Help me get over burnout
May 17, 2012 8:29 AM   Subscribe

How do I push through feeling burnt-out?

I feel like I'm having a midlife crisis and I'm only in my mid-thirties. I recently left a job (and moved to a different state) that I essentially liked, but was in a toxic environment that was wearing me out. I was unemployed for a while and just when I started feeling ok about it I got another job that at first sounded really exciting and then turned out to be just as toxic. I have been looking for other jobs and an interesting possibility has just come up, but it's hard to be excited about it. I go through periods of being really hopeful and feelings of just being tired and overwhelmed.

I like my industry in general (I'm in IT and make a decent living), but I am having a really hard time caring about my career. I find myself looking for ads for jobs that are close to my house no matter what they are, but I live in a small town and nothing close by pays enough money to support my lifestyle. Honestly if I didn't need money to pay for a mortgage, at this point I'd consider working in Hallmark or something like that. I'm married and my spouse is incredibly supportive and has a stable job, but I feel bad for not wanting to do the things I need to do to take care of us the way my spouse deserves.

So I guess what I need is a pep talk and advice about how to push through feeling burnt out. I know the best thing is to find a job where I'm reasonably happy and be happy about what is honestly a really great life, but strategies for getting over this hump would be much appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
What do you do outside of work? It sounds like you wrap a lot of importance around what you do for money, and while it does take up a lot of your hours, work shouldn't be the be-all and end-all for most people. Most people do something they don't like on some level (boredom, environment, industry, co-workers) for money, and being able to detach that part of your life from the things you find truly fulfilling may be a good way to re-energize yourself overall.
posted by xingcat at 8:32 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you considered getting evaluated for depression? Do you have a family medicine doctor you trust? Talk to her or him about your "feelings of just being tired and overwhelmed". And make sure you're getting enough exercise and sunlight!
posted by mareli at 8:38 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

The times I've gone through burnout (in software development), I've had to look at how what I was doing "fed my soul". Okay, hokey new-age language, but I think this comes down to two things:

First, how does what I'm doing improve the world I live in, and help get respect from the people around me? This is a pretty broad scope, and I don't need to be saving the world in a public way daily, but it means not working for patent trolls, if I'm working in the popular culture (I have some credits in popular films and other media) making sure that those projects aren't just frobbing people's desire to be entertained but are also contributing to helping people expand their world views, and making sure that I can brag about what I'm doing.

Second, do I have control over the tasks I'm given to accomplish? I'm actually happy to work in a completely micro-managed way, or just given very nebulous goals. If I'm micro-managed, I want my manager to say "here's what I want you working on right now" or "I don't have anything for you, go home and I'll call when I do". If I'm given very nebulous goals, then I need the freedom to break those goals down to very concrete steps, and then I get to make those same decisions.

If I'm hanging out trying to look busy because the people around me all expect me to be busy, but I'm really waiting for other people to do their thing so that I can do what I need to, it sucks the life out of me and I'm not good for anything at work or outside of it.

So when I'm feeling burnt out and tired, I look to "okay, what am I supposed to be doing here, what does it accomplish in the wider space, and now what are the next few steps I can take and why am I not doing them right now?"

Drilling down in those questions usually helps me figure out why I'm unhappy and depressed.
posted by straw at 8:43 AM on May 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

It's spring, plant a garden. That's what got me through a very high stress, mid-life period. Gives you a daily reminder of how basic, beautiful and uncomplicated life really is.
posted by any major dude at 8:54 AM on May 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Give up. Usually that kind of burnout and stress comes from lack of boundaries. Regardless of what happens, you will have the life you create for yourself. If money is a problem, adjust your life so that money is not a problem. If time is a problem, adjust your life so that time is not a problem. If you get fired because you set boundaries, you will be fired for living your truth. It will be hard in some ways, and easier in others.

Life is too short to waste it living in a way that does not serve you. Start discarding anything that is not essential, and focus on what you really want to do.
posted by nickrussell at 9:35 AM on May 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

In my experience, you don't push through being burnt out. Pushing is what burned you out in the first place. To get over being burned out you have to stop pushing.

It's nice to have a vacation (at least two weeks) to just lay around and do whatever pointless thing amuses you. Once you have recovered emotionally and mentally, you'll have the mental resources and the perspective to do the sort of contemplation and problem-solving that straw wisely recommends. But we rarely have the opportunity to check out of life for two or more weeks.

Given that you can't check out, the second best thing is to cut back. How little can you possibly get away with at work? How many commitments outside of work can you scale back or eliminate entirely? Identify the time and energy sinks (helloooo, internet!) that are keeping your brain busy and your emotions ramped up but not giving you much energy back. If you're an introvert, it's okay if you don't see much of your friends for a while.

How much space can you create in your life for just sitting around not doing much of anything? Play solitaire, listen to music, paint with watercolors, go for long walks—whatever recharges your batteries. And stop pushing. It's hard to cope with the feeling that you're not being productive but keep reminding yourself that you're doing deferred maintenance on your equipment, and it's important.
posted by BrashTech at 9:38 AM on May 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

There's pure-tired burnout, but that doesn't sound like what this is. It sounds like something about being at the mercy of this toxicity is what's doing it to you. I'm not sure what is "toxic," or why that would make you feel less motivated to get out, rather than more. Burnout is often a feeling of "what's the point? I won't ____." (I won't ever make it to the bottom of this pile of work, or I won't finish before they change the specs on me, or I won't get any recognition or even thanks.) What are you missing, and can you start to find it another way? If it's a lack of recognition and control over your environment, do you maybe want to consider starting to work as a consultant?
posted by salvia at 9:49 AM on May 17, 2012

It's the toxic environment that's bringing you down. Keep applying for anything that is remotely suitable. Do this like mad until you succeed. Make a rule, no less than n applications per day.

Most likely when you get the new job you will still be shagged-out for quite a while, and it may not be the perfect job for you forever and ever, but we can cross that bridge when we come to it.
posted by tel3path at 10:37 AM on May 17, 2012

Don't be afraid to ask for help. Does your work have an EAP program or benefits that include some sort of counselling? It's not just for emergencies or crazy people. A professional could offer you perspective on your situation, help with options, help you decide what you want, provide sympathy and understanding for how difficult your current challenges are.
posted by Gor-ella at 10:39 AM on May 17, 2012

Usually that kind of burnout and stress comes from lack of boundaries.

Quoted for truth. Until you set boundaries these problems won't go away.

However, a truly toxic supervisor will see any boundaries you set as obstacles they have to get around, for the sheer sake of it. In that case, the boundary you set is "I'm way over here, away from you, I do not work there anymore."
posted by tel3path at 10:39 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

i'm with nickrussel----if your lifestyle and career are causing you such unhappiness, let them go, take a step back and ask yourself what's important.
maybe you do need to give up. take a break. spend time in your pjs watching tv. regress to childhood. and one day, wake up with a new joy for life, ready to start again and live for the truth.
posted by costanza at 12:40 PM on May 17, 2012

It sounds like you're not very clear about what happiness looks like to YOU. You must first identify what it is that you DO want because you are certain of what you DON'T want. After you decide what you do want, write it down to avoid confusion in your mind. Then, begin to focus on what you want and how great you will feel once you've achieved your goals. As you continue to shift your focus to what you do want, you will begin to attract more ideas, resources and people to bring your dreams to fruition. Hope this helps :)
posted by LivinMyBliss at 2:20 PM on July 10, 2012

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