You love what you do.
Or you used to, anyway.
When you first started down this career path, you knew you were headed in the right direction. Now you’re not so sure.
Do you remember how amazing it felt to have a limitless supply of energy and professional creativity? You used to look forward to tackling new challenges. Now the only feeling you can muster is a dull sense of dread.
Maybe you worry that you’ve made a horrible mistake. You’re in the wrong field, doing the wrong things, wasting your life. You’re exhausted all the time. You feel frustrated, cynical, and negative. Even your favorite activities fail to bring you joy anymore.
The bad news: You’re suffering from professional burnout.
The good news: You can bounce back and rekindle your professional vitality. By making some simple adjustments, you might even discover the keys to a new level of joyful success.
And you don’t have to take a long vacation to start feeling better. Even though burnout seems most debilitating during stressful times, you can maintain your full, active schedule AND get back to thriving in your professional life.
Everyone has down days. Whether we like it or not, feeling tired, anxious, or angry is pretty normal (once in a while). But if you wake up every day feeling exhausted, anxious about work, and generally pessimistic, you may be experiencing burnout.
Researchers first used the term burnout to describe the experiences of human services professionals – health care workers, police officers, social workers, and therapists. They have since realized that professionals in every field experience burnout. If you work hard but you feel underappreciated or like you’re wasting your time, there’s a good chance you’ll end up burnt-out.
Burnout symptoms fall into three categories: emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced professional efficacy. I’ve struggled with each of these and the experience is miserable. But don’t worry, nothing is permanent (including burnout).
You’re so tired that you float through important projects and meetings feeling like you have nothing left to give. A mental haze prevents you from enjoying otherwise enjoyable activities and you feel disconnected and alone. You can’t shake the overwhelming desire to just stay in bed.
You feel detached from your clients, colleagues, and friends. Even though you want to be friendly, high-energy, and joyful, you can’t help but treat everyone around you negatively. You start worrying that your negativity is hurting your relationships. You think: maybe there’s no point in trying to be happy.
Reduced Professional Efficacy
Convinced that you’re failing every professional activity you take on, you begin to believe that you just aren’t that good at what you do. This belief undermines your confidence and massively impacts your professional efficacy.
Unfortunately, burnout symptoms often seem to increase during times of extraordinary stress: as deadlines approach, at sticking points in major projects, or during periods of career insecurity.
But that doesn’t mean you should just suffer through burnout when things get tough.
6 Ways to Stop Burnout in its Tracks
Nothing lasts forever, burnout included.
However, if you are currently experiencing burnout, it can seem like a never-ending cycle. If that’s you, these 6 burnout-ending habits will get you back on track:
For most people, this means removing yourself from the constant demands of your digital life. Take a break from checking your work email when you’re not at work. If you work from home, create a schedule that includes email-free time during dinner, at night, and during other crucial family time.
Go outside for a walk, read a book, get coffee with a friend. Listening to music is great, but if you listen to music all day, try unplugging your headphones and giving your ears a break.
Finally, if you find yourself in a constant state of turmoil thanks to political arguments on social media (I know how fun this can be!), consider scheduling breaks from Facebook and Twitter.
2. Develop a relaxation habit
Find or rekindle an activity that allows you to relax or focus on something other than your professional stressors.
Read, meditate, cook or bake, go bird watching, or try gardening. Find what works for you and give yourself permission to relax a bit each day.
3. Cultivate a diverse non-professional life
Get involved with your community. Go to the farmer’s market, art gallery events, food festivals, or whatever else pops up in your community each week.
Discover a new hobby: practice yoga, go for a hike, go kayaking, try your hand at woodworking. If something interests you, why not try it out? The excitement of learning something new may even boost your creativity when it’s time to get back to work.
Research indicates that sleep plays a crucial role in burnout and burnout recovery. If you’re getting less than 6 hours each night, it’s time to make sleep a priority. What activities would you be willing to give up to gain energy, memory, and creativity?
If your schedule doesn’t allow a change in your sleep schedule, see if you can find a 30-minute break in your day to take a power nap.
5. Tune in (to your body)
Keep a log of how you feel before, during, and after periods of burnout. Pay careful attention to physical manifestations of stress such as muscular tension and stomach discomfort.
You may discover that meditation, eating a balanced and healthy diet, and maintaining a regular sleep schedule can prevent burnout symptoms before they arise.
6. Put things in perspective
No matter how permanent your burnout symptoms feel, they will pass with time.
It’s not easy, but I’ve found it incredibly helpful to mindfully observe the unique (and often unpleasant) experience of being burnt-out. After observing my feelings, I can cultivate a sense of effortless ease knowing that eventually, it will pass.
At the end of the day, you are still a beautiful, unique, and well-loved person. And you have a huge positive impact on the lives of everyone you encounter.
Be persistent with your new habits. Give your body and mind a chance to adjust. Trust that by allowing yourself to reconnect to your non-work life that you will ultimately rediscover the joy of your professional endeavors. Your clients, friends, colleagues, and family will thank you.