Have you ever been complaining to a friend about your job only to have them reply, “Well, they call it ‘work’ for a reason”?
The implication is that if work did not come complete with its frustrations, stressors, and pressures, it would hardly be work at all. But the notion that work is not work unless it makes you miserable is misguided at best. And in some cases, that attitude can actually lead to an issue with serious repercussions.
That issue is burnout—that feeling of unrelenting stress and dissatisfaction that can make it hard to function effectively at work and in other aspects of our lives as well.
Burnout can negatively impact our mental health, and it can also lead to the development of a substance use disorder if we turn to drugs or alcohol to try to manage the stress. Burnout can also be a danger for those in recovery from a substance use disorder. Those unrelenting negative feelings can increase the likelihood of a relapse. It is also possible for a person in recovery to use work as a so-called “substitute addiction”—a situation that can lead to burnout and to relapse.
So how can you combat feelings of burnout when you experience them? And how can you keep your job from becoming overwhelming in the first place? We have a few ideas.
Beating Burnout With Balance
Feelings of being burnt out can sneak up on you. That’s because many of us are truly devoted to our jobs, so the long hours (and meals at our desks and weekends lost to work) or other demands on our energy, time, and passion don’t seem all that unreasonable. That might be particularly true in jobs that are often referred to as the helping professions—education or healthcare, for example. The inherent value of the work can mask the symptoms of burnout for quite a while.
But over time—especially if you feel underappreciated by your supervisor or peers and if you have little input into how work is distributed or executed—those feelings of burnout may begin to manifest.
And lest you think that burnout just means feeling tired or grumpy now and again, consider this list of burnout indicators:
- A feeling of ongoing stress that continues even when you are not on the job
- A sense of fatigue that is often accompanied by insomnia (which makes it hard to overcome the fatigue)
- Ongoing feelings of sadness, irritability, or even anger
- Frequent illnesses due to the impact of stress on your immune system
- The development of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and/or heart disease
- Using drugs or alcohol to “self-medicate” in the hope of relieving the high levels of stress
Obviously, none of these things are good. And left unchecked, the mental and physical health problems can start to mount up.
So it’s vitally important to find a way to inject some balance into your situation. You may have heard the phrase “work/life balance,” and it can be a helpful concept when thinking about burnout. This is especially true if you have built your entire identity—the way you think about yourself and the ways in which you encourage others to think about you—around your job.
There are a number of ways you might try to rebalance your day-to-day life so that work doesn’t dominate it. Among them:
- Take up a hobby. People who are subject to burnout often find that they simply can’t relax. Any activity that isn’t directly related to work feels like a waste of time. But having a hobby is far from a waste of time. Instead, it is a way to give your mind and body a break. Pick something you enjoy and dive in.
- Take up mindfulness. The meditation practice known as mindfulness encourages us to stay in the moment rather than letting our thoughts run away from us with regrets, worries, and distractions. This shift in mindset can subtly change your relationship to your work over time.
- Take up a healthier daily routine. The demands of our jobs can lead to a lousy diet, a lack of exercise, and less-than-stellar sleep routines. Improving in even one of those areas can help stave off burnout—and of course, lead to better physical and mental health.
Set Some Boundaries or Set Your Sights on a New Opportunity
There is one more key component to finding some balance in your life: setting some boundaries at work. Those boundaries may be internal (“I won’t work through the weekend”), or they may be something you need to discuss with your supervisor (“I need help delegating some tasks so that my workload isn’t quite so heavy”).
If you just can’t make any changes in your current work situation, it is probably time for you to look for a new opportunity where you can feel inspired but not overwhelmed—and find that work/life balance you need.
Let Us Help You Beat Burnout
If your work life has led to substance use issues, we can help. At The Aviary Recovery Center, we provide personalized, compassionate care that will help you regain and maintain your sobriety. At the same time, we can help you address any co-occurring mental health disorders—including problems underpinned by feelings of burnout at work—so that you start your recovery journey well equipped to make helpful changes that will reset your work/life balance.