3 Questions to Help Free Yourself From Work Related Stress and Burnout

Do you know when a movie character makes a huge life-altering decision and a fun montage plays? They pack moving boxes, or throw their phone away with a smile. 

A carefree music track swaddles the background so that you, the audience, are too busy dreaming that it’s you in the movie to not think about all the logistics. 

Logistics. I said a dirty word. It sounds so fun to say, so proper, but it’s a kick in the stomach over and over again in real life. 

Also, their hair always looks great, like all the time. But, it’s not fair. Because even good hair takes logistics. Planning, time management, decision making, skill and the biggest thing, discipline. 

I looked anything but great.

I cried every night. I talked my husband's ears off. I poured myself over financial spreadsheets; bank statements, and cringed at every Uber Eats order I made in the last month and cried some more. 

I said what if so many times it was the new slang in our house. I drank red wine faster than ever (if you know me, I am a prosecco girl to my core, so red wine is a shocker). 

I was opening up the bottles gifted from our wedding, to cope. For us to cope. Because I was a lot, really, I can’t believe he agreed to marry me. Now, freshly off the altar I was going to have us walk through a major uncertainty. My wedding dress was still fresh in its bag.

What better way to test a marriage?

“I can’t do this anymore, I don’t recognize myself.” My words were on repeat, until his words shook me to my core. “I don’t recognize you either.” 

That was it, that was all I needed to hear.

I shot up and scrambled for my work laptop at two in the morning. Under the glow of our bedroom television I typed my resignation letter. I also deleted a draft of a project, I turned down a side opportunity, all in the span of thirty minutes.  

I had panic attacks and nightmares and flipped in bed so much I could’ve been the replacement for Shamu.

I stayed up most of the night thinking about logistics, logistics, logistics. 

But it didn’t matter how much I ruminated on all the scenarios, the words, the potential pitfalls of a risky decision; I didn’t know who I was anymore. My attitude had changed, my energy, and almost everything I talked about was negative. I was being consumed. 

But in that moment of removing things off my plate, it felt like someone turned on an oxygen mask and attached it to my face. I felt this sense of relief, and terror.

I had placed too much on my plate. Too many commitments, projects, and ideas - all of it overflowed like a heaping mess. Spilling out onto other life buckets like; sleep, exercise, my inability to finish a load of laundry.

My chronic health conditions flared up like a Christmas tree in July. So I started working in bed, for weeks. 

I realized I had no direction anymore, and I didn’t know why I was working so hard.

When I woke up in the morning I had a sinking feeling of anxiety and dread, even on a Sunday. I was constantly exhausted and was known as, “the canceler,” in the social circle. I couldn’t commit to anything anymore. 

My phone eventually got silent, people stopped asking if I could spend time with them.

The isolation kicked in - it was work, sleep and repeat. Ordering food or opening a window was my way of feeling connected to the world.

But a single thought got in my way for months. Did quitting a company, or a project, mean I couldn’t handle it? Was I weak? Were other people just…stronger? Do I just sacrifice the other things in my life? 

My pride got in the way of change. It tends to happen for most of us. We cling onto a salary, a job title, a bragging right, or imbed our entire identity into what we do, not who we are. More on that later.

It’s not what you’re doing, it’s why.

If you’re feeling constant pressure and you have the self-awareness that you're changing in your health, your mindset and your actions, it’s time to start asking why.

This is the part you’ll be tempted to skip. Pride.

First, ask yourself, “Why am I feeling this way right now?” List out all the reasons that you know, or can predict.

Do the work, if you don’t reflect you don’t get answers. It’s that simple. Oh, and yes, I was a prideful person when it came to the idea of reflecting and journaling once. It’s not stupid, it’s science.

Second, ask yourself, “Why do I want / feel the need to work hard?”

What drives you? What makes you passionate? It may be a project, an outcome, a large or small goal, a dream, a culture, a group of people, and so on. Write it down.

Third, compare these two responses. What do you notice? Is anything connected? 

Most importantly, what responsibilities, either a job, or a project, is no longer serving you anymore?

Based on what drives you, and what’s getting in the way, you’ll have your answer.

So now we start the montage. The span of time where you begin to take action, make micro or macro changes, plan and prepare for change.

Just because a change is hard, uncommon or risky, it doesn’t mean it’s bad. The hardest changes usually have the biggest impacts.

When I was studying abroad in Italy, an older italian gentleman and I were talking about life, sitting on a curb, we were strangers. He asked me who I was, beyond my name. I rambled about what degree and what I did for work. 

He waved his hands in the air, “You poor Americans.” 

He sighed, “When we ask who you are, we want to know who you are, not what you do. What you do is not who you are. It might reveal who you are, or what you like, or what interests you, but they are separate.”

It’s been six years since then and I still am struggling with that question.

So I’m on a journey, starting today, to figure that out.

Do you know who you are?

Written by Sarah Edwards. Want to get to know me? Say hi! https://liinks.co/setapartcompany

This article was originally posted for Set Apart Magazine at www.setapartcompany.com

Disclaimer: Sarah Edwards is not a certified or licensed mental health professional. Rather someone sharing real life experience and findings for others to find commonality and seek actionable steps needed for them. 

Leave a comment