By Stephanie Crysel
This post is the first in a two-part series on burnout. Please note that the authors of these posts are not mental health professionals. They are writing from personal experience, and their stories do not substitute the advice of a licensed mental health professional. If you think you are exhibiting symptoms of burnout and/or are concerned about your mental health, please consider seeking treatment.
I was shocked the day I realized my job was draining me. You see, I was one of those rare birds who loved work, which made all of my friends sick. I found the workplace fun, challenging, and rewarding. I wasn’t exactly making any of the famed “most powerful women” lists – or any list, for that matter. But I saw growth opportunities all around me and I was determined to snatch them up.
Imagine, then, my confusion a few years into my quest for world domination when the thought of staying late or arriving early began to annoy instead of excite me. Instead of giving 110% each day, I began to backslide to 95%, 90%, 85%. I started to wonder where this would end. Suddenly, there weren’t enough hours in the day or email folders in the world to make me feel engaged. I was exhausted and nervous. Would I ever love my job again? Had the work changed, or was it me? Did I need to leave? These realizations hit me like a truck, and I wasn’t ready.
For those of us who have experienced the dreaded onset of burnout, let me just extend my sincerest sympathies. I wish I could deliver you all a glazed donut and some chamomile tea. But what I am happy to tell you is that burnout is not only temporary, but avoidable. Instead of letting it consume me, I decided to view it as an opportunity to learn about myself. I was on a professional hot streak, and was determined not to fizzle out. So I began the trial-and-error process of regaining balance in my life. Here are a few tricks that worked for me.
1. Grace. Just grace. Everyone hits a rough patch now and again. Cut yourself some slack! I’m the “do it all, no excuses” type, so I found this to be especially difficult. But try to ignore your pride and remember that it could be just a phase, a rut, a season. Before you begin to question all of your life decisions, try implementing small changes like going to bed earlier, taking a hot bath, or enjoying a long weekend to shake off the funk. The biggest and most important step is recognizing and acknowledging that something is off, and that you need to take an extra strong dose of grace to get yourself through it.
2. Lay off the caffeine. I know all about the coffee obsession. Put a #psl in front of me any day and watch it disappear. However, overworked people often fall into an unhealthy rhythm of working hard, getting less sleep, and drinking coffee to compensate. Did you know that caffeine triggers the release of cortisol, the infamous hormone our bodies release when they experience stress? In high doses, it inhibits brain functioning, slows the metabolism, breaks down muscle, and increases blood pressure. So imagine how much worse it’s making you feel if you already have a base level of stress. I quit drinking coffee for just one week and the effects were remarkable. I felt focused instead of spastic, as if I’d been doing yoga for ten years (far from it). Try swapping coffee for doublemint tea, which has antibacterial properties to help that weakened immune system you probably have from being overworked.
3. Root out your red flag. My personal response to life’s tiny stresses is to clean my house. Cliche, right? It doesn’t take a genius to tell me it’s my way of taking control. However, every single time I cross over from busy to overwhelmed, my house begins to look like a disaster. When I lose the will to clean, I know that it is time for me to check my pride and take a look at my calendar to clear some space. It’s really that simple. What’s your red flag? Do you start skipping lunches? Do you go on Netflix benders or stop preparing for meetings? Take some time to reflect on your habits in order to identify your burnout warning signs.
4. Manage your manager. Let’s face it: not all managers are mentors. Yet there they are, making decisions that affect your career. The feeling of unmet expectations is strongly linked to discontent, and that often begins with your boss. Testing out communication strategies that your manager responds to can help you figure out how to feel more supported in your job. Those strategies will eventually form a relationship that can work for you or against you. This book called Never Eat Alone discusses strategies for building genuine relationships. It was a total game changer for me!
5. Read before bed. According to a 2009 study, reading for just six minutes can help reduce stress by 68 percent – more effective than listening to music, drinking tea, or walking. Reading also has numerous other benefits. A good book requires your whole brain to focus on the story. I love being transported to another world! It also gives me perspective, even if the characters are fake.
6. Work “smarter.” You work and work, but not much gets done. The hamster wheel effect is common for those who consistently burn the candle at both ends. A healthy person can work less and accomplish more because she is focusing on the right things. Drown out your coworkers’ chatting with this website. Make a list of your responsibilities and mark what you can delegate out to take some pressure off. Odds are you’ve hoarded some tasks that won’t hurt your career if you give them away. Better yet, pitch these ideas to your boss to use as a training opportunity for new team members. Now you’ve not only overcome burnout, but also made yourself into a mentor and team player.
7. Set some goals that excite you. Hard workers like to have something to work toward, like that next promotion. Or maybe there’s a different job you want but don’t possess all the skills yet (for that, try edX). Whatever it is, planning for the future and finding that fresh purpose is key. It can renew your focus and make you excited about your career again. There is nothing like some good old fashioned motivation to wash away job blues.
8. Realize that you are more than your job title. I looked at all of my activities to make sure that I wasn’t bringing anything negative to work with me that was impacting my day. I wanted some extracurriculars, but didn’t want to be out late every evening because I have a husband and also sweatpants are life. So I began online yoga! My favorite channel is called Yoga With Adriene. This girl is super chill. Her 30 Days of Yoga and Yoga for Anxiety series are perfect for those who need a little something extra to relieve stress in their lives.
9. Defer major life decisions. According to Facebook data, November and December have the highest rate of breakups each year. It’s called the “turkey drop.” It gets cold, dark, depressing, and people begin to reflect on the year’s accomplishments – or lack thereof. They grow discontent. Time for a fresh start, right? Not always. Watching people try to claw their way out of burnout is like watching someone go through a mid-life crisis. They begin to believe that a drastic change is the only way to fix it. So they quit their promising careers, buy fancy cars, or initiate a breakup while attempting to infuse some vitality back into their days. My advice: Just don’t rush it. You can always make that decision later, but it should be for the right reasons.
What are some tools you’ve used to stave off burnout? Share in the comments, and stay tuned for Part II of this article, where we will be discussing ways to manage burnout once it has set in.
Stephanie is a marketing director and branding enthusiast living in the Raleigh area. On weekends, you can find her traveling, house flipping, genealogy researching, and volunteering with the local Junior League.
Featured Image by Ivorymix