Burnout at work can be a debilitating condition. Feelings of exhaustion and helplessness are common, along with increasingly negative feelings about one’s job. Needless to say, this could affect your career adversely, but more importantly, it can impact your mental health. Let’s talk about how to recover from burnout.
What is burnout?
You may not be able to receive an official medical diagnosis for burnout, but it is widely accepted as a “syndrome”, and as WHO explains, “conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.”
Burnout can affect everything from your physical to emotional and mental wellbeing. It can affect your behaviours, leading to substance abuse, and can make you feel drained, and constantly stressed by even the smallest of tasks.
This directly affects productivity and leaves you in a state of being overwhelmed. With such persistently negative feelings, it’s common for sufferers of burnout to lose motivation, and for their careers to falter.
But this is where it gets messy. Burnout isn’t isolated to your workplace. Like an infection, it can spread into other parts of your life, including your home, and can affect your relationships with people — and even hobbies you used to enjoy that you now feel like you’re too exhausted to pursue.
Not to mention the negative consequences of burnout on your health. For starters, it can wreak havoc on your immune system, and also cause insomnia, fatigue, high blood pressure, unusual mood swings, type II diabetes, heart disease, and more, including chronic anxiety.
You may be thinking that all of this sounds scary — and yes, we admit, it is — but the important thing to remember is that it’s never too late to overcome burnout!
“Am I burned out?”
The first step to recovering from burnout is to identify if what you’re experiencing is, in fact, burnout. Let’s make a quick two-part list together. Take a pen or open up a document on your device and try answering these questions with us.
The first part involves identifying how many of the risk factors you’ve been exposed to.
A. Causes of burnout
1. Have you been feeling out of control at work? If so, for how long?
2. Has there been a sudden or heavy shift in your workload? Are you working longer hours?
3. Has there been a disruption in the workplace dynamics? (E.g., discomfort around a certain coworker; you’ve come under new management, etc.)
4. Have you been struggling to maintain a work-life balance? Do you feel you have no time away from work?
5. Do you feel the expectations set for you by your workplace are too high or too complex?
6. Is your profession one that requires you to be ‘on call’ constantly?
7. Do you feel like you’re not being ‘rewarded’ adequately for the work you do? (This could include your compensation, positive feedback, etc.)
8. Do you see a divergence in the values of your company versus yourself?
These are just some of the most notable factors that could lead to burnout. Once you’ve had some time to ponder on these questions and write out answers you’re satisfied with, we’ll move on to the next part of this exercise: identifying the symptoms.
B. Symptoms of burnout
1. Do you feel constantly ‘drained’ and ‘lifeless’?
2. Do you view your workplace in a ‘cynical’ or ‘disillusioned’ manner? (E.g., when your company wins an award and you have thoughts like “this is a terrible place and they don’t deserve it”.)
3. Do you feel a sense of detachment from or lack of ownership of your work?
4. Do you dread having to go to work at the start of the day?
5. Do you procrastinate a lot and allow unfinished work to pile up?
6. Are you having trouble concentrating on even the most basic tasks?
7. Have you noticed your mood swinging towards negative emotions, like irritability and anger, more often than usual?
8. Have you been expressing more self-doubt recently?
9. Have you noticed an unusual (mostly unhealthy) shift in your diet? (E.g., starting to snack constantly throughout the day on high-sugar foods.)
10. Do you experience an overwhelming feeling of loneliness and/or a general sense of unhappiness?
11. Do you find yourself using substances often to help ‘improve’ your mental state?
12. Are you finding it hard to be consistent with the quality and/or quantity of your output at work?
13. Are you sleeping poorly — or is your sleep quality poorer than usual?
14. Have you been experiencing migraines and other forms of discomfort more often recently?
15. Are you having trouble getting excited about things or being passionate about them?
16. Do you find that you no longer enjoy your hobbies as much?
While a number of the above-mentioned symptoms can be attributed to a few other issues, such as clinical depression, there’s a chance that you may be experiencing burnout — especially if you’ve answered yes to many of these.
So, now that we’ve identified the causes of burnout and the symptoms you may be experiencing, let’s take a look at some tips to help you heal from burnout.
Before we proceed, please note that is highly advised to seek help from a medical professional if you feel your health has been impacted adversely.
How to start healing
The first step to healing is always the hardest, but staying the course will come quite easily once you’ve gotten past the initial stage.
There are numerous strategies that can help you deal with your unique circumstances. The truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for recovering from burnout. But with a combination of positive changes to your everyday routine, you’re sure to start seeing the benefits.
What are your options?
Now, based on the exercise we did together above, you know what could have caused your burnout and you know what symptoms you’re experiencing. For the next part of this exercise, you can use the templates we’ve created for you. They are linked below.
Go through your responses, and pick the ones you’ve answered ‘yes’ to. Now (bear with us please) list them out on the template sheet titled ‘Identify the issues.’
For example, if you answered yes to question #3 of Part A (Has there been a disruption in the workplace dynamics?), you can write down:
- Unhealthy relationship with a coworker because we had a misunderstanding
Now, let’s list out the symptoms you’re experiencing on the template sheet titled ‘My symptoms’.
if you’ve responded with ‘yes’ to question #1 of Part B (Do you feel constantly ‘drained’ and ‘lifeless’?), you can write it down like so:
- I feel drained, like I have no energy.
Feel free to be specific about how and what you’re feeling as this will help you organize your thoughts better.
Now you know which points need addressing, so you can come up with a plan to see what your options are. You can list them on the sheet under the column entitled ‘My options.’
If, for example, a bad relationship with a coworker is a constant stressor, then perhaps trying to remedy that relationship might be beneficial.
If the workload is too overwhelming or if you feel like you haven’t had a break in a long time, maybe try talking to your supervisor. Be diplomatic and state the facts plainly. Explain that a few days off could be vastly beneficial in helping you overcome burnout and return feeling much better than before.
If days off are not possible at the moment, try to see what other options are on the table. Perhaps the workload could be split up and temporarily shifted to other team members, or you could negotiate a cut-off time for work so that you have a little more time for yourself to rest and heal.
When it comes to your symptoms, things can get more complex. As we mentioned before, burnout can significantly impact your health, so if you feel like medical help is necessary, we’d say do seek it out.
But for the symptoms that don’t require medical intervention, there are things you can do to help ease them.
- Make it a rule to enjoy some time for yourself during the day. It could be an hour or even half an hour. Try to do a calming activity during that time. This could be reading a chapter of a book, listening to some relaxing music, or making yourself a delicious meal.
- Send at least one ‘nice’ text to somebody you care about. A side-effect of burnout is faltering relationships. You may feel overwhelmed when seeing messages in your inbox, for example, or taking a call may feel too stressful. Just drop one nice text to check in on a loved one. You’d be surprised at how one wholesome act can bring you a sense of peace.
- Do some exercise! Yes, that sounds like way more work than you can handle, but the truth is, endorphins can help you feel great! You don’t have to run a mile to feel the benefits of some physical activity. Just play a song you really love and move to the music! Plus, give yoga a try. It’s not too taxing and you can do it in the comfort of your room.
- Sleep is super important. If you’re not getting a good night’s sleep, you’re not healing. Start by trying to get at least 6 hours of sleep. Turn away from all your devices and distractions at least an hour before bed. Drink some water, read a book, or play some whale sounds. Don’t think about the chaos of the day and just focus on the moment.
Burnout is a stressful, painful experience to go through, and in today’s climate, many of us are bound to experience it — including students who’ve never had a job before! It’s important to put your health before everything else. They may find a replacement for you at work, but they can’t replace your health for you.
Remember, it’s never too late to overcome burnout. Keep an eye out for risk factors and symptoms and acknowledge the situation appropriately. The journey to recovery might take a while, but slow and steady is the best way to do it.