Stressed & Burnt out at work. Again.

So I left my previous job because I felt like I was working way too hard and way too long hours in a place where I didn’t feel like I was learning anything, nor did I have the mentorship that could help me grow in my career. Fast forward to today, I’m now in a role where I genuinely like the nature of my work, can see potential to grow, and like the people I work with.

I’m coming to the end of my 2nd year, and while things were more stable and optimistic when I joined, the past few months has been crazy hectic. I was so burnt out early this year I broke down and had to ask to day a few days off. After I returned, I had genuine convos with my bosses where they expressed concern and regret for the state that I was in, and acknowledged that it was in part an oversight on their end that I was pushed to take on so much at one time. We also agreed upon some measures to increase visibility on resource and project management to avoid a similar situation.

The problem is, 3 months after that break down, I’m in a similar situation yet again where I have pressure to take on more projects than I can handle at a time, simply because we have so much work that everybody is over their capacity. And while the last time I felt like I could give my bosses the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t realise how much I had on my plate because they weren’t aware of the projects each of the individually didn’t have visibility on. But now, I think I (and my other colleagues as well) have been vocal enough of why I cannot take on more work and am struggling. I’m quite sure they are aware that I am overwhelmed, but I don’t feel like they are doing anything concrete to help alleviate this resource crunch.

I do understand that there’s not much they can do either, because the work just needs to be done and we just don’t have that resource. But am I just being selfish or too naive to expect my bosses to care for my wellbeing? Is it not part of management’s responsibility to make sure that our workload isn’t overwhelming?

Also, because of how stressed I was this week, I was a little too sensitive and made some hostile push backs to a colleague I am usually really nice and friendly to. I feel bad for my aggressive tone, and we cleared up that there was no ill intent, but that really affected my mood the entire day. So much so that I forgot I was meeting my friends for a birthday celebration the next day and had to bail on it. This slip up was kinda of a wake up call that my mental state is really not in a good place, and I hate the fact that I’m still thinking about the work that needs to be done at this point. How can I learn to set better boundaries, and not let my work stress seep into my personal life?

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Dear @fifteendaffodils,

Firstly, thank you for reaching out and sharing your experiences with us. I appreciate you taking the time to pen it all out. From your sharing, I get the sense that you’ve been through a lot in your recent work experiences. I can only imagine how challenging it was for you to keep pushing yourself to meet the various heavy demands. It sounds to me like you’re also a person with great skills and resilience. It’s great that you were able to recognise your limits and communicate them to your bosses. It shows self-awareness and a desire for a healthy work-life balance. Well done! :clap:t4: :clap:t4: It was also heart-warming to read that you were able to repair the relationship with your colleague.

Your concerns about feeling overwhelmed and your bosses not taking enough action to address the resource crunch are valid. It’s normal to expect management to consider employee well-being when managing workloads. It might be worth having another conversation with your bosses to revisit the measures you agreed upon earlier and discuss any additional strategies that could help manage the workload more effectively.

As for setting better boundaries and preventing work stress from affecting your personal life, please allow me to share more information about boundary setting. Setting effective boundaries is usually two-pronged: boundaries for others and equally important is boundaries for self.

The following are some tips you might find helpful for setting boundaries.

Setting Boundaries with Others:

  • Permission: Giving yourself permission to hold boundaries is crucial for maintaining a healthy work-life balance and managing stress effectively.

  • Decide on the type of boundaries needed for self and others.

  • Communicate those boundaries clearly to your colleagues and superiors.
    o E.g, if you need uninterrupted time to focus on a task, let your team know that you won’t be available for meetings or non-urgent requests during certain hours.
    o E.g, I will not respond to work calls or emails after working hours.

  • Assertive Communication: Use assertive communication techniques to assert your boundaries while respecting others. Practice using “I” statements to express your feelings and needs without coming across as aggressive or defensive.

  • Expectations: Manage expectations by setting realistic deadlines and deliverables. Be transparent about what you can realistically accomplish within a given timeframe to avoid over-committing yourself.

  • Consequences: Follow up on the consequences for others. Say no when necessary. It’s okay to say no to additional tasks or commitments when your plate is already full. Prioritise tasks based on importance and urgency, and politely decline requests that exceed your capacity.
    o For example, letting the phone ring and not answering the work call.

  • Space: Allow room for mistakes, growth, feedback and then trying again or making tweaks.
    o For example, allowing for one-off high-need calls. You can predetermine how many such calls you will entertain in a month or year.

Setting Boundaries with Self:

  • Self-Awareness: Pay attention to your own limits and signs of burnout. Listen to your body and mind, and acknowledge when you need to take breaks or step back from work temporarily.

  • Prioritise Self-Care: Please prioritise activities that help you relax and recharge outside of work, such as exercise, hobbies, or spending time with loved ones. Try scheduling and blocking time out in your calendar.

  • Set Clear Work Boundaries: Define specific times for work and non-work activities. Avoid checking work emails or messages outside of work hours whenever possible. Activate the work profile option in your phone or mute the notifications after working hours.

  • Practice Self-Compassion: Be kind to yourself and avoid self-criticism for needing to set boundaries. Recognise that taking care of your well-being is essential for long-term productivity and happiness.

  • Delegate and Collaborate: Don’t hesitate to delegate tasks when appropriate, and collaborate with colleagues to share the workload more evenly.

  • Routines: Establish daily routines that support your well-being, such as regular meal times, adequate sleep, and dedicated relaxation periods. Stick to these routines to maintain better balance and reduce stress.

  • Practice Mindfulness: Incorporate mindfulness techniques into your daily routine, such as deep breathing exercises or meditation, to help manage stress and stay present in the moment. This can aid you to be calmer to avoid potential unintended conflict with colleagues.

  • Seek Support: Don’t hesitate to seek support from colleagues, mentors, or mental health professionals if you’re struggling to maintain boundaries or manage stress effectively. It’s okay to ask for help when you need it.

By granting yourself the authority to establish and maintain boundaries, both in your interactions with others and with yourself, you empower yourself to cultivate a work environment that prioritises well-being and enhances productivity.

It’s natural to feel some discomfort initially when asserting your boundaries and advocating for your needs. However, setting boundaries is a skill that improves with practice and time.
Achieving a healthier balance between work and personal life is an ongoing process, and it’s perfectly acceptable to seek support and make adjustments as needed along the way.

If you have any further questions or would like to discuss more, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Wishing you all the best in your journey towards a more balanced and fulfilling life. :smiley:

Kind regards,
CoolBreeze =)

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Thanks for taking time to respond @CoolBreeze!! You made me feel very validated and heard. I am definitely in a better place after being able to process some of that frustration and negative emotions.

Looking more rationally at what happened again, I do see how a lot of my stress came from me putting pressure on myself to deliver on unrealistic expectations. I think part of this pressure can be easily resolved because I recognise that when I’m overwhelmed, sometimes I forget to check if those expectations were just my own assumptions or if people I’m working with really hold those expectations. So being more mindful and learning to pause and maybe just take a deep breath before reacting could help mitigate this.

Another part, I feel, is more complicated. I tend to feel disappointed in myself if I have to turn a request down, even if the request is not realistic. As long as the ask is not unreasonable, and I can see the value in it, I will overstretch myself in order to fulfill it. I think I find rejecting a request, or asking for more time / compromising, more uncomfortable than burning myself out. And putting that into words makes me realise how I should value myself more, but I also find it very challenging to put this into practice.

A big struggle I have is that I think I’m also not very good at saying no gently but assertively. So my rejections tend to fall on either end of the spectrum, where it either comes off too weak and I end up saying yes anyway, or too abrasive where I then blame myself for hurting feelings or being too cold. Do you have any practical advice on how to be assertive, but still gentle in setting boundaries with others?

Also a note to anyone who found my post relatable in one way or another: hang in there, you’re not alone! Your feelings are valid and you are worthy of love and support :slight_smile:

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Hi @fifteendaffodils :wave:t4:

I’m really glad to hear that you’re feeling validated and heard. :smile: It sounds like you’ve been through a lot of reflection and growth, which is amazing. Recognizing the sources of your stress and taking steps to address them is such an important part of self-care. Well done @fifteendaffodils, I’m proud of you! :clap:t4: :clap:t4:

It’s great that you’ve identified two key areas where you can make changes. Being more mindful and pausing before reacting can definitely help in managing unrealistic expectations. It gives you the space to evaluate whether those expectations are truly external or self-imposed.

Regarding your difficulty in saying no assertively yet gently, that’s a common challenge. One practical tip is to practice assertive communication. This means being clear, firm, and respectful in expressing your boundaries. Start by acknowledging the request positively, then clearly state your limits or offer an alternative that works for you.

Here are some examples:

  • I appreciate your trust in me, and I want to deliver quality work. However, I’m currently committed to other projects. Can we discuss a revised timeline or alternative solution?
  • Thank you for considering me for this project. However, I currently have a full plate with my current assignments. I’m open to discussing priorities or adjusting timelines if necessary.
  • I value our friendship and want to support you, but I need to balance my commitments too. In the future, could we plan these requests in advance to make sure it fits into my schedule?

For a start, you may want to begin with improving your skill in using “I statements” and “Assertive Body language”.

“I” statements are a powerful tool in assertive communication because they focus on your own feelings and experiences without placing blame or judgment on others. They help you express yourself assertively while maintaining respect for the other person. For example, instead of saying, “You always expect too much from me,” try, “I feel overwhelmed when I have too many tasks at once.”

Here’s how you can use “I” statements effectively:

  • Express Your Feelings: Start your statement with “I feel…” followed by an emotion. For example, “I feel overwhelmed when I have too many tasks at once.”

  • State the Behavior: Describe the specific behavior or situation that is causing your feelings. For instance, “When I receive multiple project requests with short deadlines…”

  • Impact on You: Explain how the behavior or situation impacts you personally. For example, “…it makes it difficult for me to focus and deliver quality work.”

  • Request or Boundary: Clearly state what you need or what boundary you want to set. For instance, “I would appreciate it if we could discuss priorities and deadlines to ensure I can manage my workload effectively.”

Using “I” statements shifts the focus to your experiences and needs, fostering understanding and constructive dialogue.

Assertive body language complements your verbal communication and reinforces your assertiveness. Here are some tips for using assertive body language:

  • Eye Contact: Maintain steady eye contact without staring or looking away excessively. It shows confidence and engagement in the conversation.

  • Posture: Stand or sit upright with your shoulders back. Avoid slouching or crossing your arms, as this can convey defensiveness or discomfort.

  • Gestures: Use open and relaxed gestures to emphasize your points. Avoid gestures that appear aggressive or defensive, such as pointing fingers or crossing your arms tightly.

  • Facial Expressions: Keep your facial expressions neutral or friendly, depending on the context. Avoid frowning or scowling, as it can send negative signals.

  • Tone of Voice: Use a calm and steady tone of voice. Avoid raising your voice or speaking too softly, as it can undermine your assertiveness.

Practicing assertive body language enhances your overall communication style, making your messages more convincing and impactful. It also helps you project confidence and command respect in interactions. By incorporating these tips into your communication style and practicing them regularly, you can become more assertive and assert your needs confidently in various situations. Make it a game and practice these skills in a non-triggering environment, for example with close friends or strangers ( if it is more comfortable for you) like service crews.

It might feel uncomfortable at first, but with practice, it becomes easier. Remember, setting boundaries is not about being cold or hurting feelings—it’s about valuing your well-being and ensuring a healthy balance. It is normal to experience uncomfortable emotions when asserting yourself or setting boundaries. Our strength in this skill is often influenced by past life experiences, especially in childhood. Our attachment styles play a significant role in how comfortable we feel in expressing our needs and desires to others. I’d like to encourage you to consider seeking support from a counsellor. They can offer emotional guidance and help you explore your attachment style, enabling you to improve your communication and emotional well-being.

I hope the above is helpful. If you have any other questions, please feel free to reach out!

Warm regards,
CoolBreeze =)