What do you imagine when you think of "burnout"?
Maybe someone with mountainous piles of paper on their desk, someone running in a hamster wheel, someone with messy hair and rumpled clothes and their head in their hands?
All these images convey a sense of overwork--which is why it took me so long to realize that I'd burnt out. No matter how uncomfortable it is to have a heavy workload, not all cases of burnout are that simple.
Burnout doesn't just have to do with the workload, as popularly touted in corporate offices everywhere. It also doesn't just happen in the workplace! Burnout can happen in any setting, and leaves you feeling physically and emotionally exhausted, cynical, and ineffective. All 3 of these feelings must exist in order for the state you're in to be officially called "burnout".
It can happen in your home, when you're working in the community, or within intense caring relationships.
The biggest revelation to me after experiencing numerous cycles of burnout and hearing experts speak about it in person was that burnout is oftentimes a reflection of your relationship with your environment. It is not a reflection of how "weak" you are. This one insight helped me to affirm that I'm not a total DEFICIENT WEIRDO for being the only one who seemed burnt out at work.
In other words, burning out is not personal. It doesn't mean you're seriously flawed. But it does mean that you can (and probably should) do something about it.
Maybe you're feeling drained or disengaged, and you can't pinpoint why. You don't have energy to see friends or family. You feel nauseous and jittery every time you walk into the office. You start to actively avoid your colleagues and feel relieved when clients cancel. And most distressing of all, you stop believing in the impact of your work. You ask yourself, "Why am I here? Why am I doing this? What's the point?"
I felt all of these things on-and-off for almost 7 years before I finally decided to do something about it.
Let me tell you, it's really hard to keep plugging away when you feel that disconnected from your colleagues, your clients, and the meaning of your work--especially for sensitive folks who are internally motivated by a bigger purpose. But burnout doesn't just drop out of the sky; it's chronic, meaning it's been building up within your mind and body for a long time. It's just that the signs are now so loud that you can no longer ignore them.
Burnout is simply a sign that your environment or situation is not a proper match for you, that you have needs and values that aren't being met.
Are you getting the type of training or social support that's best for you? How's your compensation or the pace of your workday? I'm sure you've already started noticing things about your day that deplete you.
For instance, I started noticing that I'd happily put in all the work to plan therapy sessions, events, and outings for my young clients, but I'd be totally drained once I actually carried them out. I also noticed that I was the only clinician who didn't feel like I could benefit from the weekly two-hour clinical staff meetings, because that's where everyone "talked out problems". I intuitively knew that I'd find that time most useful if there was a structured agenda with clear talking points and a pre-determined purpose for every meeting.
There was nothing inherently wrong with these activities. But for me, it took a lot of energy to do them week after week. And then there came the guilt, cynicism, and feelings of incompetence as a result, because everyone else seemed to be enjoying them just fine.
Once I embraced my nature as a sensitive introvert, everything changed. I realized that I simply had different natural-born tendencies than my colleagues, and I figured out what types of environments and resources I needed to function at my best. You can do the same.
Enter your information below to download the free checklist, "17 Signs of Burnout", to pinpoint what isn't working for you, so you can finally figure out what does.
Sometimes, you can prevent or recover from burnout by simply rearranging your routine. Other times, you'll need to involve other people (coworkers, family members, friends) to alter the work or home environment so you get the downtime you need. And there's also that possibility--like what I eventually did--of creating a whole new work, home, or living situation if that's the only way to preserve your well-being.
So what's the best strategy for you? Well, we can't figure that out until we excavate the wound a teensy bit.
Identify the issues in your environment that are at odds with what you need and value, so you can start healing from these cycles of burnout. Enter your information below to get started.