A sense of emptiness doesn’t always stem from depression or other mental health struggles. If you’re feeling empty, it may be due to burnout.
What is meant by a feeling of emptiness?
A feeling of emptiness involves struggling to feel excited by, energized by, and connected to the world around you. You may feel like you have nothing keeping you going – like your life lacks meaning or purpose. You may stop receiving fulfillment from any part of your life.
When the emptiness festers and fails to respond to your efforts, it can grow into an issue of chronic emptiness.
If you’re feeling empty, it might be related to burnout
Overworking to the point of burnout has consequences aside from work performance–specifically consequences that can make you feel empty.
Burnout often arises once you’ve filled all the empty space in your life with work demands. Within this pattern, you lose energy to maintain other aspects of your life that require care and attention (such as your hobbies).
In burnout, you become so drained that you can only give your work the bare minimum effort–and personal life becomes even less of a priority. You may have no energy or motivation left to seek fulfillment outside of work.
Even if burnout occurs for you in only one area of life (such as your work), the negative feelings and exhaustion often spill into and impact other areas of life, leading to an overall feeling of emptiness.
What mental health factors can contribute to burnout emptiness?
Personality traits like an external locus of control can contribute to the feeling of emptiness that occurs during burnout. An external locus of control is basically an academic way of saying that you believe that life isn’t really within your control. It’s hard to believe that there is a point to taking action, because it seems as though nothing will change or result from your effort.
If you feel burned out but have an internal locus of control, it is much easier to take action and improve your situation because you believe it may work. On the other hand, if you have an external locus of control, it feels pointless to take action, because you believe that nothing you do matters or will change your situation.
Irritability can also contribute to emptiness in burnout. If you’re burned out, putting yourself out there is may be more likely to trigger irritability. Things didn’t go right, the interaction wasn’t what you wanted, your expectations weren’t met. Irritability then conditions you to feel that there is no hope (bringing us back to an external locus of control, mentioned earlier).
And finally, depression emptiness can overlap with burnout emptiness, magnifying your struggle with feeling empty.
How long does burnout last? Is it the same for emptiness due to burnout?
The longer that we take to remedy the effects of burnout, the longer the burnout may persist. According to some sources, once you burn out, it can take over a year to feel back to normal. (That’s why so many people emphasize burnout prevention.)
However, when we tend to our needs for rest and recovery, we are more suited to overcome any overwhelming feelings of emptiness that stem from burnout. (That’s not to say that self care can solve burnout.)
Recovering from burnout doesn’t always happen overnight. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to feel empty the whole time.
How do I get rid of emptiness from burnout?
Unfortunately you might not always be able to improve your work circumstances. In moments when you have little control over your situation at work, the second best thing you can do in order to minimize burnout emptiness is actively resting.
You may just have to recharge your batteries in order to devote time to fulfilling parts of life (in a way that’s not passive like zoning out to TV).
To heal burnout, it is important to actively rest regularly–even in moments when you don’t feel particularly tired. Consistent rest is essential, so that you feel recharged and replenished throughout the day.
There are various ways that you can “refill your cup” when you’re feeling empty due to burnout. Examples of practices that can reduce feelings of emptiness include:
- Maintaining a regular habit of exercising, if you are able to. Whether you are going on a walk or a run, you are actively resting your body and releasing stress chemicals. This may free up some emotional energy to seek fulfillment.
- Connecting with your social support network, either at work or outside of work. Building your relationships with your loved ones and colleagues is important for your mental well-being and can help reduce your feelings of emptiness.
- Making use of your time off from work — if you can afford to — is essential for feeling less empty. Use the time focusing on what brings you joy outside of work! Try not to spend the whole time doom-scrolling. And make sure to prepare yourself for the return to work.
- Following your impulses. When you’re empty due to burnout, it may be a result of ignoring your needs and wants for so long, that you now have trouble noticing what you want. Next time you feel even a hint of motivation, follow it! You may already know what would make you feel less empty – it could just be a matter of doing it.
- Taking stock of what makes you feel “full.” . Use worksheets for figuring out what gives you joy and fulfillment, rearranging your priorities, and setting boundaries to protect your peace.
It can be very easy to overwork ourselves without knowing it. You take on extra overtime here and there to make ends meet, or you find yourself scrambling to meet deadline after deadline. Over time, your work feels all-consuming and you start to feel depleted. As a result, you start to neglect other aspects of your life that used to bring you joy.
If you are experiencing burnout in this way, it is likely that you are also struggling with feelings of emptiness. Fortunately, through intentional rest and active recovery, it’s possible that you can reduce the emptiness and ultimately bounce back from burnout.