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Back From Vacation and Still Burned Out

Email doesn’t find you well.

Yesterday you were relaxing on the beach or lying on the couch with that book you finally had time to finish. Now you are looking at hundreds of lost messages.

Returning to work after vacation can be jarring for anyone. But for people who are exhausted by their jobs (a state that psychologists describe like feeling persistently burned out and cynical about work—the transition is even harder.

While vacations may seem like the obvious solution to feeling overwhelmed by work, time off can reveal how exhausted you are, said Jeanette M. Bennett, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte who studies the effects of stress. in health.

Burnout comes from feeling like you have no control over your work. People may dread their jobs and experience “the quintessential feeling of, ‘I’m overwhelmed, I’m exhausted, scary Sundays,’” said Dr. Thea Gallagher, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at NYU Langone Health.

Burnout spills over into the rest of life: people often feel like they don’t have the energy to do anything more than get through the day. Family responsibilities, friends, and hobbies can fall by the wayside; Even if people have time for such activities outside of work, they may be too tired or apathetic about them, said Angela Neal-Barnett, a psychology professor at Kent State University. and author of “Calm Your Nerves: The Black Woman’s Guide to Understanding and Overcoming Anxiety, Panic, and Fear.”

Taking time off can alleviate burnout in some cases: people return to work feeling recharged and better able to cope with their workload. But when people are intensely stressed, vacations are more of a Band-Aid. They may feel better when they are away, but as soon as it is time to return, they feel anxious again.

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To determine if you’re exhausted, Dr. Bennett recommended asking yourself a few questions once you return to work: Were you able to sleep easily during your time off, but now you’re tossing and turning? Does your heart rate increase when you drive to work or log into Slack? Does your schedule leave no room to spend time with your loved ones or decompress?

One reason burnout can be so pronounced even after a vacation is that people tend to work harder in the days before their vacation, Dr. Gallagher said. It can be overwhelming to go from a busy job to a vacation and then right back to work.

If you can, take a day off before returning to work, Dr. Gallagher advised. Use that time to rest and reset: unpack if you traveled, shop, and relax into life back home so the transition is less abrupt. It can also be helpful to lay out a quick action plan, he said. Think about what you can realistically accomplish the next day and make a list that you can tackle when the workday begins.

Once you return to work, pay attention to how stress affects your body, Dr. Bennett said. She advised taking notes every day about how you feel and what seems to be causing it.

If you notice that you always get a headache after talking to a certain coworker, or if you feel particularly anxious before a recurring meeting, make a plan to calm down. Maybe that’s taking a minute for a breathing exercise before the meeting, or walking away for a quick walk right after a conversation.

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Your colleagues can also be a resource, said Christina Maslach, a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies burnout. Ask them how they handle the workload or how they deal with a difficult boss. You can work together to identify what Dr. Maslach calls “the stones in your shoe” (the lingering irritations of a job) and think about ways to address them. Maybe you can delegate a task you dread to a coworker who doesn’t mind; maybe you can turn a meeting into an email.

If you are continually struggling to keep up with your work, the answer may ultimately be to find a new job, which Dr. Bennett acknowledged is easier said than done. In the meantime, he suggested taking a step back and looking at whether your workload is sustainable and realistic. If not, he said, it may be time to have a transparent conversation with your manager about what needs to change.

And remember that burnout is not a weakness, Dr. Maslach said.

“You could be doing good work; a runner could be doing an amazing marathon race,” he said. “But you have to recover before you move on to the next one.”

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