YOU HAD A BURNOUT, NOW WHAT?
I can’t begin to tell you how many people come into my office with similar dialogues about their jobs. It goes something like this, “There is a lot of stress at my job. I went to the doctor and got some time off. I feel terrible about it all but I cannot tolerate the thought of being there or going back there.” First, I want to acknowledge that feeling this way is valid and that there is nothing to be ashamed. In other words, please stop being so darned hard on yourselves, you’ve done nothing wrong and you are not weak! A huge number of people have gone through this, are going through this, and will be going through this at some point. Being in a stressful environment can legitimately cause clinical symptoms and a majority of the time, these isolated events are simply caused by an environmental stressor (the job) and are not related to something more biologically profound (I should, however, mention that symptoms are sometimes related to a history of anxiety or some clinical condition. It will be up to your health care providers to help you understand what is, precisely, going on).
When someone comes to me and mentions that they are off work because they have been stressed out or burnt out, I need to verify two standard things: 1) the nature of the work environment, and 2) the client’s patterns at work. In my experience, a burnout is often the result of an unhealthy version of one of these two things.
First, I need to hear about the person’s work environment in terms of company values, employee satisfaction, and interpersonal dynamic between colleagues. I had a client recently tell me that her work environment was “toxic.” In truth, if a client’s report is analogous to figurative bombs and grenades going off at the work place, I can often conclude that the work environment is the problem (and perhaps conclude that “toxic” was an accurate term to use in describing that particular environment). I mean, there is nothing you can do to help yourself at the workplace if you are in a “war zone.” If this is the case, our sessions involve the pros and cons of leaving this place of work. I have seen clients spend years stuck in the same unhealthy work environment only to find freedom, and symptom relief, with the idea of finally leaving their jobs. Sure, it’s scary, which is why you’d need good support if this was your decision.
Now, what happens if the work environment is perfectly fine? In other words, if the client reports that the company, their colleagues and their superiors are professional, understanding, and supportive, I’ll then lovingly start asking my client what they might be doing to potentially disrespect themselves while at work. This self-DISrespect often looks like: generally pushing themselves too hard, never taking breaks, staying late, and taking their work home with them on weekdays and weekends. If we discover that unhealthy psychological patterns are the culprit, we discuss why they exist and why they are necessary. Often times, these unhealthy patterns come from psychological wounds of the past (e.g. seeking approval from parents or generally never feeling good enough) and our therapy will work to treat these old wounds once and for all.
So, if you are feeling fragile and think that you might be on your way to having a burnout, please consider this question: is this stressful time happening because of the way my job is treating me or is it because of the way I’m treating myself at my job? I recommend that you do some preliminary self-analysis on this but if your symptoms are severe enough, please go seek help and bring this question to your therapist so they can help you sort things out. Remember, there is nothing to be ashamed of in any way. This is simply, you, being tired of feeling like crap. You should not tolerate unnecessary stress anymore. How badly do you want to feel better?! If the answer is “badly” please get help ASAP.