If you’re chronically overtired, feeling preoccupied with work and notice that your motivation has dried up, you may be struggling with symptoms of burnout. Burnout is an advanced degree of work-related stress or fatigue that occurs when we’ve been stressed, unhappy and feeling stuck in unhelpful patterns (and sometimes environments) for a long time.
Burnout is usually a slow and gradual process and the signs can sometimes creep up on us. The good news is that you can recover from it and prevent burnout! In fact, through the process of recovery, you can develop habits that build a more balanced and meaningful life.
What factors can contribute to burnout?
- Approach to work
- Stress levels
- Problem-solving skills
- High workload
- Workplace culture
- Accessibility of adequate resources
- Leadership style
- Institutional discrimination or ignorance
Burnout Recovery & Prevention: What can we do?
1. Shift our relationship to work: Our approaches to work can really be informed by the expectations of our work culture as well as the experiences of our families. If we come from families where working till exhausted was necessary, we might unintentionally replicate this pattern in our own relationship with work. I often ask clients:
- “At what stage were you taught that you are allowed to recharge?”
- “At what stage do you think you need to recharge?”
- “What would help you feel okay with recharging earlier?”
2. Recognize the systemic stuff: When we’re navigating the impact of our coworkers’ stereotypes about our different identities or our own internalized constricting beliefs of who a worthy human is, the emotional toll can be heavy! These difficult dynamics contribute to chronic stress that “typical stress management” may not address because some parts of this kind of stress is usually rooted in discrimination, isolation, and fear of being undervalued because of a specific identity. What can you do?
- Identify your strengths and work style outside of others’ and your own stereotypes/expectations
- Notice and identify problematic patterns
- Connect with mentors who negotiate similar dynamics at work
- Make time to identify tangible ways to protect your self-worth, safety, and sanity
3. Build stress management skills: Many of our families may not have had the luxury of prioritizing stress management in their lives. As a result, we may need to be more purposeful about learning how to manage stress in ways that work for us and our specific situation. Here are some really helpful ideas to look over and incorporate into your daily life:
- Take care of your body: Get some form of exercise, eat when hungry, sleep when you need to.
- Set boundaries: If possible, try not to take work home. When you notice yourself being unproductive, take a short break. Set aside time and engage in something meaningful or relaxing before falling asleep to unwind.
- Make meaning: When we remember and connect with why we’re doing something, we can assess if this current plan still serves us. For example, you might be working this job so you can work your side hustle. You might be working this job as a way to create financial safety. Identify your values and goals, so you can reconnect with them.
- Connect with people outside of your field: These connections can inspire creativity, help us build experiences outside of work and can offer a lot of support and perspective especially if you’re currently in a tough work environment.
4. Challenge the guilt/comparison narrative: If we have a legacy of loss or overcoming immense struggle within our family or friend circle, we might often fall into another trap. In our effort to respect our loved ones’ sacrifices, we may ignore or minimize our own experiences (“I’m so lucky, how can I be stressed?” or “I’m fortunate to be working. I must be weak to be feeling burnt out”). Try instead to honor their narratives AND listen to your stress and feelings, so you can help identify concrete ways to solve the problem in a way that fits YOUR needs.
Remember that recovery and prevention are both possible! Be kind to yourself and identify small and tangible ways to begin!