If you’re looking for flexibility and freedom in a remote business, you already know the truth. It’s easy to become burned out while working in a corporate office or even as a SAHM. Occupational burnout isn’t just an expression, by the way. It’s a specific type of job stress that has serious consequences if you ignore it, like exhaustion.
The good news is a transition to working for yourself, especially working from home, can be a welcome change after you’ve been suffering from burnout. This proved true in my case. If you want to get a handle on burnout, here’s how to know the symptoms and what to do next.
Signs of Burnout
Signs of burnout can vary but almost always create a challenge in your work and personal life. For starters, if you’re feeling alienated from work-related activities or feeling cynical about work, you’re likely facing burnout. Emotionally distancing yourself from people related to work is also a red flag.
It’s expected that burning out will eventually diminish your performance at work. And occupational burnout isn’t just about your cubicle and facing your co-workers. If your primary responsibilities involve caring for family members, like your kids, you’re also likely to deal with burnout. This scenario can get complicated when all of your kids’ needs sound urgent.
You might also experience difficulty concentrating and a reduction in creativity. These issues are hard to deal with when you need both concentration and creativity to grow and scale the business you want.
Risk Factors for Burnout
You could be at higher risk for burnout, depending on your environment and the demands in your life. You can do your best to avoid or manage them, but in my case, it required a lifestyle change. Do any of these risk factors sound like your life right now?
- Unreasonable time pressure
- Poor communication from your manager and others in leadership
- Lack of clarity around your role/unclear job expectations
- Unmanageable workload
- Unfair treatment
- Lack of control at work
- Dysfunctional workplace dynamics
Your work-life imbalances can also indicate occupational burnout and a need to reshape your life. Do you identify so strongly with work you lack balance in work and personal life? As a former Googler, I can relate to this. I worked at Google in New York City, a place renowned for outfitting employees with everything they needed to stay in the office. And I responded by working well into the night, more days than I’d like to admit.
If you’re drowning in work, overtime, and trying to juggle it all, you’re facing a path to burnout. Monotony in your job and feeling like you have little control over what you do can also lead to negative feelings and put your work-life balance out of whack.
Are You Burned Out? Questions to Ask Yourself
These questions are inspired by the Mayo Clinic and are good indicators that you are already burned out:
- Are you feeling down in the dumps and pessimistic about your job?
- Do you get to work and procrastinate on getting started on anything?
- Are you frustrated with co-workers, customers, or clients on a regular basis?
- Is your energy drained to the point you can’t stay productive?
- Is it too hard to concentrate on anything?
- Are you feeling unsatisfied, even when it seems like you should celebrate your wins?
- Do you feel disillusioned about your job and career?
- Do you turn to vices like food or alcohol to cope with your job regularly?
- Are you sleeping too much? Or too little?
- Are you suddenly having headaches, stomach problems, and physical aches and pains?
Symptoms and Consequences of Occupational Burnout
Burnout generally gets worse without some significant changes and intervention in your life. Pushing yourself can also lead to some serious consequences and symptoms:
- Stomach Ache
- GI issues
- Exhaustion or chronic fatigue
- Excessive stress
- Sadness, anger, or irritability
- Alcohol or substance misuse
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Vulnerability to illnesses
My Recovery from Occupational Burnout
Recovering from burnout means making a change and taking action. It likely won’t disappear overnight. But you can put a plan in motion to reclaim your life and end the feelings of exhaustion and frustration. Here’s what worked for me:
After working at Google for about two years, I realized I was suffering from major burnout and began to make some lifestyle changes. But there was only so much I could do while still working in the same environment. For me, real change only came after I left Google and started my own multi-six-figure business (which I run without working weekends and being chained to my email all day and night).
I was still in deep recovery mode when I started my own business, but I was finally ready for a change. Choosing how fast or slow to grow my company allowed me to dive in at the pace that I was ready for. It probably took another two years of being self-employed to feel completely recovered and actually be at a place where I was doing better mentally than ever before.
Looking back, I realized that I was probably never meant to thrive at a big corporation like Google. Not that it wasn’t a possibility for me, but rather that I enjoy working for myself so much more. I like being in charge and pursuing my own goals and dreams instead of someone else’s. It may be different for you, but it can sometimes be difficult to feel like you’re making an impact when you’re just a small part of such a large organization.
I also realized something else when I made the shift to my home office. The work-from-home environment is much more comfortable for me, and I’m also much more productive than I am in a traditional office setting. Now I have enough hindsight to see that I’ve always been like this.
Even as a kid, I would have trouble getting creative work or deep work done anywhere but my own bedroom or home. In college, I could never write papers, study, or do research effectively in the library. There were too many distractions from friends popping by or the temperature was never quite right. Some days my chair felt too uncomfortable. Other times I couldn’t find the workspace I wanted. There was always some reason I couldn’t get into my productive zone. But I could always work well in my comfortable workspace in my dorm room, apartment, or sorority house.
I was also diagnosed at age eight (and again at 18) with ADHD, which contributes to my need for organization and order. To compensate, I’ve learned to be super organized and detail-oriented. This is a coping mechanism to manage my symptoms and stay in control of my productivity.
I did use medication for much of my life once I received my diagnosis, but I had to discontinue using it when we decided to get pregnant. Luckily I had already honed in on my processes and, even without medication, the time management and productivity techniques I’ve built over my lifetime are the reason I’m able to function well.
I also attribute part of my recovery from burnout and workaholism to my amazing husband, José. Before he was in my life, my main focus was always work because that was the most important thing to me. Not that I didn’t have meaningful relationships, but none where the other person really mattered more to me than my work did.
However, when I met Jose, all of that changed. So while my work is still incredibly important to me, it’s less important to me than it used to be. I give it the space it needs to occupy, but I don’t let it consume the time required for the other essential things in my life, like relationships. And as any parent can tell you, that feeling magnified tenfold when we had our daughter, Olivia. I want to do great work to make her proud, but at the end of the day, no professional accomplishment will bring me as much joy as smelling her sweet baby smell and kissing her chubby cheeks.
What to Do if You Think You’re Suffering from Occupational Burnout
Burnout isn’t something to deal with; it’s something to recover from and heal in your life. Sit down and be honest with yourself. Can you really handle this workload? More importantly: do you even want to? What do you want your life to look like? You may need to let go of busy work and time-wasting clients to focus on more lucrative and rewarding wins in your life.
Figuring out how to recover from occupational burnout also requires support during the journey. Someone you’re close with is the preferred go-to. But it could also be a local business hangout, mastermind group, or Facebook Group to find some support and empathy. If you’re still at your day job, there may also be an Employee Assistance Program or the ability to take leave to give yourself the space you need.
Getting more rest and relaxation sounds like a luxury but is also crucial to managing burnout. Yoga or home meditation and a night with Netflix may be necessary from time to time. Exercise can also help get your mind off of work and reduce your stress. Jogging, walking, cardio with a friend, or a hobby you used to love like Zumba or swimming can get your heart pumping.
There’s even such a thing as a burnout coach that can help you combat stress, overwhelm, and identify a path forward to a healthier lifestyle.
Sometimes burnout is about giving ourselves some patience and grace. Not everything has to be about ramping up your productivity for the win. Sometimes we need to schedule the time to take care of ourselves to reclaim our lives and reshape them into one we’re excited about living.
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