Have you ever woken up on a Sunday morning, not because of the smell of coffee roasting in the shop down the street or because of the light coming through your curtains, but because of the looming stress caused by the work that awaits you in the office on Monday? Worse yet, have you ever been out to dinner with friends on a Saturday night, sidetracked by the weight of unread emails in your pocket? I know the feeling.
It was easier for me to acknowledge burnout symptoms when I worked in the legal field – where the expectation (allure, even) of the job was that I’d burn the midnight oil and eat takeout at my desk most nights. Now, if I catch myself succumbing to pre-Monday blues, I feel guilty: “What do I have to complain about?”, I’ll ask myself. “You’re doing the work you’ve always hoped to do.” It’s as if I signed a 100% positivity clause when I joined the social good space.
Those of us working in the social sector can feel burnout – and it’s okay. There’s nothing about the space that makes our jobs any less busy, challenging, or stressful. A number of factors (benefits/compensation, staff turnover, sector and organizational culture, mission fulfillment) can actually make life in our space more difficult. All of that’s to say – I hereby grant you (and myself) permission to feel the symptoms of burnout. Say it with me – “I hereby grant myself permission to feel burnt out.”
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about ways to navigate feelings of ennui, fatigue, and melancholy.
Your emotions, no matter the source, are valid and real – and acknowledging them is the first step to feeling better. And remember, feeling burnout symptoms doesn’t mean that you yourself are “burnt out” – this is just a temporary state, and it has nothing to do with the type or quality of employee you are.
When I find that I’m feeling overwhelmed at work, it’s often rooted in an issue that has nothing to do with the office. I tend to feel more stressed when I’m neglecting my physical health, putting off calling back that friend or family member who left me a voice mail, or absentmindedly thinking about the bathroom I’ve been meaning to clean for weeks. We know that we as people are only made whole by the things we do and who we are in our work life as well as in our life outside of the office. Make time and nurture both areas.
If you need a thirty-minute break to go for a run, two hours to clean your apartment, or a day off to visit a friend, take the time you need to cross something off of your personal to-do list. No matter how big or how small, this accomplishment will help get your inner momentum moving in the right direction. Better yet, cross off a few items in a row.
If you’ve taken time to look at the things on your plate and determined that the root cause of your stress is actually something (or more likely, a number of things) that are on your desk – then have a conversation with a team member or supervisor. Even if you can’t lighten some of your responsibilities, you’ll feel better making your situation known to someone else in the office – and chances are they may have a thing or two on their minds as well. A morning coffee chat or a happy hour after work is a great way to burn off some steam, source some ideas for moving forward, and build relationships with co-workers.
Mental health is a critically important piece of being alive – and sometimes a to-do list, self-reflection, or a blog post simply won’t suffice. Whether you chat with an HR representative or see a mental health expert, please lean on them for help if you need some extra counsel. I myself have done this a number of times in my life, and can attest to the long-term benefits of a professional in your corner. Also, consider doing some of your own research to see what other destressing remedies and routines are available to you every day.
As I write this blog post, I myself am struggling with some burnout symptoms – so I know that these five tips fall under the umbrella of “easier said than done.” I’m not sure whether knocking this item off of my to-do list will lift a weight of my shoulders – in fact, I’m more sure that it won’t. But when I log off of my computer, I will take my puppy for a walk and then go for a run through Chicago – and I’d be willing to bet that in just a few hours I’ll be in a new and improved head space.