Burning out can happen to anyone at any stage of life, but some people are more prone to it than others. If you fit into the “millennial” age group, then there’s a good chance that you either have experienced burnout or feel like you might be approaching it soon. This is because you might be right at the age at which you’ve worked somewhere long enough to experience some disappointment in your initial hopes about how amazing and life-transforming your career would be. You might be past that first couple of years during which you can reasonably keep telling yourself, “Well, I’m still new at this…” and entering a new phase where you really get what your work is all about… and it’s not what you thought it would be.
This is the essence of burnout: exhaustion + disillusionment. The career-focused website Mind Tools explains that burnout is more than just tiredness, and more even than exhaustion. It’s a cocktail of feeling exhausted and feeling increasingly bitter about your work not living up to your expectations. For this reason, some professions are more likely to experience burnout than others. Mary Gormandy White reports that some of the professions with the highest burnout rates include doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers, and lawyers. Professions like these are particularly likely to experience burnout because almost everyone who goes into them has such high hopes for making a difference. When their real-life experience feels less significant than they had hoped, while still rigorous in time commitments, burnout is almost sure to follow.
But! – there are steps you can take – both little steps during the course of a workday and bigger steps outside of your work hours – that can help you avoid burning out and on the path to greater satisfaction.
Steps You Can Take at Work:
Many people treat the time that they’re formally given at work for lunch or other breaks as optional; they hurriedly eat while working on a project, for instance, so even though they’re technically “having lunch” they’re not taking a break. Your body and mind need that break, though, even if it’s just for 30 minutes. Plowing through the entire workday with no breaks at all is a recipe for burning out. Treat the company-given time that you have as if it’s a formal company meeting, something that you wouldn’t consider optional.
Delegate whenever possible.
Not all employees will work in an environment where delegating tasks is possible. Teachers, for instance, some of the people most prone to burning out, have very limited tasks that they can delegate. So while this advice may be a luxury limited to people with subordinates, if it’s possible for you to do, do it. If you’re a control nut, try to loosen the reins a little and let other people help you complete a task; otherwise, you might end up feeling like you have less control than ever as the effects of burnout set in.
Seek out opportunities to help others.
This may sound contrary to the advice above about seeking out other people who can help you, but looking for ways to help others doesn’t necessarily mean taking on big workloads. It can consist of small acts of kindness and generosity. Even small kindnesses to coworkers can give you a positive feeling that lifts you, even if for a short time, out of the self-doubt and negativity of burnout. Knowing that you helped someone else will give you the feeling of having definitely accomplished something, even if small.
Steps You Can Take Outside of Work:
1. Make a list of what you need from a work environment.
This is important to do because it can help you determine if you should try to work through your feelings of exhaustion and disillusionment or whether you’re feeling them because you’re in completely the wrong environment for you. Every situation is different, so burnout isn’t always a sign that you should get out of your job immediately, but it does mean you should at least consider carefully whether your mental health is likely to keep suffering and even worse if you stay where you are.
2. Get enough exercise.
You’ve probably heard this advice before in relation to mental health, and it might seem like a copout or a panacea that experts always seem to be recommending for everything. But this advice is so popular because it’s inescapably true: in addition to being great for your physical health, exercise is a wonderful way to reduce stress. It won’t cure deep unhappiness you have about your work life, but it can reduce the physical feelings of stress.
3. Seek out forms of self-care.
I won’t belabor this point here because you can read all about self-care in this post, but self-care practices are pretty much the best thing you can do to prevent burnout before it actually happens. Self-care means getting in the habit of taking active steps to ensure your own mental, emotional, and physical health.
In addition to these suggestions, remember that a support system is a key to preventing or recovering from burnout. Find someone to talk to about your feelings, whether it’s a professional therapist or trusted family and friends. Though you may have feelings of shame or guilt attached to burning out, bottling it up will only make it feel worse because you’ll add a sense of isolation to your other negative feelings. Your loved ones would want to know how you’re feeling and will want to help you think about how to move forward.
If burnout is something you have struggled with or think you might struggle with and would like to talk to someone about, you can call us at (305) 501-0133 or click here to schedule a free 20-minute Clarity Consult .