How to Recover From Job Stress and Burnout
Burnout can plague anyone.
Posted November 10, 2016
Burnout can plague anyone, from social workers to nurses to air traffic controllers, but idealists, strivers, and those who work their butts off without reward are affected most often. Indeed, any profession with a heavy workload and an unsupportive environment creates the perfect breeding ground for burnout.
How do you know if you’re burned out? The three main signs are emotional exhaustion, reduced accomplishment, and depersonalization, which is basically growing bitter and cynical towards the people you’re supposed to care enough about to serve.
But don’t despair— there is much you can do to combat burnout. So before you start fantasizing about getting arrested just to get some time off work, here are nine tips that will help you rekindle after a bout of burnout:
Tip #1: Start with your body. This might sound cliché, but take care of yourself. How much wine are you drinking after work? When was the last time you exercised? When was the last time you ate lunch without staring at your computer? Make a decision to skip fast food, get back into exercising, and trade your smartphone for some shuteye.
Tip #2: Pinpoint the root of your problems. Decades of research have boiled work problems down to six things:
Heavy workload: You feel like you’re drowning, unable to catch up. Work keeps coming at you like that I Love Lucy episode with the chocolates on the conveyor belt.
Lack of control: You feel you have no agency or choice in your duties, process, or deadlines.
Insufficient Reward: You feel exploited. You think you’re not being appropriately rewarded for all that you do in terms of finances, prestige, or positive feedback.
Unfairness: You feel that your work environment is hostile or unjust.
Lack of Community: There’s a surplus of backstabbing and mean-spiritedness among your co-workers, plus a deficit of support and camaraderie.
Working in Opposition to Your Values: You work against your conscience or morals, like evicting old ladies or harpooning baby whales.
Once you know exactly what’s snuffing your fire, try Tip #3: Imagine the best version of the future. The opposite of job burnout is job engagement. Imagine what it would take for you to be engaged. Where would you like to be? What are the things a great workplace should have? How can you take control of your work and make your own choices rather than have them made for you?
Tip #4: Aim for a better match. Some problems, like working against your values or a horrible workplace culture, are intractable. For these, see the next tip. But sometimes change is possible, so ask yourself how it can be achieved Can you diversify your job description? Transfer to another team or location within the company? Justify hiring an assistant? Make the case for flex time or working from home a day a week? If the problem is social, can you suggest some changes that will help all employees?
Tip #5: If you’ve done all you can with your current job, make some big decisions. Think like a boss. Make some executive decisions. If making a better match fails, that might be your cue to start looking for another job or to go back to school.
Tip #6: Shift your expectations. Notice I didn’t say “lower your expectations.” It’s been shown that burnout is a consequence of a longstanding mismatch between a worker’s expectations and the actual job duties, which is probably why the most idealistic among us are often the first to fall prey to burnout. So make some internal changes as well: shift from saving the world to helping those who will let you. Or aim for improvement, not perfection.
Tip #7: Delegate. Hear me out on this one. By “delegate” I don’t mean dump the part of your job you don’t like on the intern. Instead, fight the feeling that you’re the only one who can handle things.
Notably, those who think if they want something done right, they have to do it themselves are more vulnerable to burnout. This might be true—sometimes you are the one in charge. But sometimes things can be delegated. If you think you might be a little on the over-responsible side, test out delegation and see what happens.
Tip #8: Diversify your time. By the time we burn out, we’ve often become one-dimensional. Life whittles down to work and maybe going to the gym, which we chalk up to “taking care of ourselves” but is really just another duty. Take some time to do things you want to do, not just more things you should do. Ask yourself what you used to like to do, and then dust off your hiking boots, your madeleine pan, or your table saw.
Tip #9: Take all your vacation days. This seems simple, but it’s important! And while we’re on the subject, if you end up quitting on Friday, try your darnest not to start your next job on Monday. If you can afford it, give yourself some time off. Travel, go see friends and family, or at least rest: work on your house, read some novels, or play with your kids.
To wrap up, when you find yourself so preoccupied with work that you instinctively swipe your work ID to get into your house, give some of these nine tips a go. You'll go from burned out to fanning the flames.
A version of this piece originally appeared on Quick and Dirty Tips.
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Disclaimer: All content is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute for mental health care from a licensed professional.