Cait Donovan writes for Thrive Global about the emotion that will save you from burnout

Stay Positive! Focus on the good! Everything happens for a reason! Find the silver lining!


If you spend a lot of time on social media, you might feel inundated with messages that let you know that any emotion outside of joy and gratitude is BAD for you. You might have also been told that it’s impossible for your body to hold gratitude and anger at the same time, so when you feel both, you wonder if there’s something wrong with you.

There’s not. As a human being in the new work from home life, you’ll know that the range of emotions that you experience over the course of one day is wide, never mind over a week or a month. The excitement when a bit of praise comes in, the disappointment when a relationship wasn’t what you expected, the relief of noticing that your partner emptied the dishwasher are all examples of the emotional roller coaster ride that we’re all now riding as we work from home.

That spiritual guru or personal development master that you follow, however, makes sure that you make note of 3 to 5 things that you’re grateful for before you go to bed lest you forget how lucky you are. It is no secret that gratitude journals have been useful for people, however, in a meta-analysis study published in The Journal of Counseling Psychology, the researchers found that gratitude only slightly outperformed or matched other practices and called for more in-depth research (Davis, D; et al, 2015).*

So, if gratitude won’t necessarily save you from burning out, what will?

You’ll find the answer in resentment. Clients often find this surprising and it is common that the conversation around resentment starts with a statement about how they don’t have any resentment, but once we get rolling, the words start coming out.

If you challenge yourself to keep a resentment journal, you’ll notice some patterns pop up. You’ll see that you’re feeling resentful toward your friend who is texting you in the middle of the day because your automatic response is, “don’t they understand that I don’t have time for this right now?!?!”. You’ll start to notice that every time you get an email from customer X (we all know the one) your body tenses up and you think, “What could he possibly want NOW? I’ve already given everything I’ve got!”.

Collect these moments. They are the key to reversing your burnout and then afterward, keeping it at bay.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Start by keeping a resentment journal. This works best if you are REALLY honest with yourself. Even if you feel like you ‘shouldn’t’ be annoyed at this person for wanting more from you than you want to give, but you are – write it down.
  2. After a week of making notes, sit down and review everything that you wrote down. Some things, you’ll notice, will be still irritating to you. Other things you will have let go of.
  3. Take the first thing that you read that is still niggling at you and write it on the top of a new page and then just underneath it write:

    What boundary can I put into place here to avoid this situation in the future?

    Sometimes, this is an external boundary. For instance, don’t respond to emails between the hours of 6pm and 8am – so even if you’re getting them at 2am, it doesn’t matter because there’s no pressure to respond.

    Sometimes, it is an internal boundary that needs to be put into place. For instance, Sally down the street is always having a mini-crisis and you’re in the habit of solving them for her. She doesn’t usually directly ask you for help but you jump in and fix things anyway and then you feel resentful because you’re having the same conversation with her a week later and she’s not actually taking your advice. To create this boundary, you give Sally back responsibility for her stuff by not offering a solution.
  1. Repeat with 2 more situations that still bother you when you read them.
  2. Take a look at the boundaries that need to be put into place and take action. Figure out which ones have to do with the structure that you’re working with. These are the external boundaries. Start informing people you have changed your phone number and will take all communication through email that you’ll read Mon-Fri and respond within 72 hours.

Find out which ones have to do with your good nature. These are the internal boundaries. Often, we over give our energy to people and our intentions are good, but it is draining and at the end of the day, doesn’t help because Sally is going to do what Sally wants to do anyway. Learning to separate yourself from being responsible for managing other people’s lives and emotions will go a long way.

If you’re already burnt out and you’ve noticed that gratitude practices aren’t working for you, it might be time to flip that idea on its head and focus on resentment, irritation, and annoyance. By using these as guides for building new boundaries you’ll gain control over where and how you spend your energy, have more leftover for yourself, and be less prone to burnout.



  • Caitlin Donovan

    Burnout Expert

    Caitlin Donovan is one of New York City’s leading burnout experts, host of “Fried – The Burnout Podcast,” and author of the book The Bouncebackability Factor. Her master’s degree in traditional Chinese medicine enables Caitlin to combine Eastern wisdom with her natural practicality. After treating more than 25,000 patients, Caitlin added 1:1 coaching, corporate workshops, and keynotes for companies such as PTC and Lululemon – all with a focus on burnout. She has been featured on podcasts and online magazines such as “Elephant Journal,” “Thrive Global,” “Addicted 2 Success,” and “Your Story. Your Health.” as well as quoted in Oprah Magazine. Caitlin and her husband spent 12 years living in Europe, but now make their home in New Jersey. When Caitlin is not speaking or coaching on burnout, you can find her with her husband and their white fluffy dog hiking around NJ and NY.