Burning Out and Finding a Way to Light Your Path Again

What you do for work should bring you fulfillment and allow you to live a life that you’re proud of. However, for many, work brings high stress and exhaustion which alienates us from the jobs we do. If you’re feeling this way, you might be experiencing burnout. 

My first burnout came halfway through the pandemic. I’d been updating systems all day and had made a dozen calls to stressed-out, frustrated clients. My phone rang, and I just watched it ring out. My keyboard became a foreign object to me, and I brought my hands away from my desk and into my lap. I didn’t pick up the receiver and dial out to clients for an hour, and turned my phone to “Do Not Disturb”. When this started happening regularly, I knew I was burnt out and started looking for solutions. 

More of Us are Burning Out Now 

In recent surveys, 53% of respondents reported suffering from burnout and during lockdowns, and more of us are burning out while working from home. Perhaps it’s just the cumulative stress of the pandemic, or maybe it’s because our workplace habits have changed. Either way, burnout is affecting all levels of business and can cripple companies if left unattended. 

The Symptoms of Burnout

Unfortunately, there is no universal definition of burnout. However, burnout has been included in the International Classification of Diseases as: 

“A syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

They also provided a few criteria for burnout:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion.
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job.
  • Reduced professional efficacy.

In short, if work-related stress is affecting your ability to work, and you’re finding that your energy has been zapped, you may be suffering from burnout. 

What You Can Do 

When you’re suffering from burnout, every task feels like a burden. However, even if you are extremely busy, there are steps you can take to practice self-care and reduce the toll of burn-out. 

Talk About It

Burnout can be isolating: when I was burnt out, I felt like the only one in the business who was suffering. However, as soon as I opened up to my peers, I found a community that validated my feelings and supported me. In time, they helped me turn the corner and get my momentum back. This is called peer coaching and can be a great way to reconnect with your job and the folks you work with. As managers or business owners, you can actually leverage the power of peer coaching to help your employees feel supported and cared for in an empathetic environment. 

Shift Roles or Exchange Responsibilities 

Depending on the size of your organization, you may be able to slot into a new role or switch responsibilities with a peer. In fact, many larger organizations prefer to hire temporary cover internally, as you’ll require less training and can usually get up and running quickly. Be sure to keep up to date with your employer’s job board, and speak to your manager to let them know what you’re looking for. 

Reassess Your Work Space

Twenty-one percent of employed Americans work remotely. This means that over 33 million of us get out of bed, pull on our clothes, make our coffee, and then settle down at home to a day’s work. At first, working from your couch and taking breaks in your own kitchen was a ball. But, as time wears on, working from home can leave you feeling a little jaded. 

There are numerous ways to help improve your mental health while working from home. The easiest solution is to shake it up and change your workspace. Start by deep cleaning the space you work at every day, and then reassess the area you are working in for practicality and aesthetics. Even a small change can get you excited about coming back to work, and might just get you over the mid-week bump. 

Practice New Routines

Your current routine may be contributing to your burnout more than you realize. For me, the big problem was checking emails outside of work hours. My performance indicators were based on positive interactions, and so I was sending short emails outside of working hours nearly every evening. This just led to exhaustion and did very little to improve my overall efficiency at work. In fact, studies show that failing to respect work-rest boundaries can reduce your overall productivity and lead to costly mistakes. 

I no longer work outside of my working hours and am performing better because of it. In addition, I’ve started shaking up my routine by working in different places. As a writer, it is easy to pack up and take myself down to the library for a day’s work. While that might not be possible for all industries, you can still find creative ways to practice new routines: take walks during your break instead of scrolling social feeds, see if you can complete your work somewhere new, and ask to switch up seating arrangements if the current set up is getting stale. 

Reconnect Spiritually 

Regardless of the faith you practice, studies show that holding spirituality close can lead to higher satisfaction in life and an increased ability to handle stress. Finding your path can be tricky, but thought leaders reiterate that, in the long term, finding and following yourself spiritually is worth the effort. Remember, too, that therapists can help you reconnect with a lost sense of self, and are now widely available in person or via telehealth services. 

Ultimately, re-discovering your path may require you to change careers or leave your current job. It’s ok to call it quits if the role you are doing is directly damaging your mental health, or if it just doesn’t fire you up like it used to. However, it’s also worth taking a few smaller steps first to see if you can light your path again.