How to Recover from Work Burnout Once It’s Already Struck

  • The first step in recovering from work burnout is figuring out exactly what’s at its root cause. From there, you can begin to take action to correct the situation
  • Self-care – both physical and emotional – is particularly important to anyone experiencing burnout, and can help reverse the worst symptoms
  • If all else fails, it’s time to be honest with yourself. It’s possible that your firm or even law as a career isn’t the right fit for you

Work burnout can happen to anyone in any field, but it’s particularly prevalent among lawyers.

After all, we often work long hours in highly competitive environments and we’re constantly under pressure. Add to that the fact that we’re mostly overachievers and perfectionists, and you’ve pretty much got a perfect recipe for burnout.

So what about those of us who start to recognize the signs of burnout? Are we doomed to be exhausted and miserable until we retire? Thankfully, no. There are steps you can take to mitigate work burnout and set yourself back on the path to satisfaction with your law career.

First: Figure Out Why You’re Burnt Out

What exactly is causing you to feel exhausted and detached from your work? Researchers have identified six major components that lead to work burnout, and they can definitely apply to lawyers: heavy workload, lack of control, insufficient reward, lack of community, unfairness, and incompatible values. Burnout can occur when at least one of these areas doesn’t match up between an employee and employer. Is your caseload so much that you don’t have time to enjoy your life outside the office? Are you killing it in court but receiving no encouraging feedback? Identifying what, specifically, is at the root of your burnout can make you feel more in control and help you begin to recover. Which leads us to the next step.

Make Your Situation Better

Once you have an idea of what’s causing your condition, it’s time to figure out whether you can implement a fix on your own. Can you set boundaries to ensure you’re able to leave the office (and not be on call) at least some of the time? Can you do anything to create a sense of community at your firm, even if it’s as simple as organizing a monthly happy hour? Is there a way to take on different work that’s more interesting to you?

Resist the urge to revel in your misery. Depression and exhaustion can lead to inaction, and that will only contribute to your already negative feelings.

Seek Support

Is there someone you can reach out to for support and advice? Sometimes just talking to a person who’s willing to listen can help a lot with work stress and feelings of burnout. Reaching out to a friend or family member is a good start, but you might also look into whether you could benefit from speaking to a therapist or if your firm offers an employee assistance program (EAP). If you don’t already have a mentor at your firm, this might be a good opportunity to look into acquiring one – someone who knows exactly what it’s like at your workplace could be a great resource.

Take Care of Yourself

Regular exercise helps you better deal with stress. It also takes your mind off of work, helps you sleep better, and generally improves overall mood. And yes, all of those claims are proven. No matter your job situation, you’re also likely going to feel a lot better if you skip the takeout and eat a healthy lunch, ideally not at your desk. Limiting alcohol and junk food won’t hurt either. The recommendation above was about taking care of yourself emotionally; this is a reminder that it’s important to take care of your physical self, as well, if you’re experiencing burnout.

Make an Executive Decision

If you have tried and failed to improve your current situation, it’s probably time to be honest with yourself about why that is. Maybe it’s time to search for a new job because your work isn’t interesting, or you can’t stand working with the managing partner at your firm. Taking control of your future and searching for a new job will likely help reinvigorate you. There’s always a chance you might come to the realization that law is not for you, and that’s OK too. Plenty of lawyers move on to fulfilling new careers.

If you’re feeling the effects of work burnout, the worst thing you can do is attempt to ignore or bury them. Burnout is an indicator that something in your career isn’t going right, and more often than not, it’s something you can remedy.

What's Next

Make a list of executable actions you can take with the goal of improving upon the areas of your job that are leading you to feel the effects of burnout, and begin taking steps to make a change. Give yourself a month to put the changes into effect and start to see improvements.