In recent news, Taiwanese-Canadian actor Godfrey Gao collapsed and died after filming a gruelling 17-hour shift at a Chinese variety show.
Death by overwork, or as the Japanese like to call it, karoshi, is unfortunately a grim side effect of capitalism and its relentless pursuit of profit.
Malaysians, apparently, are the most overworked and have the worst work-life balance according to this article by Business Insider.
As someone who works two jobs, I could relate to Godfrey Gao. Luckily (relatively speaking), rather than falling dead at my desk, I suffered burnout instead.
Here’s how it happened:
It Started With Gastritis
Earlier in September this year, I came down with terrible pains in my abdomen. I didn’t think much of it – after all, I ate on time, drank plenty of water, slept early every night. There shouldn’t be any medical concerns.
I thought it was just another bad case of ‘masuk angin’.
Then, the pain got so bad that I couldn’t sleep through the night. I went to the doctor, and after several questions and check-ups, he told me I had stress-induced gastritis.
Ah, so that was the cause. I took a day off work due to the pain, and even then I was thinking of all the work I had to complete.
You see, aside from a typical 9 to 5 office job, I had five clients I do freelance writing for on the side.
It’s no manual labor, but cranking out words and getting red-eyed at the laptop for the majority of the day did not fare well for my health.
The gastritis was a wake-up call, and I was grimly reminded that I need to put my health before my finances. After all, if I’m too sick to work, I don’t get paid.
I’ve had a couple of burnouts before, but this was by far the worst. Here are some ways I learnt to take care of myself.
1. Learn to Say ‘No’
Not every new client or assignment needs to be handled by me. It took a long while for me to learn this, but it was also the most important thing to do for my own good.
Learn to tell your manager that you already are swamped this week with tasks, and ask for it to be delegated to someone else.
This may not be applicable to every workplace, but where it’s possible, do speak up.
If you work freelance like me, remember that you have the right to reject a job. That’s part of being a freelancer.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew, or you’ll compromise your work quality.
2. Rest Properly on an Off Day
I rarely ever get off days, because weekends are often the time for me to catch up on my freelance workload.
However, when I do get the rare weekend with no work at all, I make sure to pamper myself to the fullest.
I sleep in without an alarm, order some nicer food online, take my time with the chores and basically just have the whole day to myself.
If I felt like it, I would even get a full-body massage or have my nails done. These are the days when I become an absolute couch potato, but that’s fine.
After all, these days are few and rare in between!
3. Keep One Hour Every Other Day for Yourself
Cleaning chores will always be waiting for you, but taking care of yourself is not. Learn to make some time for yourself to relax before you go back into the daily hustle.
Once you’ve reached home from work, take between 30 minutes to an hour to unwind.
Scroll Facebook, read comics, watch videos, or do anything else without checking your email or messages.
If you have work that you need to rush that day, then take this break on the following day. Try to do this at least once every two or three days to give yourself a small break time.
4. Eat Healthy
I neither have the time, energy nor the motivation to work out – not after working for an entire day. So, the alternative way to take care of myself was to eat healthy.
It was tempting to just get some quick fix – instant noodles, breads and biscuits for lunch, but I made it a point to get one of those Genting Garden Artisan Salad Bowls, along with some sliced fruit if I really was in a rush.
When it comes to cooking, I make the simplest supplements possible – soups. Chicken soups, ABC soup and so on.
Still too busy?
Try some black bean soup instead – just throw in lots of black beans and some chicken meat or pork bone. The recipe I go for is by Lew from Malaysianmom – for that authentic Malaysian taste.
It can’t get any simpler than that!
5. Join a Support Group
I rarely meet up with people outside of work, because there’s always pending work just waiting to be completed.
So, I resorted to online resources when I need any form of support.
For me, the Facebook group Subtle Asian Women served as a wholesome support group.
Everyone is supportive of each other there and we encourage each other to strive for the best.
Even outside of the group, I especially enjoyed 7cups and blahtherapy.
There’s a weird sense of comfort in ranting your heart out to a complete stranger, no strings attached, and these platforms let you rant to trained listeners, completely free of charge.
6. Health is Wealth
Sure, everything in this list is easier said than done. After all, I have been working two jobs since my graduation and I have only realized the importance of taking care of myself when my stomach acted up.
It could have been much worse!
Thankfully, I have recovered after taking all the medicine and rest that I needed. Now, I just need to pace myself properly amidst my tasks, and learn to put myself first before my jobs.
I even shared my story with the girls in Subtle Asian Women as a gentle reminder for them to take care of themselves first!
Do you have any stories about career burnout? Share them in the comments below!
For more articles on how to be more mindful about your work/life balance, read Forget Perfection, Live a Purposeful Life Instead. Here’s How to Start and Stress, and How to Handle It – by Raja Jesrina Arshad, Co-Founder & CEO of PurelyB.