Burnout and Boundaries

Olivia Dalke, Professional Counselor Associate, MA

Burnout is something most people experience at some point in their lives. The most common type of burnout that I hear about is job/career burnout. Since we spend so much of our time at work, job burnout can begin to look and feel a lot like depression.

You might feel really low energy, tired all the time, dreading getting up in the morning. You might feel like you have lost your direction or feel as if you don’t care about things the way you used to. You might feel hopeless or numb, worried that things won’t change. All of these can be both symptoms of burnout and of depression. So what do we do when we start noticing these feelings?

First off, it’s almost always helpful to talk to a trusted other or mental health professional about what you are experiencing. Something I’ve found really helpful in working with burnout both in my personal journey and in working with clients is reevaluating the boundaries that you are setting or not setting for yourself.

Burnout is usually trying to communicate an unmet need, sometimes the need is a renegotiation or establishing of a boundary or boundaries in our lives. Of course sometimes, there are circumstances outside of our control that require us to set aside thriving in favor of surviving. Oftentimes, however, we have more power to change our circumstance than fear or anxiety would have us believe.

Types of boundaries to consider negotiating or renegotiating:

Physical Boundaries: What does it look like for you to “leave for the day” from work? Are you able to shift easily or do you find yourself continuing to think about work into your off hours? If you work from home, what does your transition from work to life look like each day?

Financial Boundaries:
Are you making enough money to support yourself in the position you hold? Do you experience financial stress when you come home from work? Are there opportunities for financial growth at your position that would allow you to support yourself with less financial stress?

Time Boundaries: What hours are you working? Is this schedule sustainable? Are you working this schedule out of necessity and if so, will there be opportunities in the near future to negotiate a more sustainable schedule? Are the people in your work environment respectful of your time? Do you feel pressured to work more hours than you are compensated for?

Relationship boundaries: How are your relationships doing? Are you over or under committing yourself to social activities and relationships? Do you feel guilt for spending time with friends and family, rather than working?

Intimacy Boundaries: What does intimacy look like for you right now? Whether with yourself or with others, are you making time to meet your intimacy needs? Do you prioritize work over your body?

This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a place to start.

What are your boundaries that help you prevent or combat burnout?

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