Community-derived suggestions for handling burnout

I recently made a tweet that seems to resonate with a lot of people. It’s entirely not surprising, because I’ve been talking friends, hearing anecdotes from acquaintences, and listening to strangers repeating the same things with increasing intensity for like five years, with a major leap in the past 13 months and another jump in the past 2 months – the entire world is totally burned out. My tweets auto-delete after a time, but the summary is that I’ve been struggling with feeling worthless (from a professional perspective) and am looking for actionable steps. Essentially, I’m beyond burned out.

Is it burned out or burnt out? I like to say burnt because I feel like I’m roasted to a crisp, like when I try to make roasted pumpkin seeds and forget about them and they’re inedible, but I think I am gonna eat them anyway because well they aren’t TOO horrible, so they sit on a bowl on the counter for months and get moldly and double-inedible. Burnt.

Anyway, a lot of people weighed in on methods for alleviation/recovery. Here’s a summary of what people recommended and/or what I have already tried (something I didn’t mention). If you are feeling this way too, maybe these can help.

Awareness Something I have noticed, and other people mentioned they noticed too, is that I’ll feel particularly down after finishing a project. Although I’ve noticed this about myself in the past, I don’t think I have been very aware of it lately, and I did finish two major projects at work and one new side project, and have been a bit in limbo as to what the next major projects are going to be. I don’t know if it’s all the adrenaline and creativity channeled into a project and suddenly being without that? It did feel really good to know that other people have something similar going on.

Non-computer-related hobby
Crochet, knitting, running, woodworking, just anything that gets you away from a computer.

Movement or nature
Mostly walks, taking a lot of walks even when you don’t want to take a walk. Dancing, running, yoga/pilates, whatever.

Personally I want to add that I’ve been to physical therapy for 3 months last year and 3 months this year, and have been in a lot of pain every day for over a year with stress-induced neck/shoulder pain to the point where sitting at a computer with great posture for any amount of time is borderline unbearable, so not stretching constantly is a huge and expensive hassle that I recommend avoiding. I have to stretch all the time now (arms outward, chin tucks, I think some basic Radio Taiso is good).

Focus on smallest of tasks
Find small, practical tasks. Focus on them and how you can accomplish them. Break down bigger problems into things you can do.

“Don’t make your list too big, split it into blocks and record completed tasks”

Take time off
This is hard because it’s not always possible. I did take off two weeks of unpaid leave (I don’t get paid leave as a contractor), but it mostly felt like being on disability leave because my neck/shoulder stress-pain was so constant that I couldn’t do anything, including work, if I wanted to.

Quit job
This was the only option for a lot of people. It’s also not an option for a lot of people.

I did quit two part-time jobs that used to be very rewarding/fulfilling in addition to my full-time-equivalent job. I have not quit that one. I’m trying to have that not become the only option for me, too.

Make a list / writing
Making a list of accomplishments: a brag document, a good things folder (maybe that’s more about praise about what you’ve accomplished, but still), monthly round-ups of things you got done, or just a have-done list to battle the to-do list. Re-doing website or portfolio.

Also: write down feelings. You don’t have to read them or keep them, but just writing them down (also referred to as Morning Pages, which I used to do when I was trying to get past a traumatic event).

Therapy and/or realize you have depression
Therapy. Also some people solved this by taking antidepressants.

And I could be wrong, but for me personally, this does feel extremely situational rather than a brain chemistry issue – isn’t it somewhat normal to feel this way right now, with everything going on in the world and in the United States?

Meditation / focus
Several people have suggested this, and my physical therapist suggested it too, because most of my physical pain is a result of mental stress and not based in any kind of problem with my body. Which is not a great thing to hear because it feels less tangible, but it is still fixable through focused effort!

Don’t think about the past or the future, just what is actionable in the moment. I think this can kind of be tied to the same sentiment as meditation.

Acknowledge and move on
Acknowledge that you are fixating on feeling bad, and accept that, and then move past it and focus on something else. Naming and declaring intent.

Coffee chats, small casual interactions, talking it out, etc. This is especially hard right now, in a pandemic setting, because even if you’re able to see people in a safe and distanced way, it still carries a lot of extra stress and anxiety. My partner has been able to articulate this really well for me, about how seeing people felt much more casual, and you also get this additional entertainment factor of, like, being in a bar or eating dinner, and right now interactions feel just more transactional. And for me, not really more meaningful? Like it doesn’t feel like “oh I’m risking my health and the lives of others just to see you! let’s cherish this moment!”, it just feels like “if I’m in this park and I have to pee, what do I do? AHHHH”

Magnesium or marijuana
I’ve been recommended both. I do take the former, which is great for a lot of reasons! The latter just doesn’t work well with me, which seems to maybe be a genetic kind of thing because my mom feels the same way (makes everything worse instead of any better).

Caring less I’ve been told this over and over about everything for my entire life. Care less about work, don’t actually work very hard, and your job/career/employer cannot love you back. This is such a hard balance to struggle with. It’s good to not feel too much pressure as a result of caring, but I also will never be a person who can totally distanced from what I am spending the majority of my waking hours working on. I do like to care, but it is good to acknowledge that it is hard to care.

No caffeine No one mentioned this but I don’t think I would have made it to this point if I hadn’t cut coffee out at the beginning of the pandemic. I miss drinking coffee because it’s fun but I don’t miss the surprise anxiety and I now very rarely have trouble sleeping (unless, no joke, I eat chocolate after 7pm, like the delicate southern flower I am).

This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but it can be difficult to see what the recommendations from other people are on Twitter, given how it often obfuscates tweets in a thread and it can be very unhelpful to follow the whole story unless you are the one seeing it all (and even then, there were several tweets to me that I didn’t see in my notifications at all, for no good reason – from people I mutually follow and happen to really like!).