Ask anyone who knows me: I’m not someone who’s easily intimidated. But one of the few frightening memories I have is my experience with burnout over 10 years ago.
We all have episodes where we feel tired and depressed. The boss is demanding too much, the significant other wants to argue all the time, the dog mangled the new bedroom furniture that we maxed out our credit cards to buy. It’s upsetting, but we stay in control. We talk respectfully to the boss about the workload, tell the S/O to stop taking their frustration out on us, and get new furniture (or a new dog) when we can.
Burnout takes that away from you. What is burnout? Read on.
What Is Burnout?
Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by prolonged exposure to high stress levels. Mental fatigue and depression leave you unable to meet the constant demands on your time and resources. It happens a lot to high-octane professionals who pursue their passions and relish every waking moment until they fall victim to the debilitating stress that can set in when you give so much of yourself.
I was talking to another project manager a few days ago. In my opinion, he was exhibiting signs of burnout, so I gently queried. Once he saw that I wasn’t going to judge, he admitted that he was having a hard time coping. “I’m here, doing my job,” he told me, “but I feel like my life and my career are a mess. I’m still going, but am really trying not to quit.”
Oh, man. I told him what I learned from my own experience, which he appreciated, although our respective situations were different. On a similar note, recent burnout research found that job demands and personal setbacks had the double effect of inspiring more cynicism and exhaustion, but only with women. The authors suggested that compared to men, women are more affected by the dual pressures of home and work.
Burnout is not incurable, although it does require you to accept its presence and change the way you’ve been living and working. Once the dark times have passed, you may even remember it as a positive event that allowed you to reclaim your energy and rediscover yourself. You will also prevent your career from being jeopardized by an inability to meet requirements and expectations.
If you’re dealing with burnout, these 10 research-backed tips can show you how to recover from burnout and shine brightly once more.
1. Make a List of Everything That’s Overwhelming You
I find making lists to be therapeutic. They help you make sense out of chaos by capturing all your negative thoughts and putting them in concrete form, where they’re easier to review and understand.
According to Psychology Today, lists are excellent resources for dealing with information overload because you can select and prioritize tasks more easily. You can use pen and paper or one of the great list-maker apps out there. I used the former because I wanted a break from my digital life, but you can go with whatever feels more comfortable for you.
- Start by taking an inventory of what you have to do that day. Get it in writing so that you don’t have to overload yourself further by remembering it all.
- Next to each inventory item, note any ways that can make the task less draining. If you are a managing a creative project, for example, you can ask the photography team to send you their 10 favorite photos instead of sorting through dozens yourself to make a selection.
Creating lists also lets you see where you can delegate, so that there are fewer demands on your personal resources as you recover.
2. Focus on Your Strengths
I don’t know about you, but I tire easily when I’m working on tasks that don’t fit my skill set. According to Dr. Jim Harter, Ph.D., chief scientist of workplace management and well-being at Gallup, workers who are truly engaged spend an average of four times as many hours doing work they excel at compared to what they don’t do as well.
When you spend as much time as possible on activities that support and develop your strengths, it can act as a major energy-booster. You will also feel more confident and motivated. If possible, delegate your more difficult tasks to team members until you’re better able to cope with them.
3. Acknowledge Your Weaknesses
This tip is closely tied to the one above. Spending too much time on activities that you aren’t sufficiently trained or qualified to do will sap your energy and self-esteem. If it appears that they’ll be a permanent part of your job description, approach your supervisor and request opportunities for professional development.
Kaplan Financial noted that one of the biggest benefits of professional development is the way it re-energizes employees. The opportunity to master something new will-
- Serve as a welcome break in the monotony of daily work
- Rekindle creativity
- Gain new skills that translate into greater confidence on the job
4. Develop a Strong Support System at Work
When you have strong workplace friendships, you also have a support system ready to provide help and advice without judging you. Not only does working with friends reduce the risk of burnout, but it can also quicken your recovery. There are multiple studies available confirming that a strong social support network delivers the following benefits:
- Improved ability to deal with stress
- Faster recovery from emotional distress
- Better mental health
- Cardiovascular benefits such as reduced blood pressure
5. Identify a Good Manager
The Gallup study referenced in Tip No. 2 also found that workers who felt supported by their managers were less likely to experience burnout and recover more quickly if it happened.
When you’re suffering from burnout, hiding it rarely works. If you’re lucky enough to have a good supervisor who respects your work, they will gladly work with you to address any workplace stressors that may have contributed to the burnout. The Gallup study confirmed that employees with supportive managers were 70% less likely to suffer from frequent burnout.
6. Practice Saying “No.”
When you’re feeling burned out, avoid taking on any new responsibilities or commitments. For me, this one was positively terrifying. My workplace had ‘teamwork’ posters everywhere and ‘No’ was the only four-letter word with just two letters.
If your manager and co-workers are supportive, they will understand when you’re not volunteering to stay late or help them with additional projects. If not, check with your Human Resources Department to see how much vacation time you have coming and book some time off.
7. Avoid Taking Work Home
I used to hate leaving things for the next day. I wanted it done so that tomorrow was as clean a slate as possible, even if it meant working in my darkened living room long after my boyfriend had gone to bed. I had to accept that I was human, not a machine rushing to beat everyone else to the finish line.
That acceptance was a major breakthrough. I stopped taking work home regularly and focused on accomplishing as much as possible during office hours. If something couldn’t wait until the next day, I would come in earlier, after I’d had a good night’s sleep. Even though I was technically working more hours when this happened, I didn’t feel as overwhelmed or exhausted.
8. Control Your Device Usage
This was another hard one for me, but I’m so glad that I did it. I stopped rushing across the apartment whenever I got a text alert or Facebook notification. When you’re in an advanced state of information overload, the last thing you need is more information.
I couldn’t unplug during the day for obvious reasons, but when I got home, I left my phone on the dining room table and left it there until it was time to leave for work in the morning. My manager and project teams were told to call me if anything urgent arose outside of office hours. It never happened while I was recovering from burnout, and has happened only once or twice.
9. Look Into Support Groups
Support groups come in all shapes and sizes. A lot of them are therapeutic, which is great when you need to talk and vent in a safe and understanding setting. If excessive demands are causing much of your job burnout, there are professional organizations that provide mentoring, support, and access to resources that can help you cope better.
Whichever support group you choose, you will enjoy the following benefits:
- The opportunity to reduce stress by sharing feelings
- Reduced feelings of isolation due to getting together with others
10. Rediscover What You Love
If you’re a high achiever like me, there are things that you’re passionate about. When burnout takes hold, that passion starts to lose its meaning, leaving you emotionally depleted and physically exhausted. When you take a step away from all those overwhelming demands, that passion can gradually return. You may have to redefine your roles and responsibilities at work or home and seek help with the load that you’ve stubbornly carried for so long, but once you start feeling passionate about something again, you know you’re on the road to recovery.
Rose Keefe is an author and technical writer who has over ten years’ experience in supporting project managers in the manufacturing and construction sectors. One of her primary responsibilities was developing product manuals that supported efficient use of industrial equipment. She continues to write on the subject of time management and commercial productivity for trade websites and publications.