First it was the constant fatigue. Then came the sense of dread when the alarm went off and I needed to get myself to work. The countless sleepless nights worrying about deadlines. Intrusive thoughts of “How am I going to get through this week with so much on my plate?”
As a creative who set pretty high standards for myself, I was surrounded by colleagues who kept winning awards. There was an invisible and unspoken expectation of excellence in the work we produce. Over time, I found myself struggling to come up with newer, better, and fresher ideas. I constantly felt that I was simply never good enough. That vicious cycle of self-doubt and self-perceived poor work performance led to my first burnout at work.
I wondered if I lacked the mental resilience or simply the right tools to deal with the stress at work. Emotional eating and the after-work drinks became a norm to “reward” myself after a tough work day. It affected my relationship with my then-husband when I started to bring my frustration home. Things were definitely bad when I started crying during dinners and I was having thoughts like, “I wish I didn’t wake up” and “If I died, would anyone attend my funeral?”. I felt I was drowning and had lost control of my mind.
These were alarming thoughts, I realised. I would take breaks and vacations, thinking these feelings would go away… but they returned immediately when I was in the office. The options were going to therapy and/or to quit my job, and eventually I left my job as I noticed that it was the type of work that was causing the burnout. It was not an easy choice to make as I had to weigh between having an income or priortising my mental well-being.
After that episode, I realised that maintaining a stable mental and emotional state is so much more important. I needed to build greater mental resilience in my life to withstand the difficulties and find meaning in the career of choice.
When my marriage fell apart, I finally went to a counselling session that was recommended by a friend’s therapist. She saw that I needed professional help to cope with not just work stress, but also the grief of the divorce. It may seem like a small thing back then for my friend to help me out, but I am forever grateful to her for recognising my time of need.
Counselling has been a very eye-opening experience for me as my therapist and I explored the reasons for the burnout. We dug deep to find out why I had such a harsh and powerful inner critic. We discussed the reasons behind the imposter syndrome that plagued me. We also developed plans to better manage my stress levels in the future.
Meanwhile, I started taking yoga lessons and studying the philosophy behind it, including meditation. I credit meditation, breathwork and mindfulness to be the biggest factors for keeping my emotions and thoughts more grounded since then.
5 years later, I faced another potential burnout due to its toxic culture and I found myself doing deep breathwork to calm myself down. Meetings would leave me short of breath and were traumatic experiences for me. I eventually left my workplace to re-focus and review my well-being.
These days whenever I feel overwhelmed, I employ mindfulness activities, meditation and breathwork when I need to regain control over my emotions and physical reactions to the stress. Cultivating a deeper awareness of mind and body has been crucial to that process as well.
By sharing my story, I hope it would be useful and helpful to those who are facing similar struggles in their workplace. It is important to seek support for your mental health and that must be prioritised. Do not be ashamed of reaching out, as many people suffer from stress and its related consequences. You are not alone on this journey.
Authored by: LT
We thank our blog contributors and applaud their strength in finding the words to share their lived experience, not only as part of the personal recovery journey but to inspire and bring hope to others who might be facing mental health challenges.
Photo credits: Foundry & Unsplash