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Tips to Beat Burnout

You know that feeling when your shoulders ache, your head throbs, and you have to turn on your phone’s selfie feature just to check that your eyes aren’t actually melting out of your skull? Welcome to burnout.

There’s a great article by Anne Helen Petersen about how millenials became the burnout generation: economic catastrophes, a generation-wide competitive mindset, and strict adherence to the doctrine that the only way to get ahead professionally is to work longer and harder and more than anyone else have resulted in a workforce comprised largely of zombies completing tasks by muscle memory, all brainpower and energy sapped by exhaustion and anxiety. Even if you love what you do, you’re not immune to burning out. Because it isn’t just work that’s making demands on our time and energy, it’s all the elements of living: grocery shopping, laundry, paying bills, cleaning the bathroom. And sure, our grandparents had to do all that too, but they didn’t have cell phones or the internet or social media creating the expectation that they should always be connected, dialed in, reachable. That’s mentally and emotionally taxing on a whole other level.

How do you stay afloat with all this weight dragging you down? Here’s my two cents:


Once upon a time I had a manager who decided people were wasting too much time at each other’s desks and barred everyone from desk-side conversation regardless of whether the topic was work-related or not (spoiler alert: he lasted about a month). To get around his ridiculous policy, my friends and I bought plastic tumblers and did our talking on our way to and from the water cooler about a thousand times a day. And then to and from the bathroom about a thousand times a day, because we were drinking water like it was going out of style. The combination of water and brief but meaningful social interaction kept us all from losing our minds.

Move It

Whatever movement feels good to you, do it. Weight-lifting, yoga, dancing to early 2000s pop music in your living room, putting on socks and sliding back and forth across your kitchen floor Risky Business-style – it doesn’t matter how you move, only that you do it (when you feel like it). If you can’t move because of a physical or mental disability, or because you just don’t wish to, then don’t. Move your mind instead. Whatever helps you shift gears and shake off the weight of the workday, whether it’s listening to music or lighting a candle and just watching the flame dance, do that. Give yourself mental and physical space from your obligations when you can.

If You Need Medication, Take It

Somehow, it’s 2019 and there’s still stigma surrounding mental illness and medication. If you suffer from depression, anxiety, or any of a myriad mental and/or physical health conditions for which your doctor has prescribed medication, take it. Don’t let pride or fear of judgment keep you from taking care of your body and your mind. If you’re self-conscious about carrying a pill bottle in your bag, buy yourself a cool pill box like this llama one from Amazon (I don’t get any kind of kickback if you buy a llama pill box, I just came across it and thought it was cute). Talk to a therapist, see a doctor, take medicine if it helps you, and do not give one single fuck about what anyone else may say about it. Your health and wellbeing comes first, always.

Write Things Down

Keep your to-do list in your phone or a Word doc or a notebook. Ease your mental burden by keeping track of things externally. Devs don’t keep every single property/value pair in mind at all times – our brains don’t have that kind of storage space! Don’t force your overtaxed brain to do a job that could be outsourced to a piece of paper taped to your fridge. On that note…

Set Yourself Up For Success, Then Celebrate It

A major contributor to burnout is seeing your to-do list grow instead of shrink, or seeing the same items there day after day that for whatever reason you simply can’t tackle. Don’t forget that you have the power over what goes on that list, even if you don’t always have a say in what’s left off. For example, maybe you can’t get out of that conference call that keeps getting pushed, but you did the dishes last night. Write down “do the dishes” and then check it off. It’s not cheating to record what you’ve accomplished. We have a tendency to finish tasks and forget them, to always be focused on what’s next. Train your brain to take a second to acknowledge all those check marks and congratulate yourself on a job well done.

Treat Yo Self

You’ve probably heard that it’s the little things in life that make a big difference, and I’ve often found that to be true. That’s why I write down one thing I’m grateful for in my planner each day. When I’m feeling especially exhausted and low, I can flip through and remind myself of something simple I can treat myself with. Not all of them are doable – I can’t conjure a rainy day on demand – but some are perfect little mood-boosters. For example, here’s what I wrote this week:
Monday: Fairy lights
Tuesday: Mashed potatoes
Wednesday: Nail polish
Thursday: Cozy blankets
Friday: Developer memes
Now, picture yourself wrapped in a blanket in a room lit only by twinkly colorful lights, a bowl of buttery mashed potatoes at your side, scrolling through dev memes on Instagram while you wait for your nail polish to dry. Sound relaxing? Okay, maybe if you’re more masculine presenting you’re not that into the nail polish part, but my point is there are creative ways to cut yourself some slack every once in a while without breaking the bank, so you don’t end up in the fetal position under your desk trying to work out the logistics of faking your own death and moving to Guam.

Put a Light at the End of Your Tunnel

Burnout can be caused or exacerbated by feeling like there’s no end in sight, so give yourself things to look forward to. Make plans with friends, plan a trip, or plan to reward yourself with your favorite snack for surviving another week. In fact, create a whole Monday night ritual involving something fun and/or delicious to help you look forward to Mondays.

How do you beat burnout, stay motivated, and practice self care? I’d love to read your strategies in the comments!

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[Photo credit: Jamie Street via Unsplash]

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