Reframing Professional and Personal Burnout as a Roadmap To Success

Ginny Paige, LCSW, LICSW, RPT on Mar 04, 2023 in Mood and Feelings

Many clients come to me for support with managing and healing from professional and personal burnout.

Some are fully aware of having a lack of focus, intention, motivation, and joy in life. Others are too exhausted to notice, going through the motions on autopilot, surviving but not emotionally thriving. For many, burnout has been a constant throughout life. Some may remember a time when life felt easier and happier and wonder how and when this level of exhaustion ultimately got the better of them. Many experiencing burnout report free-floating anxiety, depression, agitation, hopelessness, and discontent.

Acute Versus Chronic Burnout

While we can usually identify the surface causes of burnout — work, school, family, relationships — the next question is whether your burnout is acute (time-limited) or ongoing (chronic). Acute burnout will likely self-resolve, i.e., after a work deadline, a class ends, or a family or social event passes, whereas chronic burnout may trace back to deeper, long-held ways of viewing the self and the world and accompanying unhealthy coping patterns.

This blog post will address the latter (chronic burnout). This is not with the intention of providing a quick fix (we know that tending to mental health is an ongoing act of self-care and love) but rather as an invitation to explore your experiences and belief system — in particular, how success, which includes achievement, independence, ambition, and acceptance, has a connection to burnout.

On a related note, at the time of this writing, Covid-19 burnout may fall somewhere between acute (a return to the office and social activities that may be happening for some) and chronic (see above), but it isn’t specifically addressed in this blog post.

The Complexities of Success

Unfortunately, we live in a competitive society that rewards an image of success that may not align with your worldview. We conform to the image for a variety of very understandable reasons — sometimes we do it for our ego, and sometimes we do it for financial or societal reasons However, when there is misalignment between a role we’re expected to play and our true self, a disconnect occurs. Unchecked for too long, burnout can follow.

Whether you’re currently burned out or lingering on the sidelines of burnout, the below questions can help you organize your thoughts around success and being human in a world where you may feel pressure to be someone who you’re not or who you no longer are.

Ask Yourself: How Do I Feel About…

Achievement: What were my family’s views on achievement while I was growing up? Were/are my parents “high achievers?” How does this impact their expectations of me? What were the expectations for me? Were expectations different for my siblings? If I was an only child, did that impact expectations? How did/do I feel about this? How does this impact me today?

Independence: How independent am I? Do others wish I was more or less independent? If I changed, how would this impact others? Would I receive emotional support for making a change? How do I feel about my current level of independence? What might I gain or lose as a result of more or less independence?

Ambition: What did I learn about ambition growing up? Was it encouraged? Discouraged? Neither? Was my vision of what I wanted my life to look like supported? Would I like to be more ambitious? Less? How do I feel about my take on ambition? Am I comparing myself to others? If I could be doing something new or different, what would that be? If I became less “interesting” to my family and peers, would I still move forward with the interest? Is anyone or anything stopping me?

Acceptance: Do I feel accepted in my family? Professionally? Socially? Romantically? How much of what I do for a living or how I interact drives this — not only how I view myself, but how I perceive others view me? Do I continue living my life in this way in order to feel accepted? If I changed, how would this impact how I view myself and how I perceive others view me? Do I think about this regularly? How does it make me feel?

The Road Home

So how do you find your way back to self if you discover that you’ve gone off course? How do you heal the burnout?

While the immediate goal is to take steps towards reducing feelings of burnout (the band-aid) whatever that may look like for you, the bigger goal will be figuring out why the burnout happened (the source), especially if this isn’t the first time burnout has appeared.

Be careful not to mistake the band-aid for healing. The band-aid is necessary, but it’s also temporary. The work you’ll do to move yourself out of chronic burnout involves strategizing what is realistic for you at this time. It may or may not make sense to make multiple changes at once. Small steps are fine!

Keep in mind that burnout may have shown up previously or simultaneously in different areas of your life, and if the overall feelings are familiar, look closer. The past showing up in the present is usually an indicator that there’s some work to be done.

Get Support!

Moving through burnout is a twofold, interconnected process that I encourage you to work through with the support of a warm and compassionate mental health professional well-versed in the intricacies of healing from burnout. A professional can help you identify and move through any self-limiting beliefs blocking you from healing at a source level and living your best life. Reallocating energy can yield tremendous results.

Until next month,

Ginny

Ginny Paige is a Clinical Social Worker in New York, NY.
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