As more and more people are vaccinated, we are finally nearing the end of this long pandemic road. But after more than a year of developing a new normal, you may be surprised that you’re feeling burnt out, just as we reach the finish line.
Many of us felt that we had fully adapted to these new workplace conditions when burnout hit. Boston psychiatrist Maureen Sayres Van Niel explains why so many of us are feeling worn out and demotivated now, more than a year into the pandemic. She also suggests that women may be bearing more of the brunt.
“I think people have been in shock, powering through and not stopping to think of what has happened. Now I see women beginning to come out of that and starting to grasp the full extent of this pandemic on their lives,” she notes.
One of the first steps of recovering from burnout is being kind to ourselves by examining the implications of the concept itself. “Burnout” implies a personal failing, or that an individual can’t hack what’s expected of them in the workplace.
According to an article in the Federal Practitioner, “Burnout suggests that the problem resides within the individual, who is in some way deficient.”
The article goes on to say that typical solutions for burnout, which often rely on individual practices like yoga and meditation, don’t actually work for everyone, and may not even address the issues that cause the burnout in the first place.
This implication suggests that employers should be responsible for employees’ burnout, but this isn’t the full story. The American Psychological Association conducted studies that found that employer efforts to reduce burnout weren’t wholly effective, though of course these efforts to improve mental health are not without merit.
So, in the end, Harvard Business Review concludes “our recent research suggests that when you’re feeling burned out, the best person to help you recover may be yourself.”
If you want to feel more energized and excited about your work, consider taking these steps to understand and respond to your burnout.
4 Steps to Recover From Burnout
Pinpoint the kind of burnout you’re feeling.
HBR suggests there are three symptoms of burnout, and each person who describes themselves as “burnt out” may be feeling one, two, or three of them.
The first is exhaustion, described as a “depletion of mental or physical resources.” The second is cynical detachment, or “a depletion of social connectedness,” while the third is “a reduced sense of efficacy (a depletion of value for oneself).”
Focusing on the type or types of burnout you feel can help you make an improvement plan for yourself.
Identify which of your internal resources are depleted.
Once you have determined which of your resources have been depleted, then you can start focusing on the type of remedy that has been proven to be most effective for each symptom.
If you are exhausted, then you should focus on showing yourself compassion, especially during stressful situations. Ideas can include taking a short nap, meditating, or cooking yourself a nice meal. The key here is not feeling guilty for taking time away; this kind of self-care is important.
If you’re feeling isolated, make time to connect with a colleague. Especially now, small acts of solidarity that might happen in the office are more difficult to achieve. But that’s precisely why you need to develop a sense of connectedness with a phone call or walk with a colleague.
If your primary sense of depletion is in your own value and self-worth, then HBR recommends focusing on either internal or external validators. If you’re able to do something like “comforting a coworker,” your own sense of self-worth will increase. Or decide that you’ll finish a project or a step of a project to focus on your own abilities.
Recognize that self-care and self-compassion are not frivolous
In a 2019 study, one in three Americans reported that they felt guilty for “indulging” in self care. Some of us, especially high achievers, may think that taking care of ourselves is silly, or unnecessary. And perhaps that’s because, for some, the term “self care” implies bubble baths or yoga, which is a limited perspective.
For instance, consider developing a hobby outside of work, like running, painting, or joining a team or group.
Another outlet with proven benefits includes gratitude journaling, where you write down the positive things that happen to you in your life. This re-trains your brain to think about the positive aspects of your work and life, rather than tunneling in on what’s not going well at the moment.
Consider if workplace conditions are causing your burnout.
Even if you try your hardest to relieve your burnout, there are some workplace conditions that are naturally going to keep you in a constant state of exhaustion and de-motivation. Are you under-challenged in your workplace? Do you find your work uninteresting and disengaging? Does your office force you to be “on” all the time and worried about the time you spend away from your commitments?
Any or all of these cause a sense of burnout that you can’t solve on your own.
Consider talking to your boss about the problems you’re facing. Or, if you think you can’t change your workplace, you may determine that your burnout is a sign that your position isn’t the right fit, and it’s time to move on.
Burnout prevents us from entering a flow state and truly enjoying our careers. Even if you love your job, you can find yourself going through the motions, failing to fully engage with anything you do. If you are burnt out, the first step is identifying what is causing these symptoms and creating an action plan to replenish your internal resources.
Ultimately, burnout is a sign that something needs to change. You may realize that you are overcommitting yourself, and leaving your life outside of the office under-developed. Or, you may discover that you need a change to a new position or field that motivates you.