What Is Burnout?
Burnout is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion. It can occur when you experience long-term stress in your job, or when you have worked in a physically or emotionally draining role for a long time. You can also experience burnout when your efforts at work have failed to produce the results that you expected, and you feel deeply disillusioned as a result.
You might be experiencing burnout if you:
Feel that every day at work is a bad day.
Feel exhausted much of the time.
Feel no joy or interest in your work, or even feel depressed by it.
Feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities.
Engage in escapist behaviours, such as excessive drinking.
Have less patience with others than you used to.
Feel hopeless about your life or work.
Experience physical symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, sleeplessness, or heart palpitations.
Recovering from Burnout
Burnout doesn’t go away on its own; rather, it will get worse unless you address the underlying issues causing it. If you ignore burnout, it will only cause you further harm down the line, so it’s important that you begin recovery as soon as possible. Recovery from burnout is a slow journey; not a quick dash to some imaginary finish line. You need time and space to recuperate, so don’t rush through this process.
The recovery strategies that we’ve outlined below are all useful in different situations. Some of these strategies will work for you, while others won’t, so find a balance of strategies and best practices that feels right to you. If you believe that something isn’t working, don’t be afraid to try something new.
Think About the “Why” of Burnout
You first need to identify why you’ve experienced burnout. In some situations, this will be obvious. Other times, it will take time and introspection to uncover this.
First, look at any resentment that you feel towards your work. Often, feelings of resentment point to something important that is missing.
Here’s a good example: Jennifer manages a team halfway around the world, so her workday often starts at 6 a.m. She doesn’t mind this because she likes her team and her job. But she feels resentful when her boss forgets that she works so early and repeatedly asks her to stay late, which causes her to miss important time with her family.
In this example, burnout didn’t occur because Jennifer disliked her job; in fact, she loved what she did. She experienced burnout because she hated missing out on family time in the evenings.
Take time to think about any negative feelings that you have about your role. Once you’ve identified the cause of your burnout, write down at least one way that you can manage or eliminate that source of stress or unhappiness.
Another useful method for identifying underlying causes of burnout is to keep a stress diary. Each day write down what causes you stress and record why the event stressed you. Stress diaries can be illuminating, so long as you keep up with them for a reasonable period of time.
Once you discover the root causes of your burnout, look at what you can do to resolve it. This might involve delegating some of your responsibilities to others, adding more autonomy to your job, working from home one day a week, or even changing roles.
Focus on the Basics
If you’ve experienced burnout, your body may be in need of attention. This is why it’s important to think about the basics of good health and well-being.
Start by getting plenty of exercise. Not only does regular exercise help reduce stress, but it also boosts your mood, improves your overall health, and enhances your quality of life.
Next, make sure you get enough sleep, eat well and drink plenty of water throughout the day. These might sound obvious, but busy professionals often ignore their most basic needs. Instead, they take care of others and their responsibilities far more than they take care of themselves. This can contribute to burnout.
Take a Vacation or Leave of Absence
One good way to start your recovery is to take a vacation. Time away from work gives you the distance you need to relax and de-stress. While the stress and problems that you’re experiencing at work may still be waiting for you when you get back, taking time off is essential for getting the rest you need and coming up with long-term solutions to burnout.
Reassess Your Goals
Next, take time to reassess your personal goals. Burnout can occur when your work is out of alignment with your values, or when it’s not contributing to your long-term goals. You can also experience frustration and burnout if you have no idea what your goals are.
Start by identifying your values and thinking about what gives you meaning in your work. This self-analysis will give you a deeper understanding of what you find most important, and it will show you which elements, if any, are missing from your life or work.
Practice Positive Thinking
Burnout can cause you to slip into a cycle of negative thinking. This negative thinking often worsens over time.
When you’re in recovery from burnout, it can be a challenge to develop the habit of positive thinking. This is why it’s important to start small. Try thinking of something positive before you get out of bed each morning. Or, at the end of the day, think back to one great thing that you did at work or at home. You deserve to celebrate even small accomplishments. These celebrations can help you rediscover joy and meaning in your work again.
You can also bring more positivity into your life by practicing random acts of kindness at work. A basic part of our human nature is to help others. Being kind to others not only helps spread positivity in the workplace, but it also feels great.