What I Learned from Occupational Burnout at Just 29 Years Old
I’d always been the high achieving type. I graduated top of my school, managing my perfectionism and stress with obsessive compulsive rituals. Years later, at just 29 years old I never thought it would affect me in such a way. I’d been working in a community mental health team and was completing graduate studies, over exhausting myself with too many hours and taking on too much in an emotionally demanding field. One day, my body gave up. I couldn’t move. It was a sign that I had been working too hard for too long.
The warning signs had been waging. I had been studying and working simultaneously for many years. I’d completed my full time Master’s degree, while in psychotherapy training and working a full time job. At the same time, I had also opted to take on the responsibility of student representative and volunteer the few spare hours I had left in a mental health charity just a couple years prior. I thought my body was invincible as I packed in schedule after schedule, never daring to say no.
My workplace was a toxic environment. I worked in mental health, with a crippling caseload, a controlling boss, and the emotional nature of the work took its toll. Despite the exhaustion, I pushed through, even committing to extra projects such as helping out at a homeless soup kitchen in the evenings and studying several courses simultaneously.
By the end of that year, I struggled to even get out of bed daily. Work became a constant source of fear and I broke down knowing that things needed to change. My job needed to change. I needed to change.
Occupational burnout is on the rise. But what are the signs?
Withdrawal from social activities and a loss of passion for the things you once enjoyed
Feelings of being trapped and stuck
Chronic fatigue and sleepless nights
Depressed mood and anxiety over the future
Weight loss and loss of appetite
Feelings of panic
Lack of concentration
Overcoming burnout: Your health is one of your most important assets:
I am type A by nature and I am acutely aware of the need to slow down. I have a natural tendency to drift towards workaholism that I need to monitor and set boundaries. When I started to burnout because of the stresses of my previous career, I knew it was time to take stock. Today, I often pinch myself at how my life has changed drastically and for the better. I am living proof that you can change your career and your life.
I decided to focus on my thoughts. It had been a real privilege working in mental health, especially in trauma services, where clients opened up and shared their deepest shames and pains, giving me real insight into the human spirit. I was privy to confidential information that was deeply disturbing and often dark in nature. The daily outpouring meant a flood of negative emotions needed to be purged. The mind is a powerful tool. It’s malleable and I needed to rewire it back to its more positive frame of reference. I did this through listening to daily inspirational speeches, positive affirmations and a dose of hypnotherapy. It works wonders!
Nutrition is also key. Food plays a powerful role in inducing moods. Eating right is so important. Know what your body needs to feel healthy. Eat well, but don’t deprive yourself. I love my kale smoothies, but I’m also a real chocoholic. The odd Friday binge is a must!
Exercise for wellbeing. Exercise is great at releasing positive endorphins. I love a good run to release tension, unleash my creative side and to just simply let go. Research has also shown that exercise is better than traditionally prescribed anti-depressants in beating depression.
A change is as good as a holiday. But, remember to take that holiday too. If something isn’t working then make changes. If your career is making you ill, it’s simply not worth it. You’re worth a lot more than to stay stuck in something that makes you feel low. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to jump ship. Have faith in yourself!
Finally, learn to love yourself. You don’t have to do it all. You don’t have to be it all. Learn to say no. Be aware of what triggers you, your own emotions, and the times when you simply need to just let go.