What to Do about Burnout
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You tend to feel like all you have are bad days, your energy is pretty low, and so is your productivity. Suddenly, it seems like you can’t really feel joy for your life or work at the moment. You lose your patience with others frequently and you tend to avoid being with others. You then fall short out of meeting your goals, and end up feeling low, frustrated and confused.
If any of these sounds familiar, then you probably have a pretty good understanding of what it feels to be in burnout mode. When we are burnout we often feel exhausted both mentally and physically.
When I first started my career as a social worker, I believed that my job was to change the world. That made for a daunting to-do list! I was always convinced that I could be doing more or making a bigger difference. Normally, I'm a hopeful person, but my schedule soon left me feeling exhausted and put out. I also resented anyone who wasn't as busy as I was. How dare she use an out-of-office reply during her vacation? There's work to be done! Once, when a neighbor marveled at how many balls I kept in the air, I snapped, "If you spent half as much time helping people as you do on that damn elliptical, I could slow down." Brené Brown
We all ask ourselves: how and when did we get here, but we can’t really pinpoint the moment that pushed us over the edge. Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It’s not a fun place to be in and we all suffer at times from it.
A recent Gallup study of nearly 7,500 full-time employees in the US, found that 23 percent reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44 percent reported feeling burned out sometimes.
I have my own share of burnout episodes throughout my life. Some were so intense that changed the way I look at life and I became aware of having to make changes to avoid going over the edge again and again. Each burnout episode I experienced after that did make me more conscious about what I could change in my lifestyle and mindset. They have also introduced me to the concept of self care.
This past year I have set in place systems and routines centered around self care and productivity habits that have helped me reduce the number and intensity of burnout episodes. It’s still a work in progress, but I am so grateful for having created the time to start my mornings with a self care routine which includes yoga, journaling, affirmations, music, and sometimes dancing. The best part is that I’m enjoying the benefits on the spot. Starting my morning with activities that put me in a place of gratitude, mindfulness, fulfillment and motivation is a gift.
Looking past the chronic stress, exhaustion, lack of motivation, frustration, health problems and decreased satisfaction that burnout episodes entail, we end up here through our own decision making, perceptions and values. Our intentions are good, but we have habits and beliefs that are keeping us stuck.
So here are five ways in which you can take care of yourself to prevent and reduce burnout episodes in your life.
What to do about burnout
Here's a quote I once heard from a priest: "If you don't want to burn out, stop living like you're on fire” - Brené Brown
1. Get enough sleep
We all experience lack of sleep and not getting enough sleep in our lives. Nearly 7 out of 10 Americans say they experience frequent sleep problems (National Sleep Foundation).
When we don’t get enough sleep frequently it begins to show as body fatigue, having a short temper and lacking focus. Your brain feels foggy, you’re having a hard time to concentrate or make decision. Your self esteem is low, your body is tight, you feel sleepy all day and all you want is to sleep, but find out that you can’t really enjoy the sleep you’re getting.
Getting enough sleep is a part of a healthy lifestyle, with benefits for your heart, weight, mind, and more.
Read more: How I Dealt With Poor Sleep & Exhaustion
2. Learn to set boundaries
Burnout is never the result of just one factor, but navigating through life with no personal healthy boundaries if oftentimes a surefire way to get there. When you’re not setting healthy boundaries you are likely to constantly be at the mercies of others, which can oftentimes send you into overdrive. You will spend your time and energy doing what others want you to do instead of what it is relevant to what your heart desire.
Learn to know what are your boundaries and how to respect them. Reflect on how you want to actually live your life and ask yourself if it’s really worth it the next time you spend the night(s) working, catching yourself saying Yes to doing things or setting goals that aren’t for you, and taking too on your plate from the desire to be of help to others.
Learn more about setting boundaries in Henry Cloud’s book, Boundaries Updated and Expanded Edition: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life.
3. Take a break from technology
Let’s face it. We’ve become addicted to our phones, tablets and gadgets. And while technology is immensely useful, we do allow it a lot more space into our lives than we imagine. In fact, for some of us, technology can also be the bearer of stress (sending or reading emails at 10 PM, does that sound familiar?)
Unplugging is a great way to reduce pressure and it can make a significant difference when you’re dealing with burnout.
Consider how much time you are losing over checking notifications, how much you’re stressing about replying to emails, and messenger, and comments, and how you could use that time, and energy to invest in your self care. Not to mention that frequently spending time on social media when we’re feeling low is an invitation to us feeling even more depressed as we compare ourselves to others.
Take a break from technology before you go to bed.
Make a conscious decision to avoid working in the evening (nights).
Install an app that records how much time you’re spending on social media and various app.
Have at least one afternoon a week when you go out in nature, socialize or perform some sort of activity that doesn’t involve you using a digital screen.
I hear you. What do you mean exercise? Didn’t we agree burnout means feeling drained, both mentally and physically? Well yes, but stay with me. Exercising in the middle of a burnout is one of the fastest and most affordable ways to increase your energy, lower stress, calm your brain, relax your body, and create that feel good state we all crave.
When we’re in burnout mode we have a tendency to overdo it. But when it comes to exercising in this state, we don’t really have to spend hours in the gym, sweating our problems away. Exercising works best when you are involved in a physical activity that you do enjoy. So if you’re not the gym kind of person, go for a walk, or hit the play button on your favorite Spotify playlist and dance it away. Yoga, swimming, hiking, playing tennis (or badminton), football etc are all great ways to put your happy hormones at work (endorphins) at work.
5. Change your Thinking
If you think that being busy is the only way to be productive, if you think that being busy is equal to being successful, if you think that sacrificing your time and health in favor of working yourself to exhaustion is a good investment, you are in a place where you could benefit from changing your thinking.
Our decision making and our self esteem are both heavily impacted by our thinking. In fact, many times we end up in a burnout scenario because of limiting beliefs or false perceptions about what success looks like, what is required of us, what good enough feels, and what we are willing to sacrifice to advance in life.
This is something I hear pretty often from clients and fellow entrepreneurs. They have the money, they have the success they’ve been working towards, but they don’t feel fulfilled. They rushed and deprioritized their own health and relationships in favor of overworking, spending nights wide awake working on delivering that next big project, not spending the time they wanted with their kids or spouse because they take on too much, or always feeling too drained to enjoy family time or say Yes to a night out with friends.
Consider what are your thoughts about what success looks like, what are your priorities in life and in business, and how you would actually love to live. This is an exercise of introspection, and don’t worry if you don’t come up with all the answers immediately. Mindset work takes time, so does change, so don’t try to push yourself too hard hoping you will take a stellar leap and overcome your limiting beliefs and fears over night.
When you transform a burnout episode into an opportunity to grow, you are actively taking responsibility for your well-being and choosing to take control of how you live your life. You might find out that some of your habits have been inducing a long series of burnout episodes. That’s great. Don’t judge yourself, rather try to accept and forgive your past choices. Remember that the present you has the power to change its future. So be brave and accept this beautiful power to make sure your next burnout episodes will be less frequent and less intense.
Sometimes you might feel too drained to take action by yourself. When we are in burnout mode, we often feel like there’s no tomorrow. But remind yourself this state can be temporary when you take active steps to change. If you need extra support, have an accountability buddy, your partner or a coach to keep you accountable.
That being said, I invite you to share how you’re managing your burnout episodes, what works and what doesn’t work for you. Share your story with us so we can all learn.