Mental Health and Your Career

Combat burnout with your leave time.

Illustration by Author

Mental health is a thing we don’t really talk about a lot. Frankly, I think we are embarrassed or scared to admit having a problem. Scared we’ll be seen as weak or unfit for our position. Fear is a great motivator. Even now as I’m terrified to hit publish on this post, but if you’re reading this now I just did the thing.

Yesterday I saw this tweet where a woman talked about taking a couple sick days to focus on her mental health.

This sparked a flood of thoughts in my mind about my own mental health and the days I do or don’t take off from work and how that makes me feel. I thought about how it’s generally not encouraged to take time off in our society. Or maybe you are encouraged to take time off, but your coworkers see it as a burden to them when you do take time off so you just keep saving up those days. Why do we feel so guilty taking time off?

Let’s talk about sick days for a minute. Take them. First of all, don’t come to work sick (this is like a whole other topic in itself). Second, sick can mean you have some sort of illness that I can see from the outside (snot, puke, coughing), but it can also mean you are battling something that can’t be seen immediately from the outside (migraines, stress, depression, anxiety). We need to make sure that our coworkers who are dealing with the not-so-noticeable illnesses take the proper sick days so they can get better too.

Your mental health and health in general is far more important than any project you’re working on.

Ok… Serious Stuff

I’m willing to bet you’ve been aggravated at some part of your job. I feel that aggravation is part of every job, but let’s talk about the more serious burnout.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘burnout’ as “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration”. The definition from Google for ‘burn out’ is “be completely consumed and thus no longer aflame.” I like the definition for burn out vs. burnout because it seems to capture what I feel when I get burnout. To be completely consumed and then no longer aflame. If you are no longer aflame, you have lost interest and all desire for whatever that thing was you were doing that caused this. What you become is unmotivated. Others will see you as underperforming or lazy.

Think about your stressor as a run and you are the runner. If you get injured on a run, you probably aren’t going to run as hard the next day or at all. You’ll take some time to heal yourself so you can be 100% the next time you run. Yes, there are times when you’ll need to push yourself through something, but if you are really hurting you know you need to slow down or stop. You’ll make sure you do the proper exercises and stretches to make sure your injury is healing and you’ll do steps to try and prevent it.

If you’re working late or working weekends most weeks, take a step back and really ask yourself “why am I working so much outside of work hours?”. Why can’t you get your work done during the normal working hours? Is it because you are distracted? Unmotivated? Tired? Well, why are you all these things? What’s going on? Is that project too ambitious or too demanding? Were you given all you needed to complete that project? What can you do to change this? That kind of work lifestyle is not sustainable.

My personal experiences of burnout include me being distant, grumpy, or snappy (and not in a Mr. Rogers way). I’ve had intense heavy nightmares about a dreadful project I was working on. I’ve also struggled with just finding the motivation to work on my personal projects. Which makes me sad because I like to do personal projects as an escape.

Work related mental health doesn’t fix itself when you leave work for the day. The things you feel at your job follow you home. They follow you when spend time with your family. They follow you when you try to do personal projects. They follow you when you try to talk to your friends. There’s no such thing as mental health in the workplace. It’s just called mental health.

For you as a company, you need to treat your workers as a whole person who has a life outside of your office. For you as an employee, you need to know when to stop, back away, and restructure what you’re doing. You also need to know the signs when a fellow coworker is struggling so you can help them.

Here’s some stuff to look for in yourself, your coworker, or employee:

  • Lack of motivation or energy
  • Oversleeping/fatigue
  • Forgetfulness
  • Lack of concentration
  • Anger
  • Cynicism
  • Negative talk

Ultimately these things can lead to anxiety and depression which affect more than your productiveness at work, it affects your life. Take care of your employees, your coworkers and yourself. Use your vacation days. Use your sick days.

Use your days to prevent daze.