It's a challenging feat to overcome burnout when you're already there but one of the best ways to conquer burnout is to assess how it happened in the first place.
Oftentimes people experience fatigue and burnout because they do not have stable and firm boundaries that they are willing or able to reinforce. Many of us exist within environments that encourage poor or loose boundaries and discourage strong and reinforced boundaries.
How do you know if you do or do not have appropriate boundaries?
The absence of healthy boundaries becomes more apparent when we feel overwhelmed, burnt out, and fatigue and these feelings often occur when people don’t feel safe over an extended period. Before attempting to make changes to your boundaries, it’s helpful to consider a mindset shift; let go of the idea that boundaries keep people out and re-frame to boundaries keep us safe.
When it comes to burnout, if you’re asking yourself, ‘how I did get here’, ‘how did it get so bad’, it’s valuable to consider the below concepts…
Feeling “dog tired”? Maybe it’s time to take an assessment of how things got this far.
Get Curious about Expectations
What are the expectations for your hired position? Are you expected to be glued to your desk for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week? Are you obligated to be on your feet a majority of your shift? Is the workplace culture to come in early, skip lunch, and stay late? Are you the only one who knows what you know and does what you do? Why? Get curious about why things are the way they are and ask yourself, under the current level of expectation, what’s the quality of work that you’re delivering? How do you feel once your workday is finally done? How much energy do you have leftover and who gets the leftover energy, if it exists. What’s the quality of the energy that you’re providing to yourself and the other people in your life? When we take a moment to ask ourselves these questions, we may start to wonder more about who set up these expectations in the first place.
Who’s Running the Show?
Who is your task manager- the person holding you accountable for performing your work duties in a certain way? How did they come up with the expectations for your work? Is there a quota you have to fill? How do they communicate those expectations to you? If you are self-employed, you're probably thinking, “My clients and customers are my task managers”. Is there a way for you to create healthier boundaries, so that you are running your business instead of your clients? In either scenario, it is possible to establish boundaries, even if you feel like the wheels have fallen off the cart.
Reasonable or Unreasonable
Another thing to consider is, for the assignments and tasks you're completing, are the expectations reasonable and achievable? Is there a better way to get things done that don’t require more of your time and energy? For example, if your work requires you to be in front of a computer most of the day is it reasonable to expect you to track data manually, or would it make more sense to utilize a cloud-based software to do auto-calculations? Is it a realistic expectation for you to squint and scowl at your computer for 10 hours a day to publish a report? No, it's not. So, why is this happening?
Tired of going around in circles? There’s a way that you can stop spinning and get off the burnout merry-go-round.
There are many people who attempt to ‘make it work' in a toxic environment for too long, or those who subscribe to the adage “fake it til you make it”. The appearance of hard work and effort might make you feel better, it might even get you recognized as an employee of the month. The problem is when we celebrate dysfunctional behavior, it creates more dysfunctional behavior. Over time, the flawed working conditions start to seep inward creating the feeling of burnout and fatigue.
How many times have you heard from a colleague or friend, “At least I have a job. I'll do whatever it takes to get the job done. Who else is going to do it, if I don’t? I do this because I'm a team player. It's only like this during our busy season. I love my job.”
When we offer ourselves this type of manipulative justification for upholding unrealistic expectations, we are not allowing enough room for our circumstances to change. Just because you are ready and able to work, does not mean that you have to do so without boundaries.
Threshold & Tolerance
Consider your thresholds and tolerance levels. What are your current threshold and tolerance level for discomfort, boredom, frustration, fatigue, overall intensity? Some people claim that they are motivated by high-pressure situations. Tight deadlines help them produce their ‘best work'. They thrive off adrenaline. That's great; however, this strategy is not sustainable for long periods or at high frequencies.
Everyone has a different threshold and tolerance level for intensity. If you know that your tolerance for intensity is lower when you’ve worked 3 consecutive overnight shifts, it’s time to make some adjustments.
Adjust your Working Conditions
It's very toxic to expect anyone to function within a dysfunctional system and there's only so much you can do to change how you navigate your environment before you realize that what needs to be modified is the environment itself.
If you’re employed by a company, ask for suggestions on how you can perform your tasks with more ease. Use an app or cloud-based software that helps complete some of the tedious tasks for you. Try delegating or task-sharing with other team members. If you are self-employed, consider why you're putting pressure on yourself to function in a toxic work environment when you're the one in charge. Reach out to other entrepreneurs in your industry to see how they are making their business run without burning the candle at both ends.
After taking an inventory of how you arrived at Burnout Central and consider areas where you can pull back, realize that it took some time to build-up to your current level of burnout. It’s going to take some time, perhaps even longer to come back down to a safer and healthier level of functioning.
Creating and maintaining boundaries is hard work, so it's okay if you don't get it completely right on the first try. People are going to test your boundaries to see if you really mean what you say and there are going to be days when it feels easier to give into requests that bypass your boundaries.
Everyone deserves the chance to have a full and more balanced life and with healthy boundaries, it’s possible.
Which tactic contributed to your current state of career burnout? Share your experience in the comments below :
Aisha is a private practice strategist passionate about supporting burnt out mental health therapists and helping professionals who are seeking to ethically blend their clinical skills with entrepreneurship, so that they can move beyond the status-quo, escape the rat-race, and live a more full and balanced life. To receive Aisha's weekly newsletter, subscribe below :