By Julie Kirtz, LICSW
Our relationship with work can be an emotional rollercoaster. After all, self-worth is often viewed through the lens of professional identity. It’s one reason why burnout can be so painful.
The pandemic brought that home for many of us.
Americans now want their employers to make the mental health of their employees a priority. Indeed, the American Psychological Association 2023 Work in America Survey confirms that psychological well-being is a high priority for workers.
Specifically, an overwhelming majority (92%) of workers said it is very (57%) or somewhat (35%) important to work for an organization that values their emotional and psychological well-being. Additionally, 95% said it is very (61%) or somewhat (34%) important to them to work for an organization that respects the boundaries between work and nonwork time.
The APA survey also highlights issues contributing to burnout. The majority of workers (59%) who were not at all or not very satisfied with their job described their workplace as toxic. And four of 10 workers (42%) reported feeling micromanaged, a dynamic associated with stress and tension.
Whether or not your job values your psychological well-being, there are strategies available to help you cope with burnout. Here are some approaches I have found helpful with clients.
Look Inside With CBT
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based treatment for depression and anxiety. It can also help reduce burnout. With CBT, you can learn to identify and replace unhelpful automatic thoughts and beliefs. If the thought that your co-worker thinks you are incompetent pops into your head with each of their emails, ask yourself if there is evidence to support the belief. Then try to replace it with a more realistic thought, such as, “They may have something to teach me.” or “Maybe they feel the same way about me.”
Just Say No (Thanks)
If taking on even more work is your favorite coping tool, perfectionism could be contributing to a cycle of burnout. The trait can lead to an unhealthy habit of overcommitment and exhaustion. If this sounds like you, consider being more intentional about saying “no” to extra duties and “yes” to available benefits like PTO. Take some time to evaluate what you are doing with your non-work time. Rate each activity in terms of how it makes you feel. Reduce or eliminate activities that drain you or cause more anxiety.
Instead of Quitting
Leaving a stressful job isn’t always possible or even the best psychological approach. To build a path to recovery and growth at work, evaluate your current coping tools. Has avoidance become a habit? For example, avoiding a difficult supervisor may help you manage stress on Fridays but could lead to bigger issues on Mondays. Are you oversleeping or isolating from friends? Can you schedule some weekly screen time with a friend instead of Netflix?
A therapist can help you face ongoing difficulties and develop psychological flexibility to tackle future work setbacks. If you are struggling, Georgetown Psychology can provide support and help you navigate the challenges associated with burnout and workplace stressors.