Photo: iStockphotoStress is something Joan Borysenko knows something about. She's a Harvard-trained biologist and author of the new book Fried: Why You Burn Out and How to Revive. For 10 nonstop years, she juggled completing her clinical research, running a working farm (yes, that meant feeding chickens), raising two kids, writing a book and running 25 miles a week. In her two free minutes each evening, she secretly smoked cigarettes behind a tree in her front yard. Then came the back pain. After that, a scary feeling that she was sleepwalking through her life, immune even to her kids' excitement about riding their new pony through the woods.
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She, the stress expert, was at the point of nonfunction.
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Borysenko was a perfect example of how trying to do more than you can do for too long can result in a host of problems: emotional exhaustion (say, feeling numb inside when you know you'd normally feel happy or sad), recurring physical effects (back pain, constant colds, headaches) and a sense of spiritual emptiness that leaves you isolated from others.
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This state can look a lot like depression. In fact, it might be easier to think of yourself as depressed; you can seek treatment from a doctor for that. Recent research, however, has found that although both result in a loss of motivation and pleasure, if you're burnt out, you can usually reclaim your everyday happiness-from taking great delight in a piece of crispy morning bacon to enjoying your hours at work or as a parent-once you make some fundamental changes. So the question is, How fried are you and what do you need to do about it?
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