When Working Hard Burns You Out, How Do You Cool Off?
By Abe Clabby, LPC
In the world of mental health, some things only do harm – substance abuse, infidelity, social anxiety and the like. They’re the mind’s attempt to fix one problem, but instead it creates another, and leaves the first problem unsolved or worse. Workaholism is more complicated than that.
Hard work isn’t just respectable – it often genuinely gets things done. It can pay the bills, help people at home, or move you up in the world.
So when being productive becomes an obsession, it’s a hard one to resist. But that’s where too much work comes with these risks.
- If you’re always at work, how will you spend time with people?
- Will you find even your family time becomes like work – and will you work for them, or will you try to make them work for you?
- If it’s all that matters, how will time spent on anything else start to bother you?
- And if you take on constant pressure, how much will you carry that frustration and anxiety?
- How much time and energy will you pour into trying to cope – and what will that do to you?
But most of all, overworking puts you at risk for Burnout. Burnout is when your work makes you worse and unhappy with:
- Your Work
- Your Life
Many people become single-handedly responsible for themselves and everyone around them, and avoid accepting help in return. They may even choose people who will ask for help but not give it. They may even turn down help often enough that people learn not to offer it, or may not say enough about themselves for people to even guess what their needs are.
Some kinds of work seem to create especially high rates of Burnout. The Department of Health and Human Services predicts these six problems cause it:
- High Workload (too much to do, no chance of catching up)
- Low Control (less say in what you do or what happens to you)
- Low Reward and Recognition (if nothing you do right changes how people see you or your future at the company)
- Little Sense of Community (feeling disconnected from others, not part of the group)
- Low Sense of Fairness (biases and favoritism, distrusting that there will be support for good people, causes, or ideas)
- Low Sense of Values (company not living up to its moral goals, doing more harm than good)
But for all the problems that Burnout can cause, what helps solve it? One or more of these 10 could help you.
- Acceptance: some of us get so locked into preventing a crisis (financial or emotional), or compensating for one that’s happened, we get stuck in the Five Stages of Grief. (There’s 7 stages now, it’s called the Kubler-Ross Model.) But we may feel that constant mental pressure until we accept that the problem is there, acknowledge how hurt or afraid we are of it, and sit with that feeling. (Feelings want to be heard before they can be “solved.”) Then we can get back to work, maybe even less work, with less of the mental pressure.
- Support Each Other: if you want a friend, be a friend. And if you don’t want a friend, you could use one anyway. If your office environment seems cold, angsty, or gossipy, see if you can get past that – small talk, personal talk, or just asking and talking about each other’s lives. It’ll feel more like an office full of humans, and that’s therapeutic all by itself.
- See Them as People: when you care about your customers, competition (i.e. coworkers), and upper management, you’re less likely to burn out. People are the most upset when they see people for how they affect us, as obstacles, or antagonists. When we think the customer’s annoying us and wasting our time, we’re upset; when we think they’re having a hard time and hoping someone can help, we can cut them some slack.
- Help People Outside of Work: when you’ve been focused on your own problems, research shows that it can relieve stress to drop our own and help someone else instead.
- Personal Projects: what else do you do, besides the things you just have to do? This could be a hobby, a side-job, or a skill you’d like to have, practical or not. The more you can get better at something, and have something to show yourself for it, the better.
- Sleep, Eat, ‘n Exercise: you know you need sleep, but yes, it improves mood and brain function. As for diet and exercise, you know the practical benefits, but let’s move from why you “should” to why you’d “want” to. It’s definitely a project, can make you feel better at yourself, and it’s something to show people and connect with them about.
- Boundaries: if you do everything that’s asked of you, and everything you should do for yourself, you may feel stronger and more empowered for having said “no” to something. Prove to yourself that you can take on slightly less, and the relief makes even future work feel refreshing because you have a choice.
- Self-Care: work makes you one kind of happy. What else makes you happy, just for its own sake? Is it slowing down, small talk, going places, or a personal project? Experiment; it’s worth it.
- Other People: sometimes we just need to talk with people. It could be small talk, personal talk, about your problems or something lighter, about their life or anything else, just to share with each other. Practical things can wait. This is important too.
- Purpose: you aren’t only here to pay the bills. You’re here for a reason. (Maybe more than one.) Maybe you leave people smarter, stronger, or wiser. Maybe your legacy is a gift you’re building or saving for the next generation, or the work you do for them every day. When your life feels important, everything in it feels better.
If you are seeking assistance in addressing your workaholism, contact us at Thriveworks Coaching and Counseling at 281-667-9790 and we can help!
Abe Clabby is a Licensed Professional Counselor at Thriveworks, providing telehealth video therapy anywhere in Texas. He specializes in balancing one’s own needs with the needs of partners and others, and how to identify, communicate, and decide those needs.