How to Return to Work after Burnout
How where we burn out can hold emotion and trauma — and how to prevent burnout recurring when you return to work
After burning out as a consultant in 2019, Allison found herself overwhelmed at the thought of returning to the place where her burnout had happened.
“Even just imagining the place — walking into the reception area, the elevator, passing colleagues in the hall — made me feel tense and anxious.”
As it turns out, Allison returned to work in 2020 which meant working from home. This had its advantages.
“Working from home helped me to stay in touch with the signals my body was giving me, so I am better at setting and keeping boundaries. It also meant I didn’t have to deal with the sensory impact of going back to that place. I’m working full time again and enjoying my work much more.”
After burnout, you can have a strong physical and psychological reaction to the building — or even go into the kind of building — where your burnout took place. The relentless stress endured, the emotions that were suppressed, the signals ignored, the exploitative behaviors of bosses, colleagues or systems. All these contribute to a kind of trauma which can endure for years.
It’s not just burnout that gives rise to associations we have with locations. Our memories of places are interwoven with the experiences we had there. Some people hate Tokyo, some love it. The difference often lies in what we want and need in our lives at the point at which we visit Tokyo, and the experiences we have there. Did you fight constantly with your partner while in Istanbul? This will likely impact your vibe on the Turkish capital. Did you meet amazing people at the hostel you stayed at in Rio de Janeiro? This will color your view of the city, too.
I was going through one of the darkest times of my life when I lived in London, and I came to associate the city with depression and loneliness. Years later, when my perspective was healthier, I visited again and was almost shocked to realize just what a great place London could be. The pain I was in when I lived there damaged my opinion of the city so completely that, at the time, London never stood a chance.