When Work Becomes Your Life: Dealing With Burnout

This time last year, when the darkness in the Arizona sky wouldn’t fade and my graduate homework felt insurmountable, I keenly recall that my overwhelming workload had begun to feel less like work and more like my entire life. I was in the beginning stages of complete burnout, and it was only my first year in the workplace. More than wallowing after a bad day or even a hectic week, burnout is a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” as defined by the World Health Organization. If you feel like you're losing control, experiencing isolation, or even turning to toxic coping mechanisms, you may be burnt out.   

I would venture to say millennials generally are more susceptible to the syndrome than most. In a popular Buzzfeed article published last year, author Anne Helen Petersen dubbed millennials “the burnout generation”. The word has become so synonymous with millennials that it seems to be omnipresent in every company happy hour or whispered over lattes. So, what if you’re facing burnout? How can you move forward and start feeling like yourself again?


  1. 1. Practice whatever you define as self-care.  

    Anthony Tran

    Whether it’s taking a bubble bath, cuddling with your cat or finally finishing your to-do list, do it. There's almost never a perfect time to take care of yourself, so it's important to squeeze the time in where you can. Elizabeth Fuller, a 2018 graduate of Saint Joseph’s University says that she’s “working on exercising more” and “making [her]self be social on weekends.” Exercise, socializing and relaxation are all key to a balanced life. 


    In other words, listen to your mind and body and take breaks when you need to. If you can’t, try free meditations from apps like Headspace, Calm, or 10% happier. Light a candle or pick up a soothing tea bag for lavender chamomile the next time you hit the grocery store. Small things can be the impetus for a big difference.


  2. 2. Reach out for support.

    Friends Pizza College

    Comparing burnout to a fog, Tetyana Martynyuk, a 2018 graduate of Saint Joseph’s University, explains that, for her, burnout first “started with taking away from [her] social life.” This is why reaching out isn’t just important—it’s essential. Some people define support as simply spending time with another person while others—like me—enjoy gabbing for hours while snacking on cauliflower crust pizza. Whichever you prefer, pick up the phone, meet a friend or send 20 texts to your partner in capital letters signaling help.


    Get connected to your Human Resources department and have courageous conversations with managers and mentors with the goal of becoming a better employee in mind. You may want to start off by saying, “I want to be the best employee I can be...” or “In hopes of improving my performance…”. 


    However, if the case is more serious, utilize support services like therapy or psychiatry. Therapy is a brave step towards validating your own experience and determining the underlying causes of residual stress. If you’re ready to heal, start with websites like PsychologyToday, Good Therapy.org, or TalkSpace to find solidarity and take first steps. Every employee at any company deserves to work in a safe and welcoming environment. 


  3. 3. Look for a company with a positive work culture, or start those cultures on your own.

    In your twenties, it can almost feel impossible to be choosy in your job placement. High student loan interest rates and Sunday brunch bills can make job security a higher priority than possibly burning out. 

    Remember that your support system in the professional workplace affects not only your performance, but your mental health. Having a reliable boss or mentor and understanding co-workers who also happen to share your True Crime addiction aren’t just fun; they can be life savers. You spend so much time at work, and fostering a positive space within that community can only contribute to your wellness and future success. 

    Find co-workers or professional allies that are on the same page as you for kindredness and real solidarity. Katelin Eagen, a 2018 graduate of University of Virginia, often comments on the power of positive relationships in the workplace and how it transforms one’s experiences. “Having open-minded female and queer allies has made all the difference in improving my self-regulation against burn out this year,” Eagen says. Keep your friends close, and your #squad closer by the water cooler.  

  4. 4. Know when to go home.

    woman sitting on sofa looking at phone

    Work-obsessed culture would lead young professionals to believe that the truly committed workers are the ones that never abandon their e-mails, are always on call and go above and beyond for their superiors. After all, 23 percent of almost 7,500 employees experienced “feeling burned out at work very often or always,” according to CNBC, but it’s okay to leave when your shift is over and the day is done. Your work will still be there the next day.

    How many people would be better employees and happier people if they knew the power of saying no? Whatever you may hear to the contrary, part of growing up is knowing how to set boundaries and keep them. It is acceptable to leave work when the day is over to recharge for the following day. Even after you’ve left, it’s your responsibility to set boundaries with friends, colleagues, and even your boss. Know when you are off the clock and spend Saturday night hangouts discussing the celebrity gossip, not your upcoming performance review. 


As for me, I got better. I stayed late some days and went home others. If I had a bad day, I asked myself what went wrong, to avoid further burnout, and reached out to my support system. I made more friends who felt the same way, and I decided to break graduate school assignments into chunks rather than endless afternoons of writing and lesson-planning. I decided it was time to grow up, to face responsibilities—but not let them rule me—and to have a little fun in the process, too.