I had my first taste of burning out (along with overlapping depression) years ago, when I was an Emergency Medicine resident. Because I never wanted to hit bottom that hard, ever again, I decided to learn everything I could about resilience and mental wellness.
I started working as a coach over a decade ago, helping busy, overwhelmed women create more balanced, meaningful lives. Almost every client has some sort of work-related stress they need help with. Over the last few years, it seems that most are either on the edge of burning out or in the throes of severe work-related depletion.
Don’t rush to quit…
Many of my clients are so fed up, that they hire me to help them ditch their current position and find something else.
If possible, I counsel them to wait and try smaller changes first. If you’re suffering from true burnout (read this article to learn about the key signs), you’re emotionally and mentally exhausted and not in a good zone to make life-altering decisions.
Here’s what I advise clients to do, which you can try too:
1. Identify what’s causing you the most stress at work, and see if there’s a solution.
Maslach and Leiter, leading researchers on the subject of burnout, determined that there are six areas of work-life that can lead to burning out: excess workloads, lack of control, insufficient rewards, workplace community issues, unfair practices and value conflicts.
I’m working with a client who exhibits almost all the signs of burnout. She’s seriously considering leaving her position, though she used to love her work and still loves the company. In cases like hers, it’s quite likely that thoughts of leaving are almost exclusively burnout-related.
Some very specific issues are pushing her over the edge. Rather than sending in her resignation, she asked her superiors if they could make key changes. They highly value her and have agreed to respond to her requests! If they do, the positive impact will be significant (and far more convenient than having to chase down new work).
2. Stop doing work that’s not yours.
Excess workloads are one of the most common causes of burning out. When I ask my clients where they might be able to cut back, the usual response is “nowhere!”
My next question: “Is there anything you’re doing at work, that’s really someone else’s responsibility?”
There almost always is. Typically there are multiple things.
Highly conscientious people are at high risk for burnout, and they’re usually doing other people’s work. They want to help (or rescue) others, or have a hard time saying no. Or, perfectionism has entered in: the other person won’t do the task as well as my client can, even though it’s not my client’s responsibility.
If you feel overwhelmed with work, look at everything that you do. Get rid of anything you don’t actually have to do.
3. Place hard boundaries between work and the rest of your life.
I coach another client who feels extremely stressed and burdened by her job, with little to no time for herself. She starts early, works long hours, and usually works into the evening at home. She doesn’t actually have to, but she feels continually pressured and ends up working in her off hours by default.
When I asked her what she might do about this, her response was immediate: “I can leave my laptop at work! That way when I’m at home, I’ll have to do something else.” Perfect. I’ve had other clients do similar things, such as putting their work phone in a drawer—not to be touched—over weekends.
How might you draw clearer boundaries between work and home?
4. Start taking care of yourself physically.
If you regularly sleep less than seven hours of sleep a night, you’ll typically feel exhausted and fried. If you’re skipping breakfast, mainlining espresso and grabbing junk food all day to keep yourself going, you’ll be sure to feel awful and perform even worse. It also makes sense that if you sit at a desk all day without breaks and never get any exercise, you’ll feel irritable, stressed and like you’re losing your mind.
When I hear that you’re scrimping on sleep, not eating properly, and hardly moving at all in a given day, this is good news (to me as a coach). Because of this: As soon as you begin to regularly get more sleep, eat better and get moving, you’ll feel dramatically better.
You might even like your job again, it’s that powerful.
Start with small changes and build upon them.
These are just some basic tips. There’s likely more that you can do, but these are an excellent starting point.
And as I always say, if you feel like you’re burning out please see your doctor or a qualified psychological professional (this article shouldn’t replace their advice). As I personally experienced, burnout can overlap with depression. Some experts even believe that burnout is a work-related form of depression. Other medical conditions can also present with similar symptoms.
Life’s too short to feel continually stressed and at the end of your rope. Try these steps to take your life back, and see how much better you feel.