Our plugged-in lives make it easy to work anytime, anywhere … and difficult to mentally “clock out.” It’s no wonder that more and more people are succumbing to stress, overworking themselves until their personal wellbeing suffers. Enter the concept of “career burnout,” the rarely-talked-about condition that plagues young professionals, especially. And while it may seem counterintuitive, if you’re looking to climb the ladder, you may actually benefit from slowing down in order to prevent burnout at work and prioritizing your overall wellbeing.
But first, what exactly does it mean? “Burnout is the depletion of internal resources due to chronic stress,” explains Charlene Rymsha, LMSW, a Millennial Burnout Expert and founder of Everyday Coherence, a burnout recovery system. “What makes burnout so insidious and dangerous is that it’s rarely visible on the outside, and creeps up on the individual slowly. Furthermore, a hallmark of burnout is the art of perfecting that [you appear] okay, and pushing through no matter what, even when you feel you’re about to collapse.”
Ahead, Rymsha, along with Career Success Catalyst Coach Jennifer Brick, and Maria C. Inoa, LCSW, speaker, blogger, and owner of Full Potential Counseling, share their insights. From recognizing signs you’re beginning to fray, to extinguishing burnout before it’s full-blown, these experts demystify the secret epidemic that may be affecting you, too.
Signs You’re Burning Out
“Burnout lies on a continuum from mild to severe,” Rymsha clarifies. “And since we live in a culture of burnout (hyperconnectivity plus glorification of constant work), most of us are ‘smoldering’ to [some] degree.”
Not sure whether you’re burning out or you’ve just had a bout of bad days? The experts share some telltale signs that you’re heading for an emotional crash and burn:
Lack of energy: You may be battling constant fatigue overall (despite getting enough sleep), but you also may feel too drained to do the things you used to enjoy, like exercising or hanging out with friends.
Lack of time: Sure, the “I don’t have time” excuse comes in handy every now and then, but if you literally don’t have time to have a life outside of work, that’s a problem.
Trouble maintaining healthy habits: Nobody’s perfect, but generally healthy eating, exercise, and sleeping routines are the foundation of your wellbeing. If you’ve been living off takeout because you don’t have the time/energy to cook, skipping your workouts, and not getting enough sleep, you could be on the fast track to burning out.
Interrupted sleep: You may find that work stress is causing insomnia, or if you wake up every morning feeling anxious, then work may be weighing too heavily on your mind.
Physical pain: Yes, mental exhaustion can affect you physically, and this often comes in the form of chronic headings and muscle tension.
Feeling overwhelmed and unfulfilled: If you’re so overwhelmed that your job is no longer fulfilling (not to be confused with the apathy of being in a career rut), you may be too drained to continue at the same pace.
What to Do If You’re in the Throes
So your burnout level is at a smolder … now what? “This is exactly where many of my clients are when I begin working with them,” Brick tells The Zoe Report. “The key thing you should do to avoid burnout is take inventory of where you are investing your time.” While excelling in your position will likely get you noticed, she points out that most over-achievers — who are most likely to suffer from burnout — try to excel at everything, all the time. Needless to say, this is an impossible standard to maintain long-term.
Prioritize: “You should overachieve only on the things that truly matter,” Brick suggests. “Your boss will notice when you overachieve on things that matter to her and the senior leaders; this typically means excelling in areas that directly impact revenue, the strategic priorities of your company, or ideally both.”
Practice Self-Care: Speaking of which, it’s essential to put self-care on top of the list. “Self-care truly is the number one preventative method of burnout, which literally means prioritizing your own needs to best support your health,” Rymsha says. She recommends meditating, taking hot baths, laughing with friends, and journaling. (And, by all means, set a time to stop checking your work emails every night).
Separate Yourself (Literally): Furthermore, a change of scenery can do wonders to change your perspective. While a weeklong vacation is ideal if you can swing it, Inoa says that taking off a day or two can still help you decompress. Plan a solo trip if you really need some self-reflection, or if you’re short on time, a weekend getaway can do the trick. At the very least, you can plan a mini staycation to unwind, as long as work stays off-limits.
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Before the words “I can’t take time off” pop into your head, consider this: You’ll be much more productive in the long run if you take a few days to recharge, as opposed to fizzling out so badly, you can’t perform your job anymore.
Seek Professional Help: However, if you’re right on the brink of a breakdown, Rymsha admits that baths and vacations may not cut it. “When self-care isn’t helpful, whether due to self-defeating beliefs or counterproductive emotions, or if the physical symptoms are so strong that self-care seems to worsen symptoms, then it is time to seek professional help to effectively navigate these internal obstacles,” she says.
When to Consider Switching Jobs or Changing Careers
When stress and to-do lists are cluttering your brain, you may be tempted to find another job or change careers altogether. But before making any drastic decisions, it’s essential to pinpoint whether you’re simply overworking yourself, or your actual job is to blame.
When facing exhaustion at work, “the first thing is to ask yourself: ‘Is this a feature or a bug?’” Brick reasons. “Are the demands and hours you are facing a requirement of the role at all companies, or just the one you are at?” Further, it’s important to identify whether your heightened anxiety may be self-imposed. “Most of the ambitious professionals I work with are high achievers, and by nature, they want to excel in every area of their role,” she says. “They are working to get their next promotion by [overworking themselves] within their current role, but that is actually working against them and getting them further from the job they want.”
If this is the case, again, prioritization is key. However, if you realize your career is impacting your quality of life, it may be time to reassess. “Sometimes, we ignore the signs the universe is giving us until we are at a breaking point,” Inoa says. “If you are developing health problems because of a job or your anxiety is through the roof, it’s so important to take a step back and assess your situation.” She adds, “It never hurts to look for jobs, and even apply. You never know what’s out there until you look.”