I’ve had a bit of time out from writing to re-group a little bit after a really tough few weeks. My husband has been unwell; my daughter has had croup resulting in a lot of worry and sleepless nights. I was simultaneously pounded with enormous volumes of work that spilled into my evenings, weekends and days off and led to me feeling in a constant state of stress and unable to switch off at night.
I realised how frequently I’ve felt that way over the years and again am brought back to – what am I doing in this job?
I’ve been working in a really emotionally demanding and tough profession for 12 years and it’s definitely taken its toll. As someone who sometimes struggles with keeping my head above water, emotionally speaking, it was maybe a bit of an error to forge a career working with other people’s trauma and dysfunction!
Toker and Biron (2012) point to the clear link between depression and job burnout (which unsurprisingly, they add, is found to be ameliorated by physical activity – time to get out the yoga mat).
The two for me are inextricably linked. My wellbeing is so hugely affected by my frustration with work and my frustration with work is exacerbated by feeling overwhelmed, sad and angry with life in general.
The Health and Safety executive website reports that 12.5 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/17. In human health and social work services, 192,000 people are suffering from work-related illness each year.
That’s a lot of unhappiness in our society. ( I could use this as a platform to talk about the correlation between these statistics and our current Conservative government’s dismantling of the afore-mentioned health and social work services but that’s a rant for another day…)
One of my best friends is a psychologist. She’s spent about 10 years navigating the minds of some of the most dangerous and disturbed people in our society. She has an incredible way of seeing the person behind the behaviour and attempting to understand their story. The trade-off: to some extent, her happiness.
She was once one of the most content, brave and optimistic people I knew and while her bravery remains intact, I can’t help but think the other two have been hugely compromised. When you spend a long time looking into the darkness, it’s hard to see the light.
I’ve seen an anger that bubbles up in conversation that wasn’t there before. She sometimes suffers from night terrors. She is incredibly bright and has always loved a debate but recently they’ve become emotional, personal.
It’s hard work delving into other people’s pain every day. It can rob you of your joy. It’s definitely taken more than its fair share of mine.
I’ve become less able to give of myself to other people. I used to volunteer. I used to spend a lot of time “rescuing” people I knew who were in crisis (not that I advise anyone do this – people are the masters of their own happiness and destiny).
I simply do not have the energy. I’m a mum, I’m a wife, I’m a friend to an increasingly small but hugely valued group of people. I don’t have enough reserves to do it all.
Sherrie Bourg Carter offers some advice aimed at women experiencing burnout in the workplace that resonated with me in my current situation. She talks about the importance of delegation, reducing stress and pressure, unplugging, and saying no. Say no, allow yourself time to recover. (I’ve included the link to her article below).
And she also talks about finding your passion.
My job is not my passion. This is not so much a dawning realisation as a well-cemented fact.
It is time. I need to start to make a move into a new career. I have more than 30 years of working life ahead of me (all being well) and I can’t stay in a job that makes me unhappy for 30 years. What a waste of a life that would be, and what a poor example to my daughter of what she can aspire to.
I long more and more for a creative outlet, somewhere where I feel a sense of purpose and passion.
And so: I’ve started some online writing courses. I’ve started to speak to people who write for a living, in various forms, to work out where I might be able to fit.
If this strikes a chord with you, consider this a kick up the backside to look at your situation again.
What are your next steps going to be?
I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on work burnout and how you’ve addressed or plan to address it so please leave a comment if you’ve stopped by to read this post.
Bourg Carter, S (2011) Accessed at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/high-octane-women/201104/overcoming-burnout on 01/12/2017
Health and Safety Executive (2017) Accessed at http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress/ on 01/12/2017
Toker, S., & Biron, M. (2012). Job burnout and depression: Unraveling their temporal relationship and considering the role of physical activity. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(3), 699-710.