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Career

What Is Burnout and How Can You Recover From It?

Mentally exhausted. Emotionally overwhelmed. Trapped in an endless cycle of not enough sleep and too much caffeine just to make it through the day. . . Sound familiar?

If you—or someone you know—are experiencing these symptoms, it might be a classic case of burnout. Gallup did a study of almost 7,500 full-time employees and found that about two-thirds of them have experienced burnout at work.1

You may know the symptoms of burnout at work all too well. You have the Sunday Scaries, you feel hopeless on your drive to work, you stop trying as hard as you used to, and it feels like every spark of excitement you once had is gone. You might think this is normal, but the truth is: You don’t have to live this way. There’s a way out!

Let’s start by defining what burnout is, and then I’ll walk you through what you can do to fix it.

What Is Burnout?

Burnout is a feeling of exhaustion, frustration or overwhelm that happens when stress and toxicity build up over time. It’s when we put so much effort into taking care of everything—without rest, recognition or results—that we drain ourselves of energy and sap our emotional and physical wellness.

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Burnout can happen at your job, in your demanding relationships, when you’re serving as a caretaker, or when you’re faced with any other constant stressor that needs your attention. And when it takes every ounce of energy just to make it through another day, you’ll eventually go kaput and feel robbed of your sense of purpose. This, my friends, is burnout.

The symptoms of burnout affect every part of your life—your work, your relationships, your health and your overall outlook on life. With so much emotional buildup, burnout can make you feel disconnected, lost, hopeless or just plain miserable.

So, how did you get burned out to begin with? Well, burnout is a slippery slope and happens over time. Let’s look at some of the top causes of burnout—especially in your career.

5 Causes of Burnout at Work

As I talk to people across the country about their experience with burnout at work, I hear the same causes come up over and over:

1. No Passion for Your Work

When your job doesn’t matter to you, you begin to believe your work doesn’t matter at all. Then, you start believing you don’t matter. This is why a lack of passion quickly leads to burnout.

2. Toxic Workplace

Being around poor leadership, gossipy coworkers or teammates who don’t trust one another (or all of the above) is downright draining. No matter how hard you try to have a good attitude, that kind of negativity day after day will crush your spirit.

3. Boredom

Maybe you still like your line of work, but you feel like you’ve hit a wall because you’re doing the same tasks day in and day out with no opportunity for growth. When you’re not challenged at work, motivation to even show up will be slim.

4. Feeling Overwhelmed

You might be feeling the effects of burnout because you're being overworked. Staying late each night and wrecking your work-life balance is enough to make anyone’s health go downhill.

5. Feeling Underappreciated

Let’s face it: Everyone needs to feel appreciated. That doesn’t mean you need constant awards, applause and pats on the back. But if you’ve gone months, or even years, without having your hard work recognized, that starts to hurt.

If you’ve been experiencing one or more of these common causes of burnout, don’t lose hope. Believe it or not, you can wake up every day excited to go to work—it’s called living the dream! If you’re willing to work for it, you can get there. Let’s walk through a few ways you can recover from burnout and be on your way to the dream job.

Symptoms of Burnout

Burnout can look different for different people. Some people experience more mental and emotional symptoms of burnout. Others have a more physical reaction with their stress and exhaustion. Here are a few signs to look out for if you think you’re experiencing burnout:

Mental:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Restlessness
  • Frustration
  • Lack of productivity
  • Irritability or impatience
  • No motivation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling disconnected
  • Hopelessness
  • Overreacting to minor things
  • Zoning out
  • Overwhelm or feeling like you’re about to snap

Physical:

  • Headaches
  • Stomach issues
  • Disrupted sleep or insomnia
  • Low energy and fatigue
  • Body aches
  • Coming down with more illnesses than usual
  • Feeling either jumpy or sluggish

(Remember, there could be other things going on in life that are contributing to these symptoms. It’s always a good idea to talk with your trusted doctor, counselor or pastor for more guidance.)

How to Recover From Burnout

Folks, hear me on this: Recovery might take a while. If you’re truly burned out, your body and spirit will need time to heal. You can’t expect a weekend getaway or a good night’s sleep to fix problems that have been around for months or longer. Recovering from burnout is a process that will require effort, time and maybe more than one approach. Here are a few solutions to get you started on the path to healing.

Rediscover Your Why

Understanding your why means getting clarity on your purpose at work. This is important because when you don't know why you do something, it’s hard to push through when things get hard. In order to rediscover your why (or discover it for the first time), ask yourself questions like:

  • Do I genuinely enjoy the work I do right now?
  • Do I connect with the results my work produces?
  • Am I tapping into what I do best (my talents) and what I love to do most (my passions)?

I just want to warn you: These questions might reveal that the job you’re in today isn’t where you should stay. But don’t put in your two-week notice just yet! First, take my free Should I Quit My Job quiz to get clarity and a step-by-step plan for how to land your dream job.

Speak Up

I always recommend you talk with your leader before making any major job changes. If you have way too much on your plate, ask your leader to help you prioritize and set boundaries. If people around you are gossiping or stabbing each other in the back, bring it to your leader first and then—if appropriate—talk with your coworkers directly.

Communication is the key to a healthy work environment! If your leader isn’t willing to truly lead in these areas by helping you reach a solution, then you’ve got yourself another good reason to start looking for a new job.

Change Your Perspective

This one’s not always easy, but sometimes you need to adjust your attitude and see your job in a new light. There might be times you need to stay in a job you don’t love longer than you want because you’re job hunting for a better opportunity. Your current job is funding your future—that’s something to be grateful for!

Whatever your situation, always look for the light at the end of the tunnel. Instead of focusing on the fact that you’re dissatisfied with your job, focus on the good things. What is the job helping you accomplish right now and what can you look forward to in the near future? Remember that nothing is permanent. You’re not required to stay in the same job for the rest of your life, but right now it’s serving a good purpose.

Change Your Role

Maybe you love the company you work for, but there’s a different role that better suits your unique skills and passions. If there are any open internal positions you’re interested in and know you’d be a great fit for, talk with your leader about the possibility of making a transition.

Change Your Location

In order to do what you love, you need to be around people who are doing it and in places where it’s happening (that’s something I call the Proximity Principle).

If you can’t do what you love in your own town, it might be time to broaden your career search and consider relocating to another city or state. But before you make a bold move, I want you to either have a new job on the table before you quit or three to six months of living expenses saved to keep you afloat while you job hunt. When you do decide to make a move, download our relocation guide to make the transition as easy as possible.

Whatever you decide to do, just remember that any job you ever have will bring a unique set of challenges and struggles. We all have bad days, even in work we love! But when you’re doing what you’re meant to do in a healthy environment, you may get tired, but burnout won’t be a problem.

Focus on Your Wellness

You have to care for your body and spirit if you want to heal from burnout. And you can start small to begin healing. You don’t need to do a complete health overhaul to start feeling better. Each day, take tiny steps to get your wellness on track. Here are a few ideas:

  • Set a timer on your phone so you get to bed a few minutes earlier.
  • Eat healthy meals (or at least get an extra serving of fruit and vegetables).
  • Add daily movement, like walking, stretching or yoga, to help relieve stress.
  • Spend a few minutes soaking up the sunshine or laughing with a friend.
  • Pray, meditate or journal to get your thoughts out of your head.

When your body has been in fight-or-flight mode, these simple actions will start to unwind the feelings that have been keeping you stuck.

Reframing The Problem

Folks, the feelings of exhaustion and hopelessness you’re experiencing are very real. But let me encourage you: When you’re feeling burned out and at the end of your rope, there’s hope for you to turn things around. You’ll need to make some hard decisions and shift some priorities to make it happen. But you can bring balance, purpose and wellness back to your life.

You were designed to play a unique role in life. Someone out there needs you to be you—so don’t let burnout stand in the way of doing what you were made to do.

And don’t forget to download my free Should I Quit My Job quiz to find out what your next right step is. And if you still need more guidance, call me and ask me your questions at 844.747.2577, or email me at ask@kencoleman.com. I’d love to talk with you!

Ken Coleman

About the author

Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman is America's Career Coach, the nationally syndicated radio host of The Ken Coleman Show and #1 national bestselling author. He has been featured in Forbes and appeared on Fox News, Fox Business Network, and the Rachael Ray Show. Since 2014, he has served at Ramsey Solutions, where he offers expert advice every day to help thousands of people discover what they were meant to do and how to land their dream job. Learn More.

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