Rustout is the cousin of burnout and you experience it when you are underemployed. It’s when you have a job that’s soul destroying and numbingly boring. We need challenge in our roles and although too much can lead to burnout, rustout has its own problems. Both can lead to the physical symptoms of stress. Your mind not being occupied can cause stress, which leads at first to frustration, as well as apathy, and can even lead to depression.


Frustration is essentially the discomfort we feel when what is happening is different from what we believe really should be happening. You can feel frustration in different ways, e.g. you get stressed at coping with the daily hassles of the job. You can also feel that you are not being treated fairly, if there is a hierarchy at play.

There are ways to tackle the stress from this frustration. Firstly, I’ll talk about dealing with daily hassles and irritations. Here, developing a sense of persistence and grit can help. You can do this by keeping an open and positive mindset. It helps to know what you want out of life, so that you have the feeling you’re moving towards the things you care about. If you are searching for a new career path, where you will use more of your abilities, keeping yourself committed to planning and managing your career will really help.

Secondly, if you feel that you have to put up with injustice in your job, then having a more philosophical approach to life’s unfairness can help make these frustrations feel more tolerable. Here, acceptance of personal experiences that we can’t avoid, can help. Acknowledging that life is sometimes unfair and that this is not something that you can control.

How to get out of a rustout situation

If you cannot get yourself out of rustout, getting some help may be an option. Getting a career coach could be an option. A good coach will look at your values, skills and strengths and will try to help you in one of two ways:

  • to improve your current role e.g. give you the confidence to try to make changes in your workplace, to reframe the situation
  • to help you find a new, more fulfilling role. If you are suffering from low self-esteem and apathy, they will work with you to shift your mindset, so that you feel motivated to get out of this rut. In some cases, you may feel that a therapist may also be able to help, if you are feeling intolerably stressed.

Other ways to help with the stress of rustout:

  • Exercise – this is one of the most powerful ways to tackle stress. It helps us to feel calmer, more resilient and better able to cope with life’s challenges. This reduces the amount of cortisol, which rises when we get stressed. It also tends to make us happier by releasing serotonin and norepinephrine. Finally, it also helps us to think critically, think ahead, organise our thoughts and manage our behaviour. Exercise doesn’t have to be very energetic, there are lots of studies about the benefits of walking.
  • Eating well – stress prompts the body to release cortisol, which stimulates appetite. Cortisol especially makes us want junk food. The Mediterranean diet is recommended, so try building your meals around wholegrains, olive oil, fruit and nuts etc. There are also some stress-busting foods which stimulate the good gut bacteria and it’s thought that this can lower stress levels: These are artichokes, asparagus, bananas, garlic, leeks, milk, oats, onions and wheat.
  • Sleep – making sure you get eight hours sleep and making sure that you follow a routine of sleeping at close to the same time each day.
  • Friendships – keeping up your social connections.
  • Talking positively – this will help to strengthen your brain’s positive neural pathways. Try to keep as much of your conversation with others (and your self-talk) as positive as possible.

A final word

Looking after ourselves is so important to do, when faced with stress. Doing as much as you can of the above list, will make you stronger. With grit and persistence, you will be more than capable to overcome rustout.

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