Its 7 o’clock and you’re still at work. 5 o’clock departures are a thing of the past, if they ever existed at all. Work follows you home, weighs heavily on you and provokes near panic attacks when you have to drag yourself to work the next day.
You worked hard to get THAT degree, to get THIS job, which now leaves you BURNED OUT. You often question why you are doing this to yourself… but this is what you wanted! Right?
You are torn. “Do I just hate what I’m doing in this moment because I’m overworked and ‘burned out’ or did I follow the wrong path completely?” Good question. Let’s explore that.
What does burnout look like?
- • Burnout is making snappy remarks regarding work toward colleagues when you are normally upbeat.
- • Burnout is calling in sick to work AGAIN, or having another entire day where you don’t get any work done.
- • Burnout is intense anxiety regarding attempting to complete your work because it has gotten harder to focus and stay motivated.
- • Burnout is binge watching Netflix for hours by yourself or scrolling social media instead of working.
- • Burnout is not accepting that compliment regarding your work and feeling like it’s crap.
- • Burnout is getting to the end of the day, and feeling like you were disconnected from yourself all day, not in your body but instead watching yourself “work.” Completely ineffective.
- • Burnout is crying about work, and feeling completely exhausted and lost regarding what to do.
- • Burnout is getting little sleep, working, working, working and feeling like you are producing nothing in return.
I was on the path to success. I was doing everything I thought I should be doing. I worked hard all throughout my years of formal education and training including high school and college. I felt the need for a break, but pushed forward and got into medical school. Medical school wasn’t difficult at first, so I gladly piled on activities to fill my time, and because I genuinely enjoyed them. In retrospect, the activities and time spent with friends distracted from the unhappiness I felt with my studies. To everyone else, I was doing well, but it became harder and harder to maintain that façade. I was hitting a major burnout and didn’t realize it.
So, for anyone struggling, here are my recommendations for recovery from burnout:
1. Acknowledge Burnout
Of course, one of the first steps toward moving to a happier life is to recognize that you are burned out in the first place. Many people fail to recognize it in themselves. They simply waive it off as normal stress that everyone experiences.
So how do you know that you are struggling with burnout?
According to Maslach’s burnout inventory, often considered the standard for determining burnout, the 3 main components to burnout include physical and emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and cynicism.
Here are some tell-tale signs you may be burned out:
• Feeling emotionally disengaged or “off,” like you are just going through the motions, almost like watching yourself live your life.
• Emotional exhaustion, crying more or feeling blunted.
• Avoidance of projects, coworkers or work altogether.
• Feeling bitter or cynical toward your work or others.
• Sleep disturbances, lacking energy and physical exhaustion.
• You feel a lack of accomplishment or ineffectiveness at completing tasks at work.
• Forgetfulness, impaired concentration and productivity.
Reach out. Tell anyone you are comfortable with that you are burned out and may need help. Others may have already noticed, but many of us are excellent at concealing how much we are struggling in our lives. Social media and other forms of communication have made it so easy to put up a façade.
If you can, sit down and have a face-to-face conversation with a friend or coworker. This allows them to more easily connect with you and determine what is really going on in your life. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and let people in. This is what makes us human and relatable.
2. Develop Self-Awareness
After you have recognized you are burned out, there is a great need for developing or improving your sense of self-awareness, or what I like to call “checking yourself.” Some people are already very self-aware and this may be the reason that their job caused them so much distress, because it differed so fundamentally from their values and ideals, or from what they envisioned for their life.
Others feel hopeless and lost; they know they are unhappy in their current position but it has defined their character in some way and they find it hard to separate themselves from that role.
This period of time is for introspection, about knowing yourself and what is in your own best interest. Focusing on self-care is key. Listen to your intuition and tap into creative pursuits or hobbies you once loved but have long forgotten as they may bring unexpected inspiration. During this time, you may identify a new career plan or create a path to make changes to a current career or set of circumstances.
Questions such as Who or What do I value? What kind of lifestyle do I want to lead or how do I want my average day to look? What do enjoy? What do I lose track of time doing? What am I good at? What am I not so good at or prefer to avoid? Too many of us end up in jobs simply out of familiarity or because we have developed skills and are good at that thing, but not because we actually enjoy what we are doing. Find something you are driven to do.
3. Make Plans
After you have taken time to decide what you want for your life, I mean really take a look at where you are currently and where you want to be in 10 years, it’s time to make a plan for how to get there. You may be overwhelmed at first. You may say “I know I’m unhappy, frustrated and burned out, but I have no idea how to get there.”
This is the exact reason why sitting down and creating a plan is helpful. I will be honest and say that I jumped past a couple of steps in my burnout process (despite the guidance of others). My process would perhaps have been much easier had I followed the advice of others. However, that being said, I believe that each individual has their own unique journey.
I jumped straight from recognizing I was burned out to action. No plans about what I would do, no particularly in-depth self-awareness other than I knew my work role and personal goals no longer aligned and it was causing me significant distress. However, this meant that I stalled in a prolonged self-discovery phase with no job, which is not always recommended. A huge part of the plan-making process is also realizing that your journey needs to flexible, you will need to be adaptable and make changes in response to feedback, ‘failure’ or other challenges. Your plans will never be as fixed as you would hope them to be, but more of a blueprint.
4. Take Action
Right before you decide to take action may be a time of wavering back and forth trying find the courage to leave a job that makes you unhappy and may be a lot of time spent tackling self-doubt and fears. You may have made a plan already, feel assured of your future goals, but still have lingering fears and doubts that are preventing you from taking the leap and committing to the action.
We can plan all we want but taking action is what leads to real change in our lives. I personally hovered in this stage for a while. I knew that I was unhappy in my career and wanted to leave, but kept letting fears and excuses hold me back from taking action.
“No one leaves a career they have worked this long or this hard to build.”
“I have so much student debt. How will I ever pay it back?”
“If I quit it will leave a greater burden of work for my colleagues.”
“I’m going to disappoint all of those who worked so hard to help me get to this point.”
“This is career suicide. You can’t come back if you do this.”
Ultimately, I resolved that my happiness was more important than any of those concerns and I took action. Regardless of which direction I went, ANY progress was forward and moved me further away from the state of unhappiness I was in.
Let go of the overanalysis paralysis and do it. You can make adjustments to your plans along the way. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect from the get-go.
5. Avoid another burnout
It is so easy when changing careers to jump headfirst into a new entrepreneurial endeavor or a new job and find yourself happy at first, but quickly back where you were before.
You may be working hard to start over in a new field and forget to take time for self-care. It is important to remember why you began this journey in the first place. For most, it was due to a stark imbalance in their lives, often with career overshadowing the other areas of their life. Yes, again you may have to work a little harder at first to re-establish yourself in a new area. However, do not overexert yourself and find yourself in the same position you were previously. If you do not change any of your previous behaviors, you will be prone to another burnout.
You will have to make a conscious effort to focus on yourself and other areas of your life that need your attention, such as relationships or health. When I left my job, I focused all of my attention on self-development, as I had no idea what I wanted to do. I read books, learned more about my personality and how my mind works and tried to find work and positions that would better align with who I am at my core. I finally had the time to dedicate to my health as well and lost the weight that I desperately needed to. However, when I started working again, the juggling act was again a challenge.
It is ok to acknowledge that at different times in our life we can tip that balance in favor of one area over another. However, that does not mean that we have to cave to the pressures to focus on only one thing like career and face another burnout.
Make a commitment to create routines that will stay in place despite the business around you. When you are making a transition, or creating a new life for yourself, decide what are non-negotiables.
- I want to have a date night with my spouse every week.
- I am going to treat myself to a massage once a month for my own personal health.
- I am going to work out or meditate daily for my own mental and physical health.
For me personally, I have seen so many improvements in all areas of my life since changing my diet and health routine that I have resolved to not let that slip, despite travels, stress, or other struggles. Being mindful and in tune to what my body needs has translated to improved workflow, perception in relationships, and overall just greater appreciation for life.
It is amazing how much can change when your mind has the ability to be freed, creative, take note of the world around it, and does not feel emotionally and physically drained by burnout.
If you are experiencing burnout, I know it can seem overwhelming to even make one change that will make a meaningful difference in your life. However, you do hold more power over your life that you realize. Going from being trapped to feeling aligned and in control in my life has been the best feeling I can imagine. You always have control simply in the way you perceive your situation. Even if you cannot always control your external circumstances, you do get to control your reaction. Intentionally practicing gratitude is one of the things that helped turned my life around the quickest.
I don’t want anyone to feel as trapped and lost in their life as I did. Please feel free to reach out if I can help you or if you found this article helpful.
Dr. Jessica Phillips
Travel Wellness Blogger and Breakthrough Coach to Millennial Women
Note: As someone who has personally experienced burnout, this is written from my experience with burnout, as well as from my research and guidance regarding others’ experiences with burnout. (The information in this article is also lightly based on the Trans Theoretical Model of behavioral change.) I am not a psychologist, nor a psychiatrist, nor do I claim to be. I do not treat those suffering from mental disorders. In such cases, those individuals should seek a qualified medical professional.