Acknowledging and understanding that you do in fact have burnout and are suffering from many of the related symptoms is the first step towards changing your life for the better. Like any recovery process, from surgery to an addiction, progress will take time, effort, and introspection. The Burnout Institute is here to support you through each step of this process. Consider these five steps to help you get started.
Step 1: Set some boundaries to protect yourself
So you struggle saying no to people. You aren’t alone. Clients, bosses, coworkers, and others are notoriously hard to turn down, even when you know a request is outside of your wants, needs, comfort level, or boundaries. Fast Company reports since your boss has some level of control over your life (namely your “workload, paycheck, and career”) you may feel obligated to him or her especially and avoid saying no whenever possible. But what happens when that person doesn’t necessarily have your best interests as your first priority? Burnout can be the result of allowing others to breach your personal boundaries.
An easy way to start to resolve burnout is to make a quick list of stressors in your workplace, or things you wish you really didn’t have to do, say, or be involved in. Once you have these identified, you can start to generate trends of what types of things you may be agreeing to when really saying “no” would have been better for you. For example, you may notice that three times on your list you see something about agreeing to work overtime at the expense of spending time with your family. You can then create a logical boundary for yourself that you will only agree to working your set hours and will routinely turn down requests to work longer, even if your boss “really needs you to.” Giving yourself permission to have that clear boundary about your time engaged in work will protect you from work-related burnout.
Step 2: Reconsider your work environment, and make adjustments
One common misconception about workplace burnout is some think that you have to completely quit your job to resolve your feelings. This is not always true. It’s possible you still love your career, coworkers, work environment, or another part of your job, and that with some adjustments you can get back to enjoying more of your time at work. In the overtime example above, it wasn’t that your entire job was causing burnout, but rather one major trend in your lack of boundaries.
It’s also not always best to make a major life-altering decision, such as quitting your job, in the midst of a mental health crisis. Instead, through identifying your triggers within the workplace, you may be able to salvage your job. What aspects of your job do you enjoy, and how can you increase your time spent with those people or in that situation? Maybe you have a great coworker friend who has an office across the building from you. Would it be possible to ask to relocate to be closer to that person? Small but significant changes such as this can change your perception of the entire day, increase positivity, and with time help you return to your pre-burnout state of efficiency.
Step 3: Build a community of support…and not just any community
It may feel like you are the only person you know going through burnout, and that nobody can relate. This is far from the truth. The Harvard Business Review reports that “7% of professionals have been seriously impacted by burnout. But others have documented rates as high as 50% among medical residents and 85% among financial professionals.” They go on to explain that a 2013 study from ComPsych revealed that 62% of workers felt high levels of stress, extreme fatigue, and loss of control. There is a community of others for you who can relate, and it’s essential for your recovery to connect with them.
One of the main benefits of Burnout Institute’s process is to connect you to these other individuals going through the same recovery process. Sharing stories, tips, and empathy with others will result in a more comprehensive recovery and an ongoing community you can continue to connect with in the future. While those who haven’t experienced burnout can try to relate and give support, you will feel the closest connection with others who can truly relate to your feelings.
Step 4: Reconnect with your childhood goals, passions, and personality
It’s time to dig through those boxes from your childhood in your parents (or your own) basement that are gathering dust, and to remember what really made you tick as a 5, 10, and 15 year old. Our childhoods hold lots of secrets and valuable information regarding our interests, original passions and intentions for our lives, and most importantly, our personalities. People experiencing burnout may feel a lack of direction, creative flow, or career path, and honing in on this information from our pasts can prove significant to developing a pathway forward.
If you have living relatives or friends who knew you as a child, ask them questions about what you were into, and spend some time journaling to recall this yourself. What hobbies did you love and why? What did you think you’d be when you grew up? What careers did you admire as a child? You may realize, as I did, that I’d entered a field that turned out to be quite lucrative, but not really aligned with my interests. I loved being creative (think fashion, music, art) but I was spending 50+ hours per week engaged in data-only conversations and (sometimes) unattainable project deadlines. My mind, body, and spirit were crying out to reconnect with my childhood self, my natural passions, and my creative abilities.
Step 5: Don’t discount the benefits of traditional talk therapy
You may have heard more of the stigma surrounding therapy (“Oh, you are seeing a shrink? Is everything okay?”) than the actual benefits, which are numerous and important. Forbes reports 11 benefits to seeing a talk therapist, some of which you may not have considered before including:
You won’t need to self-medicate anymore
The benefits continue long after therapy is over, and rewires your brain and even your perception of others
You discover and confront past emotions that may be “haunting you” or you may have left unresolved
You can deal with future curveballs more easily
Therapy was an essential part of my recovery. I started seeing a therapist long before discovering I had burnout and that established relationship got me through the process. For me, an unexpected perk of talk therapy was how I uncovered a natural curiosity about parts of my past that had me stuck. Ever wonder why you do things the way you do? Get into a therapy routine (or hire a coach) and trust me, you’ll be more fascinated than “afraid” in no time.
Starting the search for the perfect match can take a bit of time, so don’t delay beginning to seek out a therapist who can help. Psychology Today has a phenomenal therapist search function that will allow you to narrow down specialists based on their degree/education, specialties, location, and insurance providers they accept.
If any of these steps seem overwhelming, or you are ready to take the next step towards healing, sign up for a free consultation to determine the best plan for you.
Written by Jessica Walther, CEO of Itivate