My experience with burnout, not once but twice, shifted the trajectory of my career forever — although it affected me differently each time. The first time I was exposed to prolonged workplace stress, a career change was already overdue; I just didn’t know what the change should be. So, leaving wasn’t something I would regret. I simply gave my notice and picked up some temp work while I figured out my next steps.
The second time was different, very different.
That was a job I loved. A job I had worked long hours for, giving my all to help the organization pull itself out of the declining industry it found itself in. I had wonderful colleagues, meaningful work and freedom to work in a way that suited me. For a while, it was bliss.
But after pushing for so hard and so long I was exhausted. I desperately needed some time to recover. Instead, I was restructured in a new department, a new team, a new boss, and ultimately to a place where I just didn't feel like I belonged.
The classic symptoms of exhaustion, cynicism and reduced ability to care all crept in. I did everything within my power to fix the problem but, in the end, I was too drained. I didn’t want to give notice. But there was nothing left in my heart but cynicism, resentment and exhaustion. It felt like there was no other option.
Symptoms of burnout
If you have experienced chronic and continuing job stress, you are susceptible to burnout. Characterized by exhaustion, cynicism and reduced professional ability, you are likely to be burned out if you hate your job, are beyond exhausted and are finding it hard to care about your work.
But there are other symptoms too, and it’s important to recognize these and factor them into your recovery. There are physical symptoms like headaches, stomach ache or gut issues. You may find yourself struggling to concentrate, unable to socialize as much and no longer enjoying the activities you used to.
Recovering from burnout
When I resigned the second time, I had already decided that I needed at least three months off work to recover. At first I wanted to be a burnout recovery overachiever, planning to fill every day with yoga, meditation, walking and good food. Thankfully someone set me straight about what recovery meant, and I spent most of that three months sleeping. (I kid you not.)
While a luxury, three months was nowhere near enough recovery time. By the end of that period I was only able to concentrate enough to work two days a week. It took another two years before I was able to focus enough to work a full time week. Burnout can take a lot more from your health that many of us appreciate.
Using your personality to recover from burnout
In order to increase my ability to concentrate, I used some tricks from the toolbox of personality and I can tell you it made a world of difference.
When your brain is exhausted, your personality is exhausted and both need what equates to a long hot bath for a recovery timeout. However, the brain and stress-relieving activities look a little different for each personality type.
Doing the following activities for at least 30 minutes a day will give your brain the breaks it needs to reboot and start to focus again. And when things are bad, like burnout bad, you may need to give yourself permission to do these activities 3 or 4 times a day, using small doses to help you get through.
This will be a little uncomfortable.
I warn you though, you won’t like the activities I am about to suggest for you. Your body and brain will love the relief, but your ego (or inner critic) is going to react a little differently.
My inner critic constantly reminded me that I was wasting my time and needed to be more productive, that my recovery activity was ridiculous, self indulgent and a waste of time.
Whatever those voices in your head say, ignore them. Know that by doing these activities you are taking charge of your recovery. Think of it as a detox for your mind. Let’s take a look.
ENxP: Cosy up with your favourite childhood memories
When ENxPs (ENTP and ENFP) reach burnout-level stress, they often feel there are no options left available to them. They feel trapped and find themselves overwhelmed by the tiniest details and decisions.
To relieve this pressure, ENxPs need to travel back in time to their childhood. Normally obsessed with what’s new and future possibilities, ENxPs give their brain a break when they focus on things they have enjoyed before. Watching a movie they have seen 100 times, listening to their favourite music from childhood, or watching their favorite TV show again.
They need time alone to find the comfiest spot in the house and curl up under their favorite comforter, whether that is to re-read their old journals, look at old photos, or anything that pleasantly reminds them of who they were when they were younger.
ESxP: Withdraw to your quiet place to meditate
When experiencing extreme and prolonged stress, ESxPs (ESTP and ESFP) will get a little paranoid, believing that someone is out to get them or plotting some form of revenge. Normally upbeat and positive, in burnout ESxPs struggle to solve problems easily, getting caught up in the stream of thoughts about what other people are thinking about them.
To relieve the pressure, ESxPs need to find a low-stimulus space. A room designed to feel soothing, with muted tones or even just turning the lights out. The aim is to remove as much stimulus as possible - no sounds, minimal light, and definitely no TV! You could try doing a float tank. By yourself, do a very simple meditation. Quietly contemplate your life or even take a nap.
ExFJ: Get out your puzzle book
When in burnout, the normally very supportive ExFJ (ESFJ and ENFJ), find themselves being very critical of themselves and of others. They will feel emotionally cold or numb, and be upset by tasks being done in an illogical manner,
ExFJs help to give their brain a break by finding a quiet space, opening up their puzzle book and working through a range of simple logic puzzles until they start to feel more like themselves. Whether it’s math problems, sudoku, crossword puzzles, single-person scrabble, these puzzles give the ExFJ a temporary break from emotions - theirs and other peoples. And it really helps.
ExTJ: Release your emotions
To relieve that pressure, ExTJs need to allow themselves to be messy with their feelings. While alone, write out your frustrations and feelings and then throw out or burn the paper. Read some simple poetry or express your feelings through art with some mindful coloring books or basic painting - just warn people in advance if you are going to throw paint at the walls!
IxTP: connect emotionally with people
Most of the time IxTPs (ISTP and INTP) appear pretty cool, calm and collected. Unflappable in a crisis. But in burnout, with little left in the tank, IxTPs become uncharacteristically emotional. Their emotional outbursts, whether that is angry, crying or freaking out, will surprise themselves and the people around them.
In order to bring some inner balance back into their system, IxTPs need to actively connect with other people. Find a way to share those emotions more consciously or simply spend time with people in a way that creates a deeper connection. That can be spending time with friends, talking things out, long hugs. It won’t be pretty, but it will help.
IxFP: Get out your spreadsheet
IxFPs (INFP and ISFP) are naturally go-with-the-flow people, allowing things to emerge around them rather than trying to force things. But in times of extreme stress and burnout, IxFPs become more stubborn, passive-aggressive and controlling.
To break free of that inner tension, IxFPs need to embrace the part of them that wants to be in control and aim to finish some very simple tasks. That might be cleaning out a bathroom cupboard, tidying up the kitchen drawers, organizing a bookshelf, or building a toy model such as a Meccano or Lego. Or, if you can bring yourself to look at a screen, clearing out your inbox or browser bookmarks. Just find a simple task that gets you out of your emotions and that you can complete in 20-30 minutes.
INxJ: move your body
It can take an INxJ (INFJ and INTJ) time and practice to learn how to comfortably be in their body. In times of stress and burnout, INxJs desperately need the release their body can give them. But when they try to satisfy that need in an unconscious way, it looks overdone. Think excessive eating or drinking, substance abuse or over exercising.
INXJs can have a bigger impact by engaging consciously in physical activities and sensations that allow them to be in their body in a more gentle and natural way, with less force. This could include a hot shower, long bath or even an ice bath. It could be walking on the beach, bouncing on a trampoline, gardening or singing your favourite songs.
ISxJ: do something new
Under normal circumstances ISxJs (ISTJ and ISFJ) are methodical, considerate and take time to make a decision. But under prolonged stress or burnout, they can find themselves making hasty, impulsive or erratic decisions and not just about the small things, but about big life changes. Like buying last minute plane tickets to Paris or running off to Vegas to get married. They can also find themselves obsessing over worst-case scenarios, in which they imagine terrible things happening to everyone they love.
To relieve the pressure, ISxJs benefit from making small, conscious changes in their lives, actively bringing in new things. This could be going to your favorite restaurant but ordering something you have never had before. Or rearranging the furniture at home, taking a new route to work or even watching a movie from a genre you would normally avoid. Just find small ways to change daily routines and bring new things into your life.
Recovering from burnout can be a long process, so be patient as you navigate your way back to a less-stressful sense of normal. And if you want to learn more about how to use your personality type to help you be more balanced, take a look at our Unlocking the Power of Your Personality course.