pressure. The consequences of stress are primarily physical: your pulse rate quickens, your heart pounds, but you still feel a glimmer of hope. You think that if you can just get everything under control, you’ll be OK again.
Burnout, a result of continual stress, is a condition of too little and is characterized by disengagement.
You feel empty, emotionally drained, and devoid of energy. Burnout reduces productivity and leaves you feeling helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Your motivation is gone, your creativity kaput. You feel detached and depressed, and as if you have nothing more to give.
The Mayo Clinic lists the common symptoms of stress
Stress symptoms can affect your body, thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Being able to recognize common stress symptoms can give you techniques for managing them.
Stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.
Common physical effects of stress
- Muscle tension or pain
- Chest pain
- Change in sex drive
- Stomach upset
- Sleep problems
Psychological effects of stress
- Lack of motivation or focus
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Irritability or anger
- Sadness or depression
Behavioral effects of stress
- Overeating or undereating
- Angry outbursts
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Tobacco use
- Social withdrawal
- Exercising less often
The Harvard health newsletter describes the symptoms of burnout.
Burnout, which can be a result of prolonged stress, is a gradual process. The signs and symptoms are subtle at first and can mirror those of stress. However, over time they become more severe and destructive.
Physical effects of burnout:
- Feeling tired and drained most of the time
- Lowered immunity, getting sick a lot
- Frequent headaches or muscle pain
- Change in appetite or sleep habits
Emotional signs and symptoms of burnout:
- Sense of failure and self-doubt
- Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated
- Detachment, feeling alone in the world
- Loss of motivation
- Increasingly cynical and negative outlook
- Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment
Behavioral effects of burnout:
- Withdrawing from responsibilities
- Isolating yourself from others
- Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done
- Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope
- Taking out your frustrations on others
Type A personalities and burnout.
Psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D explains that high achievers—Type A personalities—often experience burnout. She describes the early and later stages of burnout as follows:
In the early stages, you may lack energy and feel tired most days. In the latter stages, you feel physically and emotionally exhausted, drained, and depleted. You may even feel a sense of dread for what lies ahead on any given day.
In the early stages, you may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep one or two nights a week. In the latter stages, insomnia may turn into a persistent, nightly ordeal. As exhausted as you are, you can’t sleep.
Forgetfulness/impaired concentration and attention.
Lack of focus and mild forgetfulness are early signs. Later, the problems may get to the point where you can’t get your work done and everything begins to pile up.
Physical symptoms may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal pain, dizziness, fainting, and/or headaches. (All of these symptoms merit a medical evaluation.)
Because your body is depleted, your immune system becomes weakened. This makes you more vulnerable to infections, colds, flu, and other immune-related medical problems.
Loss of appetite.
In the early stages, you may not feel hungry and may skip a few meals. In the latter stages, you may lose your appetite all together and begin to lose a significant amount of weight.
Early on, you may experience mild symptoms of tension, worry, and edginess. As you move closer to burnout, the anxiety may become so serious that it interferes in your ability to work productively. It may also cause problems in your personal life.
In the early stages, you may feel mildly sad, occasionally hopeless, and you may experience feelings of guilt and worthlessness as a result. At its worst, you may feel trapped, severely depressed, and think the world would be better off without you.
(If your depression is at this point, you should seek professional help.)
At first, this may present as interpersonal tension and irritability. In the latter stages, this may turn into angry outbursts and serious arguments at home and in the workplace.
(If anger gets to the point where it turns to thoughts or acts of violence toward family or coworkers, people should get professional assistance.)
How to manage stress and avoid burnout.
Because the consequences of stress and burnout are serious and because so many of us feel overwhelmed and stressed out, recognizing the signs and symptoms is critical.
Learning how to manage stress and avoid burnout before it starts can save your marriage, your relationships, your job, and your career.
Next month (March 26, 2017), in Part Two of this series, I will turn to experts for advice about how to manage stress and burnout.
by Ruth Harris (@RuthHarrisBooks) February 26, 2017
What about you, scriveners? Are you suffering from stress or burnout? It’s so easy for writers to get stressed these days, since most of us have day jobs, and the job of being a writer involves so much more than actually writing. Do you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself or others?
This week on her book blog, Anne has another installment of her series on Poisoning People for Fun and Profit. This month it’s about the poisonous yew tree,.
BOOK OF THE WEEK
Because laughter is a great way to fight stress or burnout!
HUSBAND TRAINING SCHOOL (Strong, Savvy Women…And The Men Who Love Them Series, Book 3)
Robin Aguirre uses her Marine Corps know-how to help save other women’s marriages.
But will she ever find her own Mr. Right?
“Hilarious!” “Colorful characters, funny dialogue, and a quick pace.”
“Very well written, delightful and funny. Ms. Harris knows how to write humor.”
Available from All the Amazons
Creative Nonfiction magazine seeks TRUE personal stories or profiles about people starting over after a failure or setback. Up to 4000 words. Paying market. $3 submission fee. Deadline June 19, 2017
LitMag pays up to $1000 for short stories! $250 for poetry and short-shorts. No reprints. They don’t consider work that’s previously been published either in print or online (including personal blogs.)
The Wanderer: A Paying Market for poetry, book reviews and more: The Wanderer is a new monthly literary magazine.
Write non-fiction? Impakter Magazine is looking for non-fiction articles and interviews (1000-3000 words max) in 4 verticals: Culture, Society, Style, Philanthropy. Articles about politics are also welcome but need to meet the magazine’s standard of high-quality content. The magazine publishes daily (except week-end) and each piece attracts 10-40,000 viewers (in majority college-educated millennials). No submission fee.
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ROMANCE AUTHORS! Here’s a list of 31 small presses that specialize in romance and do not require an agent for submissions. Also compiled by the Authors Publish Newsletter.
25 PUBLISHERS YOU CAN SUBMIT TO WITHOUT AN AGENT. These are respected, mostly independent publishing houses–vetted by the great people at Authors Publish. Do check out their newsletter