Work Burnout: The Struggle Is Real

By Paul Love December 19, 2017 at 2:00pm

Even if you haven’t put a label on it, chances are you will experience work burnout more than once in your career. In our current era of constant connectivity, the prevalence of feeling overextended and stressed out seems like the new normal for many of us.

But if you’re feeling under pressure on the job, how do you know if this is just a passing phase or something more serious? Burnout is defined as “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation, usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.” How it manifests — and how it feels — can impact each of us in different ways. Let it fester and you risk it building to the point where you feel defeated and isolated, especially if you’re facing what may appear to be an insurmountable workload.

Here are some approaches you can try if you’re experiencing work burnout:

Don’t stick your head in the sand

Ignoring how you feel won’t make the problem go away — it’s more likely to make things worse. When you’re suffering from work burnout, it’s tough to find the energy to put into finding a solution. On top of that, it’s common to feel that the causes of your burnout are beyond your control. To prevent the symptoms from escalating, make a commitment to recognizing them. Warning signs include a negative attitude or apathy toward your work, constant exhaustion, anxiety, insomnia, and feelings of ineffectiveness.

Give yourself a break

This can feel counterproductive — if you’re super busy, the prospect of taking time out feels like it will only set you back. Don’t fall into that trap. When you’re burning out, it’s more important than ever to take breaks to reflect and recharge.

Go for a walk or do an activity you enjoy. If you tend to work into the night, leave your desk a little earlier and do something else. In my experience, I’ve found that it’s next to impossible to produce your best work when you are tired, stressed or demotivated. When I feel overwhelmed and mentally exhausted the last thing I want to do is exercise, but ironically that’s the thing that always helps me pull through it. Throwing on my running shoes, even when I really don’t want to, is the best way to shift my mindset.

Taking a break also gives you time to ponder what’s fueling the work burnout. Ask yourself if it’s potentially a fleeting issue linked only to a new project or recent change at work — or is it something that’s been brewing for a long time?

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Assess your personal and professional priorities

Over time, our priorities can shift. How you balanced life in the past might no longer be beneficial or feasible. List your top personal and professional priorities, then examine how your current career path lines up with them. This makes it easier to identify what you want to pursue and what you want to change. It can also help refine how you work, making the process more rewarding and effective.

Ask for help

Asking for help and admitting you’re struggling can seem scary, but don’t be afraid to do it. If you feel that the culture of where you work is directly impacting your well-being, seek help or input from outside of that sphere. Commiserating with others who have been through what you’re dealing with can be cathartic and motivating. Someone with an objective, outsiders’ viewpoint can help you determine whether the problem is you or the job.

Start with the small stuff

Wishing for something to be different is not the same as taking action. So jot down some concrete short-term changes you could make quickly to address your work burnout and the steps that would be required to accomplish them. Then get to it.

Reconfiguring old habits takes great effort. Improvements may not be noticeable immediately, but slowly moving in the right direction builds momentum. For example, if you set a goal to leave the office earlier to get more exercise or explore mindfulness, hold yourself accountable to actually hit the gym or have a brief meditation session when you get home.

Get more sleep

I’m with Arianna Huffington, author of The Sleep Revolution, on this one. Getting more sleep is essential, as it’s the gateway to increased productivity, happiness and smarter decision making. Cultivating a solid sleep schedule isn’t as simple as it should be, but it’s an investment that pays dividends.

Manage expectations

Work burnout is tough. And it’s a feeling that’s often paired with a deep-seated fear that you aren’t meeting your boss’, client’s or team’s expectations. Even worse, we are often secretly afraid we’re not meeting our own (often unrealistic) expectations. You may need to reassess the amount of pressure you’re putting on yourself. Life is short, but it doesn’t mean your career needs to be a race to the finish. Slow down, consider whether you’re too hard on yourself, and find the pace and way of working that’s best for you.

Octavia Goredema is the founder and editor of Twenty Ten Talent, a career resource for talented young black women. Find her on Twitter at @OctaviaGoredema.

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