I am suffering from burnout.
And it sucks.
Because being burnt out isn’t the same as having a tough day where you just need to crash in your bed — it can have serious effects on your personal life and your ability to function and perform everyday tasks.
Straight from Psychology Today, burnout is “a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, [and] feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.”
It took me a while to realize that I was suffering from burnout, particularly because it can be hard to distinguish from other mental and psychological issues. But I was tired and anxious going into work every day, and the world seemed like it was moving in a haze of slow motion. It wasn’t until one day when I was walking to work, oblivious to my surroundings, and almost walked into oncoming traffic that I realized I had a problem. A woman grabbed my shoulder as a car blared its horn. It was terrifying, and I remained properly freaked out for the rest of the day.
I knew then — even if I’d been denying it or putting it off — that I needed to take action to improve my experience at work and my overall quality of life. After some trial and error, I’ve found effective ways to help myself and improve my mental state. Here are three ways I’m surviving office burnout:
The first rule of burnout is that when not at work, you do not talk about work. I didn’t realize how much I was obsessing myself over my job until I had this conversation with my therapist:
Therapist: “How much do you talk about work when you’re not at work?”
Therapist: *looks at me knowingly*
On my commute into work, I was thinking about how horrible the day was going to be. When I was commuting home, I was thinking about how horrible the day had been, even if nothing bad had really happened. When my boyfriend picked me up at the train station, I would cry and complain about how hard the day was. I would sit on the couch, anxious to get to sleep so I could forget about the day, while still totally dreading the next one. It was a circle of self-pity and sadness that I kept perpetuating. And to be honest, I was causing a lot of my own suffering, so I promised my therapist that I wouldn’t think about work when I wasn’t at work. I wouldn’t talk about it with my boyfriend, saving him stress as well as myself. So far, I can say that it has worked. Though technically nothing has changed, I’m better able to deal with my disappointment and anger because I have placed firm limitations on how much space they can take up in my mind and my emotions. Life is short, why cause so much of your own suffering if you don’t have to?
Whenever someone tells me I should exercise more, irritation wraps around me and twists like a snake. Of course I should exercise more.
But do I do it?
I used to go to the gym five days a week and yoga at least twice a week. But at that time, I was working 20 hours a week at Starbucks and living at home. It was easy to find disposable income for yoga classes and plenty of time for the gym. But now I work a 9-5 (or, in my case, a 7:30-3:30, but I’ll get to that) with a two and a half hour commute. I have to be out the door before 6 AM, so I can’t go to the gym in the morning without sacrificing precious sleep time. It was tough to go at night because I wasn’t getting home until almost 7 PM, when there was dinner to cook and any precious time to spend with my family/boyfriend that I could squeeze in, I took. My body began to get softer, my stamina withered. My power walk to work winded me.
So I started exercising on my lunch break. Before, I would sneak away to a quiet room in my office and putter around on my work laptop, but now I make sure to get a half hour of vigorous exercise. It helps reinvigorate my body and mind for the rest of the day. I just feel better. Exercising, for me, helps clear my mind. I like feeling healthy and strong, and it’s one less thing to feel bad about when you’re already struggling.
If there’s any way to squeeze some physical activity into the day, even just a five-minute walk in the sun, it will help improve your mood and, hopefully, convince you to keep going.
Talk to your manager
One night I was so fed up with being miserable that I decided to talk to my boss. I approached him in the morning and asked for a few minutes of his time so we could speak in private. We went into a conference room where I told him I was having a medical issue (which was depression, but “medical issue” was sufficient enough) and that I was also worried about burnout. I told him I needed to see a professional once a week and if it was possible to work out a flex schedule to help with the symptoms of burnout. He told me I didn’t have to say anything else, and I was given one day a week to work from home to go to therapy sessions and that I would work 7:30-3:30 so I could get home at a reasonable hour.
Burnout can cause anxiety and is a risk to trigger depression. It’s hard to function on a personal and professional level. If you’ve been struggling at work, your boss probably doesn’t know why your performance has suddenly taken a turn for the worse. Confessing burnout to your boss can trigger positive change that will make working easier to manage. He or she might give you projects that you would enjoy more, or take some projects off your plate. For me, it was a schedule change, and that has made a huge improvement.
This piece of advice I give with a warning. I knew I was working for a very kind person who would defend his employees tooth and nail if it came down to it. A lot of people are not that lucky. If you do not feel like your boss is someone that you could confess burnout to, or maybe he/she is even a cause of it, I wouldn’t advise saying anything. Instead, I would talk to HR, who can point you to an on-site specialist (if available, check your employee benefit package), or a therapist. Therapy can be a great tool for victims of burnout. You don’t have to be “diagnosed” with something to see a therapist.
If you’re beginning to experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to keep on top of them before they get out of hand. Burnout is a serious problem and should be treated as such, especially if you don’t have the option of leaving your job. Your health is important — more so even than your career. Your professional life should never come at the expense of your emotional one.