Battling Burnout

By Susan David

In the context of our “rise-and-grind” culture, it’s very likely that you or someone you care about is  either coping with burnout now or has dealt with it in the past. I’ve been there myself. It feels like your work is demanding more of you than you have to give. You’re growing cynical and exhausted. It takes you an hour to complete tasks that you could previously wrap up in twenty minutes. You used to look forward to your job. Now you dread it.

One of the key signs of burnout is working less efficiently and falling behind. We often then try to remedy this by working more than before. This creates an unhealthy cycle where the deeper your sense of burnout, the more you work, and the more you work, the greater the burnout. The work week and the weekend begin to blur together. The sense of depletion follows you home from the office, and you have less energy for your spouse, your friends, and your children, which compounds your negative emotions. You feel like you’re in a dark tunnel, sprinting toward a light that never seems to get any closer.

If this sounds familiar, there are strategies that can help you break the cycle. Rather than lean into busyness, look for opportunities to lean into your humanness. That humanness will look different for different people. Here are just a few ideas: 

  • Have a romantic dinner out with your partner where you agree not to talk about work. 
  • Kick a soccer ball around with your kid, niece or nephew, or a friend. 
  • Listen to a favorite song with your eyes closed. 

Your humanness is present when you take pleasure in existing rather than accomplishing, when you remember that you’re a human being, not a human doing.

When we connect with our humanness, we stop struggling toward the light at the end of the tunnel and start learning how to see in the dark. We squint our eyes, notice the specific emotions that burnout has provoked in us, and use them as signposts that point us toward our values. 

That sense of boredom is telling you that your need for intellectual challenge is going unmet. 

Your loneliness is saying that you need more personal connection in your life. 

And that profound feeling of exhaustion is urging you to lean against the tunnel wall and take a rest. 

It’s all too easy to look forward to some indefinite point in the future when work will slow down, and your burnout will fade. However, that approach assumes that you won’t collapse along the way. It’s more sustainable to use your feelings as data that can help guide your decisions in the here and now. Whether that means rethinking how you relate to your work, adjusting your role within your organization, or even laying the groundwork for a career change, you’ll be reframing your burnout as an opportunity to identify the first steps toward change.

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