Bouncing Back from Career Burnout: A 21 Day Journaling Guide

  Monday, February 14, 2022
Contributed by Dr. Carrie Jackson

Most people express stress at their job from time to time. The stress that a job and career put on someone can be particularly challenging. When the stress is exacerbated and moves into burnout, there can be lasting physical and emotional effects. Although burnout is not considered a medical or mental health diagnosis, it can lead to further mental and physical health difficulties. 

Burnout is considered a persistent state of emotional or physical exhaustion. Career burnout is when you are emotionally or physically exhausted as a result of your career or job. When you are burnt out from your career, you experience a heightened level of work or time spent doing work, yet it doesn’t result in any increased productivity. In fact, it often results in less productivity, a lower sense of accomplishment, and a loss of personal identity. 

When burnout is not addressed early on, it can lead to lasting problems. Just because you have experienced burnout does not mean that there is no hope. In fact, taking the time to process how you are feeling is very important to recovering burnout. The more you can understand what it was that led you to the point of burnout, the more likely you are to be able to recover from burnout quickly and get back to feeling like yourself again.

One of the best ways to overcome career burnout is to fully understand and process your experience around burnout. While you can certainly do this with a therapist, you may be ready to take the steps yourself to process your feelings through journaling. In this journaling challenge, you’ll have two journal prompts each day to guide you through your feelings and thoughts around the situation so that you can fully process your emotions and experience around career burnout. Ready to get started with recovering from career burnout? The following 21 day journal challenge will help guide you along the way with questions backed from science-driven ways to recover.

Day 1: Acknowledge Where You Are

No matter where you want to go, acceptance is the first place to start. Acceptance does not mean that you will never change where you are, but it is so important to acknowledge where you are right now in order to get where you want to be. It’s important to fully take stock of your symptoms at first tIt’s important to fully take stock of your symptoms so that you can move past them. This part of journaling may feel uncomfortable because we are asking you to stick with your uncomfortable feelings for a bit. Although it may feel uncomfortable at first, it will be worth it in the long run. You’ll be able to look back on the following questions and understand how far you have managed to come.

Question: What has working been like for the past month?

With this question, think in detail about how working has been for you as a day-to-day experience. When you woke up in the morning, what was it like for you? What were your actions and thoughts surrounding your days where you would go into work and how you felt while you were there. Do you remember what it was like for you to go into work? Spend this time reflecting on what life has been like for you at your job and with your career.

Question: How has my work affected my physical and emotional health lately?

Continue to dive into your feelings on work over the past month by truly thinking about how your work has affected your physical health, including your sleep, exercise, nutrition, and stress levels. Notice any physical changes you experienced or discovered through doctors visits. Also spend time reflecting on this question by noticing how it affected your emotional health, including your sadness, happiness, and joy throughout the days.

Day 2: Dive Into Your Emotions

We’re going to ask you to sit with your emotions for just a bit longer. Really understanding where you are with your emotions is the first step for processing them. Often, we try to avoid our emotions and fight against them because they’re uncomfortable. We don’t want to experience them or to feel upset, ashamed, guilty, or confused. You may even feel anger or resentment towards yourself for getting to the point of burnout. There is nothing wrong with where your emotions are right now. All of the emotions that you are experiencing are valid and it’s important to acknowledge them.

It can be tough to acknowledge and fully immerse yourself in your emotions. During the next part of the journaling challenge, we invite you to be compassionate towards yourself in dealing with these difficult emotions. It isn’t easy to experience these emotions while you are recovering from burnout. Remember that the acknowledgment you are going through right now is just as important to the process as all the future journaling exercises will be.

Question: How did burnout show up in my body?

One of the first signs of burnout can be the way that it shows up in your body. The physical signs of burnout are often keys to how burnout is affecting our emotions. Within this part of journaling and the challenge, try to notice where your emotions and burnout show up in your body. When you start getting stressed, do you notice that your heart rate increases? Do you notice that you are no longer sleeping or that you are sleeping much more than you used to. Within this part of the journaling challenge, you will be able to spot signs that may clue you into how you can look out for signs of burnout in the future.

Question: What thoughts do I have when I’m experiencing burnout?

Another way that our emotions show up is through our thoughts. Emotions are thought to have three primary components: physical, cognitive, and behavioral. The cognitive piece of emotions covers what thoughts we have when we are experiencing emotions. These thoughts may come out as, “I am overwhelmed and am a failure at a job.” Often, when we are feeling burnt out, we have more negative thoughts that tend to mirror how we are feeling. At the same time, you may also have thoughts of overwhelm, such as, “I need to keep pushing through this in order to be good at my job.” During this time, be as open and honest as you can about the thoughts that you have been having. No thoughts are bad thoughts. The more that you are able to journal openly and honestly during this time, the quicker you will be on your way to recovery.

Day 3: Begin with Acceptance

Acceptance of these emotions takes it a step further so that you can fully move on from them. Accepting emotions is more than just experiencing them. It is being at peace with the fact that you are no longer stuck in those emotions and you are acknowledging that you have the strength to be able to move forward.

Question: How can I accept that I have experienced burnout?

With this question, it’s important to be able to acknowledge the times in which you were truly in burnout and that you were there. This may look like writing down some affirmations or confirmations that you were experiencing burnout. This is a full acknowledgment of where you were with burnout so that you are able to move forward. 

Question: What does acceptance mean to me?

As another starting point, you may wish to fully explore what it means to you to accept that you have experienced burnout. By doing so, you can take a look at what acceptance means to you. Does it mean that you are fully okay with having experienced burnout? Or does it mean that you can acknowledge where you have been and at the same time, move forward into something else. 

Day 4: Acknowledge the Positive

While you are in the midst of burnout, it may be incredibly difficult to find any positives for why you experienced burnout or what good it may have brought you. At the same time, this is a part of the healing process to be able to acknowledge where you have been in order to get to where you want to me. Additionally, research has shown the positive effects of cultivating gratitude on a daily basis. It can lead to reduced stress, greater emotional awareness, and a more positive outlook.

Question: What has burnout given me?

Question: How has burnout brought positivity into my life?

These questions may sound odd or even difficult to work through at this moment. You may be feeling like it is not even possible to find the positivity from burnout. At the same time, it is possible to find the positive in any moment. As you work through these questions, try to consider in what ways your life has changed because of burnout. If you don’t see how burnout has brought any positivity to you currently, how do you think that it is going to bring you positivity in the future?

Day 5: Find Strength Within

Going through career burnout can be difficult because it takes away a good amount of strength from how you were feeling. Especially for those who experience career burnout, they often place a significant amount of focus on their career and find strength from their career as well. Now that you are on your way out of burnout, it’s important to find strength and motivation within from different parts of yourself than your career.

Question: How have you shown strength in the past?

Thinking back on a time when you were able to find strength can be a good way to recognize how you can find strength again. When you are going through a difficult time, it can be incredibly helpful to think about the qualities in yourself that are strong and how you were able to find strength in a past time.

Question: Recall a difficult time in which you were able to push through.

Similar to the previous question, recall a time when it was really difficult in your life where you were able to overcome that difficulty. You can walk through that time in your life where you may have experienced difficulties and weren’t sure if you were able to make it through. As you recall this difficult time, notice what it was that got you through those moments.

Day 6: Focus on Your Identity

After experiencing career burnout, you may feel lost and as if you don’t fully know your identity and who you are. This often happens because we attach so much of ourselves and our worth to our career which ultimately leads to burnout. Finding ways in which you can regain your own identity will be important in helping you recover from burnout.

Question: How would you describe yourself to others?

Question: What would you like others to say about you?

As you are thinking about your identity, think about yourself, your friends, your family,and other pieces outside of your career. Prior to burnout, were there pieces of your identity that were incredibly important to you? Or even during burnout, were there parts of your identity that didn’t receive as much attention. Journaling about your identity will help you regain the pieces of your identity that are important. Additionally, you will be able to find strength in the other pieces of your identity knowing that your career is not the only piece of you and that you can find strength in further parts of yourself.

Day 7: Focus on Control

Oftentimes, when we are in the midst of difficult feelings or unhappiness, so much feels out of our control. We often will feel like we have nothing else that we can do and because of this, we feel even more out of control in our lives. The lack of control that we experience in burnout can be difficult to change, but we do often have some control over our lives and the burnout. Attempting to regain control can be very helpful as a way to find a way out of burnout and happiness. Even if you are not able to leave your job currently, try to identify if there are any ways in which you can change or alter your job through the aspects of control that you have.

Question: What aspects of my job can I control right now?

Question: In what ways can I use this control to change how I feel about my job right now?

Day 8: Identify Stress Sources

Research suggests that journaling about sources of your stress can be therapeutic in the way that you are better able to identify sources of your stress so that you can manage them in the future. Keeping a so-called stress diary is a great way to continue to identify current sources of stress alongside your burnout. Oftentimes, people realize while they are re going through burnout that there were other sources of stress that they did not realize they were experiencing in the moment. The following questions will help guide you through the use of a stress diary as a way to monitor your mood and feelings around difficult moments in your life. 

Question: What other sources of stress am I currently dealing with?

Question: Where else in my life is stress showing up outside of my career?

Day 9: Social Support

One of the most important aspects to heal from any difficulty is to find those who can help support you. Social support is often linked to increased well-being, better recovery, and overall happiness. Although there is a line between finding people you know as social support and also looking for support from professionals, it is important to identify the ways in which you can ask and receive support during this time. Often, asking for support is difficult because those who went through burnout felt that they could handle everything on their own. Utilize the following questions to identify the ways in which you can lean on support in the upcoming months.

Question: How and from whom can I utilize support at this moment?

Question: What has held me back from asking for support when I needed it? 

Day 10: Finding Meaning in Life

Positive psychologists suggest that finding meaning in life is an important way to find happiness and also to buffer against the negative effects of burnout. When you have prescribed so much of your life’s meaning to your career, it can be hard to reclaim the meaning in your life in a different way. You may not even be sure what the meaning of life is for you currently. But that’s okay because it will get better and you will be able to find meaning in your life outside of your career. Although your career can certainly be an important part of your meaning, it does not have to be the only part. 

Question: How would I describe my mission in life to a friend?

Question: What is my personal mission statement?

Using a personal mission statement or developing one, can help you find meaning in life. According to psychologists, using this type of self-analysis can be helpful in determining what you think your own personal mission is and ascribing meaning to life when you feel as if most of your life has lost its meaning.

Day 11: Setting Boundaries

One way in which career burnout can often escalate is when poor boundaries occur. Boundaries can be physical or emotional, but they are spaces that you keep between yourself or something in order to uphold your own personal integrity and well-being. Setting boundaries if often a difficult task for someone to do, particularly if you have experienced burnout. One way in which burnout can often develop is if you continuously overstep your own boundaries in order to please your boss or someone else. For example, staying late to finish work everyday when you take on extra work that your boss requested you do despite having previous commitments. Another example of difficulties setting boundaries is by answering emails after hours or on the weekends. Although you may have struggled with setting boundaries in the past, this does not mean that it is impossible to set boundaries better in the future. The following journal prompts will help you explore both how boundaries may have contributed to your current well-being as well as ways in which you can set more rigid boundaries in the future.

Question: What boundaries of my own did I cross in my job that may have contributed to my burnout?

Question: What would I like my boundaries at work to look like?

Day 12: Practicing Positive Thinking

In addition to practicing gratitude, research in the field of positive psychology also consistently shows how helpful it can be to use positive affirmations. Positive affirmations are ways of looking into the positive and ways you can offer yourself reassurance in a time that may be difficult. Positive thinking can be particularly helpful for you to maintain hope throughout this process of healing.

Question: What positive statements can I tell myself now to get me through burnout?

Question: How do I feel when using positive affirmations with myself?

It can be difficult to get into the habit of using positive affirmations at first, particularly if you are coming out of a place that was negative and difficult to manage. I encourage you to be as honest as possible about how you feel about positive affirmations when you first start using them, and see how this changes as they become more of a habit. 

Day 13: Midway Check-in

Burnout is a process and now you are already over halfway through this journaling challenge! As you have gone through this challenge it’s helpful to do regular check-ins with your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. In the beginning, you started seeing how you were feeling about burnout and you are now continuing to move through it. During this check-in, we encourage you to re-assess your thoughts, feelings, and actions as you continue to build awareness around your emotions. The more that you are able to continue to build this awareness, the better you will be able to recover and maintain this progress.

Question: How have I grown so far?

Question: In what ways would I like to continue to grow as I complete this journaling challenge?

Day 14: Reward Your Efforts

Take your positive affirmations a step farther by acknowledging the challenges you have overcome so far and the efforts that you have made in recovering from burnout. So many people do not take the steps you are making in order to fully recover from burnout. There have also been other things that you have done during this time in order to work on yourself including building more awareness of your emotions, building in positivity, and also recognizing and accepting where you are in burnout. The following questions will help guide you as you continue to build upon where you have been and progress throughout burnout. They will also serve as a good way to continue to check-in on the practices that you want to continue to incorporate as you recover from career burnout.

Question: What steps have I taken to recover burnout?

Question: Which of the practices that I have put into myself have been the most helpful for recovering from burnout?

Day 15: Exploring My Career Practices

Outside of your career, there are likely some habits within your career that you have picked up along the way that may have contributed to your burnout. For example, you may have gotten used to checking your email on the weekend, not taking a lunch break, or other practices that have made your burnout quicker than expected. This can also serve as a time for you to explore the career practices that you would like to change or incorporate into the future. The following questions will help you as you begin to build an idea of what your career should look like and what you would like it to look like.

Question: In what ways did the career practices that became normal in my everyday life contribute to my burnout?

Question: What career practices would I like to incorporate into my future job and career?

Day 16: Building Health Habits

In order to prevent burnout, building in healthy habits is an integral piece of staying healthy. Healthy habits go further than just maintaining good sleep, exercise, and healthy eating habits. It can also include mindfulness and meditation exercises. The more that you are able to build in these habits in the meantime, the healthier you will end up being overall. As you are continuing to build upon healthy habits, try to establish your own healthy habits by exploring in the following journaling exercises what health means to you and how you can cultivate a healthy attitude.

Question: How can I establish healthy habits in my life?

Question: In what ways did I lose my health, and how can I regain it back?

Day 17: Change of Career Plans

During career burnout, you often end up feeling extremely exhausted and over your job. You may have been contemplating a new switch in your job or you may just be wanting to have a switch in your current role. The following questions and tomorrow’s questions will help you in deepening your awareness and understanding of your career path. It is up to you if you decide to stick with your current job or move onto another one. The current job that you have may be completely appropriate; however, it may be that you need some changes in how your job actually is. 

Question: How do I feel about my career now that I have improved my burnout?

Question: What feelings come up for me when I think about my current role?

Day 18: Dreams and Aspirations

One aspect of career burnout that occurs is that you lose all of the interest in your job and unfortunately your career suffers as a result. Throughout this process, you may have realized that your career desires and aspirations have changed. In fact, you may have decided that going into a completely different career field is a much better fit for you than the one that you are in. The following questions will help you explore this and understand what you are doing now that you want to continue in your career going forward. While the last questions may have been helpful in exploring if you would like a change in career plans, the following questions will help you identify the goals that you have for your career, regardless of whether you stay in your job or not. 

Question: How have my career goals changed after burnout?

Question: What would I like my career to look like as I move forward in this new direction without burnout?

Day 19: Your Identity Now

After going through a difficult time, whether it is career burnout, a breakup, grief, or a loss, you often learn new things about who you are and your identity. At the beginning of this journaling challenge, you explored your identity as it relates to your career as well as pieces of your identity that you found to be important to you that did not get as much of your attention as they could have. Now that you have had some time and distance from burnout, taking stock of what is important to your identity can help you more fully understand the changes you have made.

Question: What parts of my identity did I discover because of career burnout?

Question: What traits in myself have I regained?

Day 20: How Has Life Changed

Burnout recovery is possible, and we hope that this journaling challenge has helped you get there. One of the helpful ways to continue to recover from burnout is to recognize all of the positives in your life currently. This will help you maintain the positive changes, emotional support, and ways in which you have changed.

Question: What have I learned from going through this experience?

Question: How have I grown since going through burnout?

Now that you have been through burnout and have recovered from the exhaustion you have experienced, try to look back at where you were and where you are now. You have likely grown in how you think about your burnout and what you would like to be different now that you are on the other side of burnout. It can take some time to fully process your emotions and thoughts related to the burnout you’ve experienced, so it is helpful to explore them at different phases. Now that you are on the other side, you may find that your answers of what you have learned or been given since going through burnout have changed since the beginning.

Day 21: How You Will Continue to Heal

As you continue to move into your life without burnout, it’s helpful to think and continue to reflect on your life and how you would like your life to continue after this. Although healing is never a linear journey, we hope that this journey of reflection into yourself has been helpful and that you have continued to learn more about yourself and heal throughout it.

Question: What ways will I continue to heal?

Healing is a process that is preventative. You will want to notice the ways in which you have healed throughout your burnout and this journaling challenge, and identify which pieces were the most helpful for you as you continue to heal. Was leveraging social support, journaling, or processing your emotions helpful? This will be one of the most helpful pieces for you as you continue to move forward and maintain all of your progress. 

Question: How do I expect my healing journey to look over the next few weeks, months, and years?

Knowing that healing is a process that can have its ups and downs, imagine what you foresee the next times of your life to look like. With the possibility of having some downs as you continue throughout your life, how will you manage to continue to maintain your healing. 

It’s important to know that there is no wrong or right way to heal. The best part of using journaling as a way to heal is that it can be used at any time. As you continue into your life and now that journaling is a habit, it may be helpful if you continue to utilize journaling as a daily habit to process your emotions, check-in with yourself, and recognize all that you have overcome.

About Dr. Carrie Jackson

Dr. Carrie Jackson is a contributor of JournalOwl. Her primary interests are to increase access to evidence-based mental health treatments for children and adolescents, providing specific information to parents and individuals with ADHD.

Carrie is a graduate of West Virginia University with a doctoral degree in Psychology, and a specialization in Clinical Child Psychology. Carrie has worked as a therapist and evaluator at several children’s hospitals, providing care and treatment to clients with ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and anxiety. She has also worked with children with chronic medical conditions, providing supportive mental health care to children with cancer and burn survivors. 

Although originally from South Carolina, Carrie has lived in two countries and four states. She enjoys hiking, traveling, and trying new recipes.

Health Disclaimer

JournalOwl is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, medication, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptoms or conditions. JournalOwl is not authorized to make recommendations about medication or serve as a substitute for professional advice. You should never disregard professional psychological or medical advice, or delay in seeking treatment, based on anything you read on JournalOwl’s website or platform.

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