Burnout, Not Paradise


So, yeah.
The last few months have been pretty darn busy. Hobby-life, work-life, personal-life, everything seemed to peak right about the end of February. I’ll be honest. I’m feeling pretty tired. I may even be feeling, dare I say it: burned-out.

Well, not full-on “burned-out” I don’t think. That’s actually a pretty major state of affairs. Still, I’m starting to notice some warning signs and I’ve had trouble bringing 100% of my power to bear on any task lately, be it was work or at home.

Now, the advice I’m about to give is not based on any particular professional expertise. Indeed, I’m about as layman as they come. But, I am someone who has worked himself to the point where I had to take a stress-induced leave from work so I thought I’d share some of the signs I watch for with regards to my emotional health.

Know Your Symptoms, Know Yourself
While there are commonly accepted symptoms of burnout, I find it important to be aware of my personal quirks and behaviors and to specifically recognize certain behaviors as warning signs.

Since a lot of my job is about problem-solving (both after-the-fact and preemptively), I’m used to having lots of ideas for how I can solve a problem. When I’m at my best, I can usually come up with several potential solutions to problems at work after brief reflection. When I’m starting to burnout, that flow of ideas slows to a trickle, if not stopping all together. I don’t seem to have trouble identifying problems at that stage however. So, if I find myself identifying lots of problems without being able to provide potential solutions along with them, I have a strong sign that I’m beginning to fray.

Usually, I really like working on games. I find it energizing. Sure, there are times when the work is just tiring, but that’s the exception, not the rule. And it never happens for extended periods of time. Unless I’m starting to burn-out. If I look back over the last week of game dev and can’t think of a single instance in which I had fun while working, then I know it’s time to give myself some extra care.

One corollary to the above is that, even when I’m overall exhausted with work, crises are still “fun”, or at least temporarily energizing. Even if work is a slog and I’m running on emotional fumes, I still find it easy to gear up to deal with a sudden crisis (ex. The publisher’s build is broken! We need a bugfix quick!) But, that crisis-time energy boost is quick to dissipate and can leave me feeling just as empty, if not more so, afterwards. I generally don’t count these crisis moments as being satisfied with work since they are effectively emotional junk-food for me.

On a more physical level, I try to stay aware of signs that my body is reacting to emotional exhaustion. If I start putting on weight and developing acne, chances are I’m starting to react negatively to the current stress levels in my life. Like many, I find that my sleeping habits tend to change once I become overwhelmed. For me, my warning sign isn’t sleeplessness. I tend to sleep MORE as I become stressed but I find myself feeling LESS rested in the morning despite the extra time spent in bed.

While all of this may not pertain directly to game development per se, I think it is worthwhile to keep one’s own emotional and physical well-being in mind while engaging in an activity as engrossing as game development. People who tend towards game dev are a peculiar breed, we are truly passionate about what we do and we are prone to overdoing it if left unchecked. Being aware of how you personally react to stress and knowing when you’re getting overwhelmed are your first line of defense against burning out.

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