Knowing how to rebuild your confidence after burnout is such an important part of the recovery process but something that is rarely talked about.
After spending 15 years working in high-stress roles I thought I was more or less invisible when it came to workplace pressures. I’d managed to juggle leading projects, managing communications, and delivering business strategies in pretty complex environments.
Even when big deadlines exhausted me I managed to bounce back with relative ease, so I never thought I would experience burnout.
Heck, I didn’t even know what it was until it knocked me on my backside and kept me there for the best part of a year.
But, after a pretty full-on couple of years in a company that was changing quicker than its infrastructure could handle I was pushed and pulled to breaking point. The impact burnout had on me was horrific (and I’m not exaggerating!). Not just in terms of my mental and physical health but in terms of my self-belief and confidence.
My previously outgoing, positive and bubbly personality had been replaced with self-doubt, indecision and a complete lack of confidence.
Rest won’t cure burnout
I kept being told that with some rest I would soon feel like myself again. But after a few months, it was clear that things weren’t getting better. Burnout had knocked the wind well and truly out of my sails.
And I see these same things being told to my clients time and time again – whether individual or corporate – they are fed the lie that a little break will fix burnout. They believe that a long weekend will soothe the frazzled feelings and they’ll return confident and full of energy, just like before.
But, I’m here to tell you that it (sadly) doesn’t work like that. So how does it work?
Well, we need to get clear on what burnout is to start with…
In 2019, The World Health Organisation (WHO) classified burnout as an “occupational phenomenon; A syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
Quite honestly I’m not too keen on the WHO’s definition as burnout symptoms can vary so much, (I talk about the most common signs that you’re burned out here).
But in relation to self-confidence, the most damaging element of burnout is the lack of self-efficacy you feel when it hits.
Yes, the language the WHO uses to describe burnout is quite sterile, another reason I am not a fan. What it means is that we feel inadequate, like we aren’t doing enough or being enough and we doubt our ability to show up effectively in our work and in our day to day lives.
So how does this link to confidence?
Well, confidence is essentially your belief in your skills and abilities. If you are self-confident, you accept and trust yourself and feel that you have a good level of autonomy and control over your life.
This doesn’t mean that you know everything or complete every task perfectly. But it does mean that you:
- know how to play to your strengths,
- understand your weaknesses,
- can communicate effectively,
- and are willing and able to take feedback, even when it isn’t positive.
Self-confidence requires that you have a good level of self-awareness, self-acceptance and that you encourage others to have the same.
And if you’re thinking “I wasn’t outgoing or confident before burning out, what hope have I got after?” I’m here to tell you that you can use this experience to rebuild yourself in a way that works for you. And in a way that helps you find the confidence that perhaps you were missing before burnout got you in its grips.
Confidence is a skill that can be learned & honed over time
People think that confidence is something you’re born with and that it goes hand in hand with extroversion. But I can assure you that they are not mutually exclusive.
I know many very successful people who consider themselves introverts and certainly didn’t start their careers full of confidence, myself included.
I also know many extroverts that lose their confidence when they are new to a role or task, such as managing a team or have experienced long or intense periods of stress which has left them depleted of energ
How can you improve your confidence after Burnout?
It is easy to find that you have a dwindled sense of self-confidence after you hit burnout. However, you can improve your situation and start feeling confident, calm and in control again. I promise.
Every person is unique so you need to experiment with what works best for you, but some of the most effective techniques to rebuild confidence that has helped me and many of my clients get back on their feet are:
Play to your strengths
Identify what your superpowers are. What have you excelled in or really enjoyed doing in the past? How can you do more of these things in your day to day life?
How can you share these skills with others? If you can’t do this inside your current role, are there projects or teams that you could add value to in other parts of the organisation? Or if you’re running your own business could you collaborate with another or maybe even use your skills on a voluntary basis??
Doing things we are good at and/or enjoy gives us a natural confidence boost and shows our brains that we are capable of doing more of the same in the future.
Plug your skills gaps
It’s ok to have weaknesses, every single one of us has them. Being honest, open and accepting of them will not only build trust with those around you but will also help you grow and find your confidence again.
Identify the areas where you feel least at ease (or perhaps try to avoid altogether) and work on getting tools, training or support to plug these gaps. This will inspire others around you who may be struggling to do the same. It’s a win-win.
Let go of perfectionism
I’ve spoken about the damage perfectionism can inflict on us before, so here I will just remind you that done is oh-so-often more than good enough. Burnout is most common amongst high achievers, type-A types because they constantly strive to give 110%. This isn’t just mathematically impossible, it is physically and mentally impossible, too!
Always trying to overdeliver sets you up for failure.
Yes, there are some tasks that truly require precision but many really don’t/ I often use the example of a surgeon with clients. When operating, you want them to be a perfectionist. But if they are packing their bags in front of you in the supermarket you want them to get it done!
Letting go of perfectionism doesn’t mean you become slap-dash about everything.
It means you become more discerning about when caring about every single detail is really essential or not. The sooner you accept that done is often better than perfect the sooner your confidence will feel safe to return.
Reflect on achievements
Of course, this won’t stop you ever feeling apprehensive about doing new things or stop you from worrying about doing a good enough job. So when self-doubt inevitably kicks in, stop and look at everything you have achieved in the past.
Look at the times when you have done things that felt impossible to start, let alone complete. Look for evidence where you have achieved something that felt out of reach before and I encourage you to keep a note of this evidence in a folder (physical or digital).
Thank you emails, feedback, testimonials, little mementoes or cards that mark previous wins can all be added, then refer back to them whenever fear or self-doubt kick in
The more you grow and progress professionally the more isolated the world of work can feel. It’s very important that you find people that can lend an ear, give you advice and help you navigate everything that your role or business entails.
Looking for a mentor or coach can be a great way to do this. Be vulnerable with them, let them know that you sometimes struggle with confidence and explain that is in part why you are looking for their support.
Improve your communication skills.
Communication is key to confidence and something I highly recommend all everyone receives some kind of training or learning on. It’s important that you know how to communicate with a range of people, in a way that’s appropriate for their knowledge and experience.
And it’s not just about the words you say, but your body language and how well you listen, too. These things combined will make your communication more effective, improve your relationships and help your confidence return.
It’s very easy to forget how far you have come when there is a constant stream of to-dos and deadlines. Pay attention when you tick things off your list – it will give you a little dopamine hit that will spike your confidence. And regularly acknowledge and reward your successes, no matter how small.
This will train your brain to appreciate your efforts, let it know that it’s progressing and help you feel secure in your abilities.
Final thoughts on rebuilding confidence after burnout…
It can feel scary putting yourself back out there after burning out… But remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It can take a while to rebuild your confidence and you don’t need to do all of the above at once.
Test drive them one at a time, figure out what works best and gradually build on them until you start to feel your confidence coming back.
The right support makes all the difference
If doing this on your own feels a little overwhelming then you may benefit from getting some guidance from a coach and mentor specialising in burnout.
They will not only be able to share evidence-based tools to help you rebuild your confidence but they will also give you the support you need to break your burnout cycle and stop this from happening again.
If you would like to find out about the burnout support KDP coaching & consulting can offer you, you can book a free 30-minute call here
During the call, we will work together to come up with a plan to help you start feeling calm, in control and confident again.
There will be absolutely no obligation to work together at the end of it. Just consider it a safe space to ask an expert any questions you may have and get some free advice and guidance to help you start feeling like you again.
If you liked this blog then you will love The Anti Burnout Bible. A bi-monthly memo that is full of expert tips, tools and tales that will help you beat burnout so you can thrive inside and outside of work. Join the free community here.
This blog was first featured as an interview with Katie Phillips, burnout expert and owner of KDP coaching and consulting on the TSW website.