Here’s how to heal from both.
I was recently asked to put together a discussion of my choosing as a part of a client’s wellness week. Without hesitation, I chose burnout and languishing — two topics I’ve been researching for both work and my own interest. You’ve probably heard of burnout it’s become an everyday word for many of us working corporate jobs and trying to hold it together during a global pandemic. It has also been cited as the main culprit for the great resignation. Languishing, though the term was coined roughly a decade ago, is just coming into its prime as a part of the zeitgeist. Let me tell you a little more about both.
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Most of the time it’s work-related — gross. It can cause fatigue, lack of motivation, and insomnia and it is also more likely to manifest in physical ailments as well like headaches, migraines, body aches, tight muscles, and more. Burnout’s rise in popularity as a choice word to describe how we are feeling was thanks to the pandemic. Because many of us were working from home we wound up working more hours and feeling guiltier when we didn’t finish our impossible mounds of work.
Languishing on the other hand describes a feeling of indifference. It is the feeling when you are not functioning at your full capacity and instead you are just going through the motions. Work neither depresses or excites you. Shows you once enjoyed don’t capture your imagination. Hobbies you once loved are now boring or feel useless. It is a lack of joy or a lack of flourishing. Languishing makes it very easy to slip into solitude. It’s BLAH. What sets languishing apart from burnout — besides the obvious — is that it can affect all areas of your life, not just your work life.
What to do
Chances are, given our collective pain from the pandemic, you identify with one of these OR feel that you have identified in the past OR you know someone currently trying to cope with one. So what can we do?
The first step is simple — identifying how we feel and NAMING IT. A New York Times article on the topic of languishing does point out that the best strategy to manage our emotions is accurately naming them. It can help us navigate our days and it can help us to see the larger collective. We are not alone in how we are feeling. I know personally, this has been a hot topic among my team at work and we touch on it often. Knowing that this fogginess isn’t just me, has been a coping mechanism in itself. I am able to strategize and think of ways I can find joy in what I do again. And we do it as a team too, which helps.
The next step is a bit more complicated but stick with me — it’s finding flow. While a state of flow is familiar to artists and athletes — it is not that common as a part of everyday life. So let me describe. Flow is a state of total absorption when time and place no longer seem to matter and you can engage with the task at hand for what seems like forever. You may be familiar with this feeling when doing something like painting a wall, or starting a new game, or reading a new book and an entire hour passes and it seems like it had only been 10 minutes. That’s flow. I get into flow most frequently when I am writing (usually with blogs like this one!) and working out.
Now, if you’re like me and haven’t been engaging in a flow state — I literally have not written a blog post since June because I have just been so uninspired to do so — there are ways you can get there:
- Do one thing at a time
- Start with small goals and work your way up
- Celebrate every single accomplishment
- Set boundaries
- Start a new hobby
- Practice gratitude
- Make exercise a priority
Do one thing at a time – our workdays and our personal lives are filled with easy distractions. Slack, email, text messages, social media, working at home with kids and pets. It’s easy to get used to being interrupted and forget how good a state of flow can feel. Start with something small – like checking email — and set a timer.
Start small + celebrate – What I hear most from people is that they feel like they’re failing before they even start. “I’m already so far behind” or “It’s been a week and I see no progress”. Change takes time. Change takes time. Change takes time! Instead of trying to achieve everything all at once aim for small goals and then celebrate them. Don’t set out to run 5 days a week, instead aim for 1 or 2 and then congratulate yourself.
Set boundaries – This can be incredibly hard in our society and this is the thing I struggle with most. If you know me, you know I am always first to respond to a group text, first to say yes, first to offer my help. Yes, it is part of what makes me, me. But when overdone I become overwhelmed and stressed. I am also unable to do my best. I am slowly starting to set boundaries throughout my days and weeks. Putting my phone away after 8pm, letting Slacks go unanswered for minutes rather than seconds. Practicing saying NO is a big one. I have not been perfect, but I am getting there.
Start a new hobby – If you’ve lost joy in a lot of areas of your life, trying something new can help spark new inspiration. What’s something you always wanted to try but never made time for? What’s a hobby you can engage in that has NO OTHER PURPOSE other than joy? Try that.
Practice gratitude – This is the one that induces the most eyerolls and I used to be right there with you. But believe me — being grateful for the things you do have, the people that support you, the sun in the sky, your favorite slippers, whatever — makes it easier to find simple joys. Joy doesn’t need to be Disney World levels every day, it can be enjoying the routine of making coffee or of texting a joke to a friend. Let joy be small.
Make exercise a priority – Nothing gets you into a state of flow like working out does. Working out has a long list of benefits, many that you know, so I won’t get into that, but it can help support flow. It encourages you to shut your brain down and focus on one movement at a time, and then the next. Find a workout that is right for you, everyone is different. So don’t feel obligated to get a Peloton if you hate spinning — just move in a way that brings you joy and flow.
The most important thing you can do at this time is to take care of yourself. It can be easy to beat yourself up for not being “back to normal” yet. The thing is that many of us are dealing with deeper emotional wounds and trauma than we may be aware of. Be gentle with yourself and take it slow as you uncover ways to break out of languishing and heal from burnout. I always always always suggest speaking with a professional therapist and sharing how you’re feeling with trusted friends.