Let’s be honest, work isn’t the most exciting part of our day. We don’t wake up on our days off counting down the days until we can work again. Our jobs take up a huge amount of our time, yet we may not enjoy it all the time. Some of the most common things I hear clients talk about when it comes to their workplaces, are stressful things like their dismissive bosses, their creepy coworker who mansplains things, or the workload that makes it feel like they can’t even take a lunch. All of these things are incredibly stressful and overwhelming, but would they create a situation where we would get burnt out?
First I want to clarify what exactly burnout is, because I feel like this concept is thrown about a lot but not really defined. Burnout is a situation where we have workplace stress that has been taking place for a long time. It does not have to be just work, this stress can be any situation that we perceive to be work, such as being a stay-at-home parent or working towards a degree as well. It also does not take huge amounts of stress to cause burnout. It’s more about the fact that the stress has been going on for long periods of time without being resolved.
So how is this different than regular stress?
Stress isn’t inherently bad. We often talk about stress in a negative way because we don’t like to be stressed. But stress can be very motivating; that’s why we work harder to do our work when we feel stressed. The problem comes about when we feel stressed for long periods of time. That puts pressure on our body and our mind. So stress turns into burnout when it happens over longer periods of time.
When the stress builds up over longer periods of time, this impacts our moods. It can make us feel anxious, and it’s harder for us to cope. It also makes it so that we have a harder time thinking logically, which isn’t clear to us until we reflect on this at a later time.
Burnout can look different for different people. It can be an empty, depleted, and exhausted feeling. For some, it means caring less about their work. For others, it may be isolating, staying up late to work, or spending more and more time on work. We may find ourselves saying that we “should” keep working, maybe because that’s what everyone else does.
But when we’re burnt out, we tend to bring the stress home with us. It impacts other areas of our life, and not just our work, which can make us miserable.
If burnout is impacting you, the first step to doing something about it is knowing what you’re struggling with. This can be especially difficult because if you’re burnt out, most likely your coworkers are too. That can make it hard to know what you’re experiencing, because burnout is talked about like it’s expected or normal. But if you’re feeling exhausted, empty, and strained, those are valid feelings and it’s okay for you to do what you need to in order to feel better.