The weekends are supposed to be our intentional break from work – but, when you’re burned out, you can forget what a break actually feels like
Burnout is a real occupational hazard, and it does not disappear when the work week is done. The tired, snappy, apathetic employee at the office is the same person who still holds those grudges at home.
Burnout is chronic workplace stress that can result in feelings of being drained and being increasingly disengaged and cynical about your work. According to the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases, the main criterion for burnout isn’t necessarily being overworked; it can also come from being under-challenged.
When you are experiencing burnout from the stress of your job, you can forget what time off is supposed to feel like; you can even develop bad habits on the weekend that are making you feel even more drained and overwhelmed on Monday morning.
Here, psychologists and career experts share weekend habits that can contribute to burnout – and offer solutions to combat it.
You live too much for the weekend
There’s a difference between having something to look forward to on your days off and having that be the only part of the week you live for; that’s when this all-or-nothing thinking can be a sign of underlying burnout. “When people say, ‘I hate Mondays,’ or ‘Thank God it’s Friday,’ these are cute little sayings, but what you’re telling yourself is, ’80% of my life sucks,’” says clinical psychologist Ryan Howes.
“When people split their week up, and start thinking of work as bad and the weekend as all good, that contributes to the problem,” Ryan continues. “They spend all weekend dreading going back to work on Monday and griping and complaining about it.”
Solution: Bring your weekend into your week, and find engagement elsewhere
“If your weekends are filled with connecting with friends, getting some rest and going on little adventures, fantastic. How can you make that part of your work week?” Examples Ryan offers are getting breakfast with a non-work friend, or going to a bookstore on your lunch break.
When your work is draining the life out of you, “people have to feed their soul,” says Adriana Alejandre, a licensed marriage and family therapist. She suggests that surrounding yourself with people who are funny can be helpful, and that trying something new can invigorate curiosity.
When you feel like your job isn’t challenging enough, and you’re burned out from being under-challenged, you can also find fulfilment elsewhere, adds Melody Wilding, a licensed social worker and executive coach. “That weekend time can be really valuable for starting a side hustle or volunteering or doing an artistic project – something that makes you feel more engaged,” she says.
You can’t stop thinking, and venting, about work
Constantly complaining about your terrible colleagues and your overbearing boss on the weekend can feel like a stress release in the moment but, in the long-run, this rumination can make you feel even worse.
When you can’t get the feelings off your chest, and keep expressing these negative emotions, Ryan warns that, “you’re not venting, you’re ruminating; you’re dwelling on it, you’re holding a grudge, and that means that the venting isn’t effective.”
Solution: Gain self-awareness and reframe your thinking
“What can I do about this?” is a reframing question which Ryan suggest employees can ask themselves to redirect their complaining energy into something productive. “Venting should be the beginning of a problem-solving process, not an end to itself,” he advises.
Melanie suggests that a ‘brain-dumping’ ritual of using reflective questions to think about your work week can provide you with the necessary closure to move on to your weekend. “I find a lot of people crash into the weekend and they don’t really have this time to decompress,” she says, adding that some questions you can ask yourself for this ritual are ones that help you reflect on what went well, such as, ‘What did I accomplish this week? Where did I make progress? What would I like to improve?’ or ones that have you looking ahead, like, ‘How can I learn from this, going forward?’
By giving yourself emotional and mental closure, you don’t allow your work thoughts to, “leak over and be this pervasive thing that haunts you all weekend,” says Melanie.
You’re completely checked out, even in your free time
When you’re experiencing burnout your tunnel vision of work, work, work can lead to trouble engaging in the world outside of it on the weekends.
“I see a lot of times where people are so overwhelmed with the sheer amount of life things they have to do, or want to do, that they just check out over the weekend, so they’re not even spending that time in a restorative way,” Melanie says. “They’re sort of just numbing out with Netflix or bottomless brunches and things like that to escape everything and avoid it.”
Solution: Be intentional
This doesn’t mean you can’t relax on your couch and watch movies, but be thoughtful about this plan. “It’s fine if you’re going in for a Netflix binge for the right reasons, and you know what you want to get out of it,” Melanie explains, “as long as it’s a personal choice. But if your reasons are, ‘I just want to turn everything off. I just want to go into my cave and hide from the world,’ then it’s not with the healthiest intentions.”
Technology controls you,not the other way around
When your ‘phone is nearby you can feel like you are on-call to your boss even when you’re officially not. You may even find yourself checking email apps and work notifications mindlessly to check in.
First, recognise where this need to be available may be coming from. “Usually, this is all based in fear. That’s why it’s stressful, because they’re afraid. ‘I’m afraid I’m going to miss out on something. I’m afraid I’m going to get behind. I’m afraid I’m going to come back and be unprepared,’” says Ryan.
Solution: Create boundaries about when you’re available, and share those expectations
If you are driven to stay on call by a fearful urge of ‘What if they need me?’ self-reflect on how this thinking can perpetuate the burnout cycle. “If they’ve always depended on you, and if you reply to them, or engage with them, during your time off, you’re enabling them to continue relying on you. Fighting against that anxiety is really important,” Alejandre says.
Even if you need to be reachable, you can be intentional about how much you allow work to take up your weekend, Melanie points out. “Yes, you need to be reachable but you need to put parameters on that,” she said.
Once you make boundaries for yourself you can share what your parameters are with others. “Be clear on your working hours – when you will be available, when you won’t be available, and the timeframe in which you’ll get back to someone,” she says.
Burnout is not always your problem – but you should feel empowered to change what you can
Of course, some of the contributing factors of burnout ― demanding bosses, unreasonable deadlines ― are outside of your control but this can also be a signal that you need to change what is not working. When you trace your burnout to a systemic, toxic source, you need to decide whether staying in this job outweighs what it is doing to your mental health. You may need to have a conversation with your boss about work expectations, or get real about your career priorities.
But in the meantime, reclaiming your weekend is possible – but it does take effort to cure the stresses of work.