Last year in August, I experienced what we have all been hearing about: burnout. While that period of my life feels like a bit of a blur now, I realize it was a pivotal moment.
2020 was a year of abrupt change, social isolation, including separation from my family in Italy. It felt like life came to a stop and from one day to the other, we were forced in our homes, isolated from everyone else.
As an introvert, I did not mind having more time for myself. But as a person who craves meaningful connections, I was suffering from not being around my colleagues at work, as well as friends and family outside of work.
I completed my 10th year of employment at the University of British Columbia in 2020. I had started my career at the Career Centre of the UBC Sauder School of Business back in January, 2010. I loved my job. I loved being around students and making a difference in their personal and professional development. At the time, I thought I had truly found the work I would do for the rest of my life, and I could not see myself leaving the university. Besides that, I had very good benefits, a lot of paid vacation, and a decent, stable salary. I really could not see myself working anywhere else.
Then the pandemic happened. I found that working from home affected me. I did not have a long commute anymore, but I was missing my time in the car listening to music or chatting with some of my carpool colleagues. The long hours on Zoom left me with little or no energy, and the workload seemed to have doubled, leaving me less time for myself. After long days working from home I would feel exhausted but most of all, empty.
What was happening to me? I thought I was going through what everyone was facing, so I tried to focus on the positive aspects. At least I still had a job while a lot of people were being laid off, I would tell myself.
Nevertheless, day after day, the feeling of exhaustion and lack of motivation was becoming more noticeable. By the summer, I would get up in the morning, get ready and put myself in front of my laptop to start my day and I would begin to cry. Even the simple tasks of checking my emails or planning for the day would make me feel overwhelmed. I was becoming short-fused with my colleagues and I had become impatient with the students as well.
I talked to my manager and I decided to take a week off, hoping that it would give me an opportunity to rest and reset. However, that week was not enough. I went back to work and that same morning at 8:30 a.m. I was crying in front of my laptop. In the meantime, I was noticing that my heart was often racing. I had no appetite and I would find myself awake in the middle of the night unable to go back to sleep.
I consulted with my doctor and she suggested I take some time off work as I was probably burnt out.
I always thought I was immune to burnout. I prided myself on being hardworking and resilient and I thought I would always find my way through every situation. I knew that I needed to do something when my doctor put a hard choice in front of me: either take some time off or start taking some medication.
At that point, it was an easy decision for me. I did not want to take medication for something emotional that I believed could heal with time. I was scared and mostly, I was ashamed of what other people – my family, friends and people around me – would think of me. I felt a sense of guilt towards my colleagues since I had left the team with all my work to do.
Back then, I didn’t know that taking the time would not only heal me but would change the course of my life. I took three months off and during that period, I gave myself the gift of time.
If you are experiencing something like that, here are some things that may help you recover from burnout:
Be patient: You can’t speed up time and you are not going to recover in one or two weeks. If you can, take time off, talk to your doctor and significant others. Make arrangements that allow you to take some time to take care of yourself.
Take a break from social media: When you are trying to take a mental break, leaving social media behind can give you an opportunity to focus on yourself and what’s most important to you. We are often comparing our lives on social media and that can lead to insecurity and anxiety. This is something you definitely do not need when you are feeling burnt out.
Take some time to reassess your values: what’s important to you? What made you the person you are today? How are you living and embodying your personal values? Are you being true to yourself or are you trying to live a life to impress who is around you? I realized my most important values of being authentic and optimistic were missing in my life. I took the opportunity to think and understand what I needed to do to bring them back into my life. Most importantly, I realized that “exploring” was something really important to me and I was missing that, not only in my life but also in my profession. Everything had become very predictable and I needed to explore something new.
Go somewhere you haven’t been before: Despite the pandemic, we were able to travel within our beautiful province of British Columbia. I decided to go to the Sunshine Coast, where I had not been before and was able to stay by myself. Having some days immersed in nature, without schedule obligations, really allowed me to reconnect with myself. Most importantly, I found myself in a new place and I started to look at myself in a different environment. This made me rediscover things that I had forgotten about myself.
Do nothing: This was a really hard one for me. We are all hardwired to cross off to-do lists, set and achieve goals, be on a tight schedule, meet pressing deadlines. The idea of doing nothing initially made me feel guilty and useless. However, as it turns out, when you are burnt out, it’s the best way to recover. The less you do and the less you stress out about “what’s next in my life,” is critical. Most importantly, don’t worry. The answers will come; but you do need to create that space for them.
Breathe and connect with nature: During my time off, I started to meditate and to connect with my breathing. Whenever I felt overwhelmed, I would focus on my breath and it would calm me down. It would ground me. I also rediscovered that walking in nature gave me a sense of peace and calm.
Be kind to yourself: Remind yourself that you don’t have to be perfect and it’s okay to need a break. I realized I needed to practice self-compassion and to be kind to myself. I wanted to get back to the best version of myself. Only by achieving this could I make a difference in other people’s lives. This is what motivates me the most.
I would not be here as the founder of Make an Impact Career Coaching to make a difference in other people’s lives, if it were not for those three months I took for myself.
So, if you are experiencing similar symptoms or are running out of steam, consider taking a break.
It is a hard decision to make. But it might be one that shifts your perspective and helps you reconnect with your inner strengths. Time to reflect may help you end up in an entirely different place to where you are now. Whether it is a different role, unit or even a different career, it will be worth it!