(AND 5 THINGS I LEARNED THROUGH PERSONAL EXPERIENCE)
When I was thick in the throes of burnout, around year 6, I finally realized what was happening. The word burnout made sense to me. I didn’t accept it at first because I ‘had a nice life’ and ‘nothing to complain about’. But still, I kept coming back to the concept and it felt like it literally vibrated with my whole body. I was so physically tired, getting out of bed was a nightmare (and I’m not a morning person to start with), I had no control over my diet, and I was avoiding my friends like the plague.
When this happens to me – I find a thing that makes sense – I do what I always do… research. I read like a fiend. I get ALL THE BOOKS. At the time, my uber-smart husband was doing a post-graduate program at Cambridge (yeah, the one in England) so I had access to university libraries and loads of research that I wouldn’t normally be able to get my hands on so easily.
And I downloaded. And downloaded. And downloaded.
5 THINGS I LEARNED FROM THE TOP RESEARCHERS:
1. Burnout crosses physical and emotional borders.
Burnout knows no boundaries (and hey, building great boundaries is a great antidote to burnout… so there’s that). I did an IG poll recently and 70% of people said that their first signs of burnout were physical. To that I say: Show me someone who is exhausted and has headaches that is in a good mood and I’ll tell you burnout is a myth.
2. It impacts caring professions more than others.
Your doctors, nurses, acupuncturists!, and other caretakers are crashing and burning at rapid speeds.
3. It’s hard to differentiate burnout, depression, and chronic stress. There aren’t clear lines and the grey area seems to keep expanding. When I asked you, you told me that you felt there was a difference between burnout and depression and seemed to agree with my thesis that burnout is an extreme form of chronic stress.
4. It’s fixable.
Your body and brain’s abilities to shift with new habits, ways of being, and ways of being treated is magical. You do the things, your body and brains will meet you there.
5. There are internal and external causes.
When dealing with burnout, sometimes you really need to get your head right. Sometimes, you need to quit your job. If external causes are the majority of your burnout symptoms, it’s time to move on.
5 THINGS I LEARNED THROUGH EXPERIENCE
1. Noticing the signs of burnout is a gift.
I started to love my burnout because she rears her ugly head every time my self-care goes down. She tells me where my boundaries are iffy, where I’m ignoring myself, and when I’m not taking the time to really sit and be.
2. Recovery is more difficult without physical movement.
When you’re in total burnout mode, you may only be able to do 2 jumping jacks or 5 minutes of yin yoga (extra long child’s pose anyone?) – but you should do them. Building on this slowly brings you to a place where you can exercise more which makes your brain more plastic. I feel the difference in a major way.
3. Turning off all phone and computer notifications makes it easier to focus and helps me prevent burnout.
My smartphone addiction and compulsion is much worse when I’m teetering toward burnout.
4. Journalling and meditation are magical.
Both require discipline and that can be hard to come by in burnout – but here’s my NUMBER ONE RULE: go slow. If you can just sit and breathe for 30 seconds, start there. If you can journal for 2 minutes, great. Don’t avoid self-care because you think it needs to be long or it doesn’t count
5. Food choices are super hard when you’re burnt out.
When I’m in the throes – I always come back to Platejoy – a meal planning/recipe/grocery list app which means that I can eat healthy without thinking and planning. It tells me what to do and I just follow along. If I don’t do that – it’s a coffee for breakfast, a muffin as a snack, a sandwich for lunch, a cookie as a snack, skipping dinner and eating a late night quesadilla. Oh, and I forget water.
Dealing with burnout is a whole life event. There are no magic pills and no one perfect thing to start with. The only thing that matters is that you notice and that you start.