August 16, 2023

Pretending to be OK Is Burning You Out

I'm Melissa
I'm a Career and Leadership Coach for Women in Pharma/Biotech. I've been where you are, and I help you create the career you want without working more hours or settling for good enough.
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On this episode we are talking about burnout, not just burnout in that you’re working too much and need a vacation, but the burnout that happens from unexpected places.

Pretending to be “OK”, putting on a happy face, and pushing through burns you out. Working in a culture that is draining, having unclear expectations, toxic bosses, all of these circumstances burn you out, no matter how many hours you’re working.

Tune in to hear the symptoms of burnout, what causes it, and specific strategies to overcome and prevent it.



  • The symptoms of workplace burnout that go beyond needing a vacation
  • 6 unexpected causes of workplace burnout (it isn’t what you think!)
  • 10 strategies for overcoming and preventing burnout today




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Welcome to Your Worthy Career, a podcast with me, Melissa Lawrence. I’m a career and life coach with all the corporate credit and talent development and organizational psychology. I help women like you get extraordinary results by being more you, not less. I won’t just help you have a career experience worthy of you, but I will help you build your self worth to shift what you think is possible and take the action that will create the career you’ve always wanted. Whether it’s more meaningful work you’re passionate about, making more money, getting to your next level, or being more effective as a leader, we are shattering the glass ceiling here, the one that exists for women at work and the one we put on ourselves with our doubt and inner critic. Each week you will get practical teachings grounded in neuroscience and effective career development strategies. You’ll experience deep mindset shifts and the perfect amount of woo so you can run your career with ease rather than your career running you. You were born for more, and I’m going to help you get there with maybe a few dance parties along the way. Your up level begins now.

Welcome to today’s episode of the podcast. How are you? The industry has had its ups and downs lately. There’s been a lot of reorgs, a lot of change, and with how demanding the work environment is, not just now, but the industry in general is very demanding at times, it’s no surprise that it’s common to experience burnout at some point. The constant pressure to perform, meet deadlines, and maintain a work life balance can really take a toll. It can take a toll on your mental health, your emotional health, your physical wellbeing. I’ve done a couple of podcast episodes on this topic, but today we’re going to talk about it from a different angle. We’re going to talk about burnout a little bit differently, and I’m going to talk about it in a way that’s going to give you a path forward. If this is something that you’re struggling with or that you just want to prevent, maybe you’re a leader that wants to watch for the science in your team, this is going to be very valuable for you. So burnout impacts women more than it does men. The idea that you have to pretend to be okay, whether you’re stressed from work demands or something going on in your personal life, there is this pressure more so with women to just put on a smile and not let anything bother you, to pretend you’re okay, to not complain, to be grateful.

And this is just social conditioning that we’ve had our whole lives. I’ve had a client that was going through a terrible loss and difficult time in her personal life, and she wanted coaching on how to feel the same way she always does at work, how for other people to see her the same way and not let them know that she was struggling with this. And she was worried that her boss and her colleagues would maybe think that there was something wrong or whatever. And she’s like, How can I mask this? It was almost like the tone of it. And instead, we talked about how can we be ourselves? How can we be safe at work? And how can you maybe have this conversation to let your boss know that you’re going through some things so that if you are a little withdrawn, if you aren’t feeling your best, you don’t have to cover it up, right? Because that’s going to be more damaging to your well being. And I think there’s some fear to go in and just be honest and have those conversations. But it really does so much good in the long run.

So I was doing some research on this, and I found that there’s a study from Michigan State University where psychologists found that the more that we fake smiles, the worse our mood will be at the end of the day. The more we pretend to be okay, the more irritable, angry, and sad we become. And I want to add to that. I think that this is 100% true just from my own experience and what I see in my clients and my experience working in talent and development in the industry and my Masters in organizational psychology. I have a lot of background to say that this is true, and this is what I found also. But I also think that when we pretend to be okay, that that is burning us out. Just pretending to be okay when we’re not okay. It doesn’t matter why we’re not okay. You can have a reasonable workload. You can have a low workload. But if you’re not okay and you’re putting in all of that energy to fake it and to do what you think is expected of you, that can create burn out. You’re already working hard, putting everyone else first most of the time.

So when you pretend you’re fine, that you can do it all when you keep how you’re really doing to yourself, it takes a lot of energy. And you silence yourself. You’re reinforcing that you have to just be sweet and don’t complain and carry the burden and numb out the real human experience. Have you ever felt like you were just carrying so much that when you snap with your partner because they don’t do a little thing just right, or you suddenly think everyone has a tone. What do you mean by that? Like a little defensive. When that happens, there’s usually something deeper going on. So pretending to be okay isn’t good for you. You might know this, but think that you don’t really have another choice. I want to dig deeper into this with you. So let’s just talk about burnout. Burnout is a state of chronic physical and emotional exhaustion resulting from prolonged exposure to stressors in the workplace. It is characterized by feeling cynical or negative, feeling detached, having a sense of reduced accomplishment, your effort that you put in is just never enough.

Burnout can have severe consequences on your health. I talk about this in the, I believe it’s the Tips to Overcome Burnout episode that I did. It can have negative consequences on your relationships, your overall quality of life. It can increase your stress levels, anxiety, depression, and physical health problems. And I don’t say this to stress you out more, right? Because the way the brain works to tell yourself not to be stressed out is only going to make you more stressed out. So that’s not the solution. It’s more of an encouragement to listen to your body. 

So let’s talk about how to recognize the signs of burnout so you know if this is something that you might be struggling with. So there are the physical symptoms where you’re chronically tired, you aren’t sleeping well, you have headaches, maybe you have some GI issues. There’s emotional and behavioral changes. So if you’re noticing that you are having some mood swings or you’re feeling negative, you’re disengaged, you don’t have the same motivation, you’re irritable, that could also be a sign. There’s cognitive difficulties that come with burnout, like trouble concentrating, decreased productivity, difficulty making decisions. There’s interpersonal challenges like conflict with people at work, withdrawing from social situations, just wanting to isolate yourself, strange relationships.

And then there’s work related dissatisfaction where you lose interest in your work. You have a decreased sense of accomplishment. You have a decline in job performance. If you resonate with any of those, if you heard those and you’re like, Oh, I have that, I have that. It’s really time to make a change. It’s time to put more of an effort into taking care of you. And we’ll get into how to do that and some strategies you can try. But first, let’s talk about some causes of burnout at work because it’s not uncommon to wake up one day and have some of these symptoms and think, Well, how did this happen? I was happy before. I didn’t intentionally overdo it. But burnout can really creep up on you. It’s like scope creep on a project. It starts with one little thing, and then before you know it, you are responsible for delivering a lot more than planned. Or if you think of a loose thread on the hem and there’s just that thread that’s just coming out and then it gets more and more unraveled, it can just happen little by little. So burnout can come from some places you might not expect.

It isn’t just about the amount of work. So here are some common causes. There’s the excessive workload, so having overwhelming work demands, long hours, unrealistic expectations. That’s the common reason people think of. And then there’s a lack of control. If you are all of a sudden, or over time, having a lack of autonomy and decision making power that leaves you feeling powerless and overwhelmed, that can lead to burnout. Or if you have a poor work life balance where you have a difficulty separating work and personal life, this can lead to chronic stress. Unclear expectations is another one that catches people by surprise. But when you have vague job descriptions or conflicting expectations or instructions, then this can leave you very frustrated. It can make you feel stressed and uncertain about your role at work. And that can lead to burnout because it’s heightened energy that is focused on this negative stress area. A lack of recognition. So if you’re not feeling appreciated or valued at work for your contributions, that can lead to burnout as well as toxic work environments. So workplace bullying, micromanagement, a lack of support, all of those things can contribute to a toxic work environment, and that all fosters burnout.

So this is the part where I feel like, the way that I’ve talked about this today, I’m envisioning medicine commercials in our industry where I say if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, then talk to your manager or trusted advisor about a solution. Serious side effects can occur like more energy, less stress, improved cardiovascular health and happiness. I amuse myself. We’ve talked about the symptoms or how to know if you’re experiencing burnout, and we’ve talked about where it comes from, what causes it. Now, let’s talk about some strategies you can try to just prevent and manage it. So one is you can prioritize self care. And this is an obvious one, but it isn’t just about bodies. It’s like making time for activities that bring you joy and relaxation. And it can be things that are just five minutes, 10 minutes throughout the day. It doesn’t have to be an entire day, but prioritizing what you need to feel energized and recharged and replenished is going to be really important. 

The second one is boundaries. So this is something that I work on a lot with my clients is establishing those clear boundaries at work. So it’s avoiding maybe checking emails or engaging in work related tasks outside of designated work hours unless you want to.It’s figuring out what are those things that you want to have as far as your lifestyle, the way that you work, the way that you integrate work and life, what separation do you want to have, and then how can you take what you want and create a strategy so that it doesn’t impact your performance? And what I often see is putting in boundaries actually increases performance and increases the reputation of the clients that I work with and actually gets them further ahead in their career. So it’s not saying no and it’s going to put you behind setting boundaries, actually puts you ahead. The next one is seeking support. So whether it’s your friends, your family members, your colleagues, your partner at home talking about how you’re feeling, asking for help when you need it, you can seek professional help like you’re therapists, coaches like me who can offer guidance and coping strategies. The next one is practicing stress management. So stress management techniques can be meditation, deep breathing, journaling, visualization. Even thinking about being in an environment that is relaxing can lower your heart rate and help you relax. When I’m feeling stressed and tense, I will do box breathing, which you can look up, but that is really just taking in a slow breath, holding it, letting out slowly, holding it, and doing that over and over again, and that lowers your heart rate.

And a really fun fact, that actually can put you back to sleep if you wake up in the night. So I will use it. Sometimes I’ll wake up in the night and then I’ll have a hard time going back to sleep and doing that box breathing, it lowers your heart rate and it helps you go to sleep. So fun fact there. The next one is to communicate openly. So talking to your manager, talking to your peers, discussing any challenges that you have. Having a collaborative and supportive work environment can really prevent feeling like you’re isolated, like it’s only you. And also put in those systems that need to be put in place so there’s a more balanced workload. There’s actually a one on one framework that I teach that makes these conversations really easy to integrate proactively before they’re a problem. So you can actually download that framework. It’s an agenda framework for one on one meetings that you can use with your manager or you can use with your team. And so you can get that framework at my website at So I’ll put that link in the show notes for you.

Now, the next is seeking growth opportunities. So this one is really fun. So sometimes all you need is some focus on you through learning new skills, attending a workshop, seeking opportunities for growth that can enhance your job satisfaction. And I think that one is really cool. So you might just need to be grounded and invest in your development. And this is actually really common that happens with my clients. They’ll hire me as a coach in a session or two. They’re prioritizing themselves, they’re feeling better. They have those work boundaries in place. Just doing whatever it is that is going to help you feel like you’re growing and you’re not stuck is going to help you a lot with your own mental health and well being. Practice mindfulness. So working that into your daily routine you can try just being present in the moment. I don’t look at this so much as meditation, but more, although meditation, I guess, could be a vehicle for mindfulness. I think of this more as being present in the moment because when we’re present in the moment, we’re making better decisions. When you’re chaotic and all over the place because you’re so stressed and there’s so much to do, you’re not making as good of decisions.

You’re not thinking things through. You’re not saying no when you need to say no. And so if you’re mindful, then it will control the way that you handle situations and allow you to do it in a way that’s more effective, but you’ll also be more intentional about what you take on. The next one is advocating for change. So if you notice at work that there are systematic issues within your department, within your company, within your site, that you’re seeing people being burnt out, speak up and advocate for change. You can talk to your HR group. You can talk to colleagues, supervisors just to get some ideas and maybe brainstorm some ways to address those issues. Now, the next one is to regularly evaluate and adjust. So you might try one of these things, you might try a number of these things, but it’s important that you assess over time proactively, like, how am I feeling? What is my workload like? How is my overall wellbeing? This is an ongoing process, and so it just really requires some continuous attention and self-reflection because it’s not like if you experience burnout once, you’ll never experience it again.

It’s not chicken pox. So you have to really assess it over time and make sure you’re taking care of yourself. And then the last one is just how I started this episode, to stop pretending you’re okay. If you don’t feel okay, if you’re stressed and you need a break, honor that. Don’t gaslight yourself, put yourself last and expect that this will be sustainable. You deserve to be cared for and held. You deserve to let your guard down and say no. You deserve to feel happy and well. And that starts by being honest with how you really feel and prioritizing yourself, treating yourself well. I know it can be hard to put yourself first. It can even feel impossible. Just know that this is normal. I see this all of the time. It’s how we are told to be. The industry is demanding. As women, this is an expectation for how we are. And I want to let you in on a secret. When you start prioritizing you, getting clear on what you want, and shutting out everything else that gets in your way, like saying no more, you’re going to advance your career. You are going to feel better than ever. It is possible, I promise. All right, that is all for this week’s episode. Have an amazing week, cheatahs. 

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No longer settles for “good enough”

Hi, I’m Melissa.

Career & Leadership Coach for Women in Pharma/Biotech

I'm a former Talent & Development leader in Pharma/Biotech turned CEO and Certified Professional Career & Life Coach. I also host the podcast, Your Worthy Career.

I've been where you are, and I help you create the career you want without working more hours or settling for good enough.

I'm leading a movement of women in the industry who are figuring out exactly what they want and shattering the glass ceiling. The very real ceiling in the industry, but also the one that we impose on ourselves. 

So long, imposter syndrome and overthinking. It's time to step into the impact and life you're worthy of having.

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