Hi there! I am suffering from burn-out. Yes, I can say this now because WHO ruled burn-out as an occupational phenomenon. Some days are good, and I manage to smile at work, some days are bad, and I want to crush everything.
It is quite funny actually, a petite 5’3 girl burning with nihilistic ideas.
Jokes (clearly my coping mechanism) apart, my Monday mornings were formed with 1-part anxiety, 1-part irritation and 1-part despondency.
With my struggle and varied advice on the internet, I felt a pull to share things that I have been working on to deal with workplace burn-out. My first and foremost hope is that my article validates the reality of burn-out and you feel a little less alone. My secondary hope is that maybe one of the few ways which have helped me, help you as well.
Today was one of the bad days. Unbeknownst to my logical mind, I found myself sitting in front of my laptop with tears soaking my cheeks. Pain gripped my chest and all I could see was a bleak present. So, I cannot tell you that after following all of the below I have been able to turn my life around completely. I have not.
I have however been able to identify the best potential ways of aligning my life to better feed my happiness and I have definitely been able to minimize the bad days. More importantly, I have been able to rebound faster and apply myself in more productive outlets, such as this article!
Furthermore, if you have the courage, tools, clarity and freedom to step out of a burn-out work situation, more power to you. For others, whose situation is more complicated and needs more time, faith, preparation and support, read on.
Before I lay out the things that have worked for me, I encourage you to go to the link above and read the bullets listed by WHO that are classified as symptoms of burn-out. Do you see yourself in any or all of them? I saw myself clearly in the first two.
So, let us get down to the good stuff — I know you love bullet lists.
1. I got help, from experts
I waited 2 years too long to get help. The need to self-solution was so strongly ingrained in me from my upbringing and culture that I decided to address everything on my own.I failed miserably and could feel the stress steeping into my work life. I opened my eyes and recognized the need to get help from experts.
At this time, by the fated hand of the universe, a friend casually mentioned her Life Coach in a completely unrelated conversation.
Taking my introductory call with the Life Coach was the first right step in a series of steps that were to follow.
Dropping his link here if you are looking for a friend’s nudge as well. Considering my Life Coach’s introvert personality, he would not take too kindly to me sharing his website, so let’s keep this between us, shall we? :)
So, do not wait for the wretched ‘hindsight’ to inform you that it is okay to get help and guidance from people qualified to provide it.
2. I identified my root cause
My first instinct was that burn-out implies I need to change my job (flight or fright response). However, I decided to take a breather and wrote down the exact nature of my current circumstances that were most painful. I wrote down five reasons which seemed to contribute to my burn-out.
Not to disclose my personal diary, but some of the reasons that came to fore included — personality misfit for an introvert in a highly extroverted job; longevity in the same job since I started working in corporate america, without a long-term break; a calling to spend more time with initiatives that speak to my passion in social impact sector
It was a scary process and I did not hold back in identifying potential root causes.
Next, I asked myself, which ONE of the five things, if changed, would have the biggest positive impact on my situation.
That ONE thing was what I decided to focus on. For me it was the need to find the time to engage in more social impact driven activities and balance my workday with sufficient quiet time to recharge in an extroverted job.
It was a scary process but looking back I think it was essential. Without going through this exercise, I might have ended up making changes which did not address my root issue of dissatisfaction and would have likely led me to repeat the same pattern in a different job.
3. I made a decision to sustain, and if possible, thrive in the short term
I am a consultant and my logical mind moves very rapidly to solutions. I decided to apply my skills to my personal life and identified a solution to address my root cause.
It was important for me to realistically look at my solution and ask if I could implement it in the short-term (within few weeks), or would it require more leg work and need more than 10 months. Believe it or not, 10 months can be a VERY long time for a burnee (someone struggling with sufficient fuel to run at an optimal productivity level at work).Yes, I just coined this word and now you and I can open a club!).
I identified 3–5 countermeasures that I could apply effective immediately to balance the intensity of burn-out.
For me these counter measures addressed my need to spend more time in social impact sector and identifying little things everyday that bring me joy.
The exercise proved useful beyond my work situation. I realized that there were simple things that I used to enjoy and had stopped doing once I took to being committed to my work.
My mornings now start with a warm cup of water that I drink in the fresh air (weather permitting), followed by some meditation and journaling. The simple act of taking out 30 minutes to recharge my soul help me find balance on most days. I meditate every morning to spend time alone. I notice a visible increase in my anxiety and lack of grounding on days I do not meditate. Today, considering my outburst, naturally, I did not meditate. **rolls eyes**
Most importantly, little by little, I have managed to feed my passion for learning by venturing into holistic healing by taking courses for continued education.
None of these apparently simple things would have come to become essential to my long term happiness goals, had I not taken out time for a reality check
4. I am learning to put things in perspective
We live in a highly egotistical society in which we are taught to think for ourselves every single second. Stepping out of this bubble of self can be very rewarding and uplifting.
On a good day, I sit down and get perspective by focusing on things bigger than ME and MY life.
For me personally, it is beginning to help identify false and true emergencies. I am able to stay calm in the face workplace chaos where everyone is ‘reacting’ to what they believe are emergencies. Very few things are true emergencies and my discernment improved once I opened my eyes to the world beyond my tiny bubble.
Many people practice a Buddhist meditation that encourages people to think of the suffering in the world and send out vibes of healing. Not only does this practice forces people to pause and think about someone other than them, it helps develop compassion. It is a practice best learned in a school. If you are interested, look up Tonglen.
For me, a more hands on approach worked well. I decided to use my spare time to offer service to the society in as many ways I could. A chunk of my weekend is dedicated to pro-bono consulting for non-profits and volunteering with patients to offer energy healing. Looking at some of the problems first hand is deeply humbling and smacks my egotistical side to see and acknowledge the benefits in my life which I forget when the burn-out monster comes to play.
5. I decided to talk about it, openly
To many people my approach was counter intuitive. The instinct was to march on at work as if I was 100% motivationally healthy. I was not. I decided to stop pretending.
I do not hijack every conversation to talk about burn-out,
but I have decided to be more honest about the perils and challenges that come with my job. The intention is not so much to complain to the world, but to share and start creating a safe space for people like me who might be struggling but are not able to talk about the situation.
I am aware this does not apply to everyone’s work situation and not everyone has leaders who would take to even a sliver of truth kindly. So read your situation and do what makes you feel you can be a little more your authentic self.
We have too much burden on ourselves to feel we are indebted to our jobs and need to be perfect. I am sure most people experiencing signs of burn-out have been extremely grateful for many aspects of their job, but now find themselves in a situation that is demanding a break or change.
6. I choose make intentional changes from a place of security, not fear or escape
As Herbert Lui summarized in this article, your trials and your blessings are the same. I struggle with this advice myself, but deep down I understand this as a critical attitude shift. While identifying the root cause(s) for my burn-out, and making small changes in my daily life — I remind myself to remember that all I have is this present moment and it is passing by.
In the NOW, I have a job at which on some days I feel burned out. In situations where I feel my worst reactions being triggered, I imagine my future-self (20 years older and wiser) watching the events play out. What lesson would she see in the very difficult current state?
For me today, as my tears were giving some stiff challenge to the New York rains, it dawned on me that each of these rough days offer me a chance to learn and choose my response in a way that exhibits faith, excellence and hope. Today, the realization came late and the self-nihilation was already in full force, but tomorrow, I have faith that it will be different, and I will consciously choose how I respond to the events in life.
We do not give life enough credit because it just exists — everyday — right in front of us. You might have heard, Life is not happening to you, it is happening for you.
A mantra that continues helping me —
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.
The journey might seem difficult to me today, but I am beginning to realize that I cannot keep preparing for a life in the future. My life is happening NOW…RIGHT NOW. Once I started accepting this fact and reminding myself during the day, I noticed that my counter measures to burn-out came from a place of security and desire for intentional change. I am not longer running from my present….I am aware of my present, even the challenging days, and opening my heart to personal growth, a more meaningful and aligned life.
It is important to understand that burn-out does not mean you are not an ambitious person, or that your firm does not have a supportive culture, or that you are not flexible enough and carry the wrong work attitude. For instance, I work in a highly people-oriented organization, my bosses are supportive and wonderful, I get good vacation time and my team strives to make our work-life balance better!
Still, I know I am burned-out! Burn-out is a symptom of a bigger problem that is screaming for attention.
People will tell you that all you need is an attitudinal shift to accept that this is how Corporate America works. I decided to respectfully disagree.
Sure, we live in a fast moving world which demands a lot from us.
However, there is always a balance that can be intentionally introduced if only we so choose to do.
You are not wrong in wanting this balance, most people who ask you to just ‘accept’ are too scared to ask for it.
Acknowledging on public platform that I am burned-out does not make me weak. Taking healthy steps to days when I thrive, consciously responding to bad days, and focusing on my long-term alignment to address the root cause — all of this, together, makes me a hero! **Cue in Wonder Woman music**