*Scroll to the bottom of the page for the video version of this blog*
Are you feeling the effects of burnout yet? I’d be surprised if you answered “no,” only because right now, everywhere I turn, I’m hearing stories of burnout from my clients, my family and friends, and the general community. Which, of course, given all the context of our current lives, makes sense! (If this isn’t you, then cheers, I’m genuinely glad life is good!) But for those who do relate, I want you to know you’re not alone! You’ve been going too hard for too long, carrying too much stress, and trying to hold on until things are better. But now that things are a little better, the reality of having held on for this long has finally caught up.
I have a few thoughts on the topic and tangible ideas on how to start lessening burnout.
What You Already Know (because, hey, you're living it)
Burnout happens when you've reached a state of complete exhaustion, mentally, emotionally, or physically. It's accompanied by a lack of drive or motivation, and when it's really bad - feelings of depression and hopelessness. Burnout is hard to muscle your way through since the reason it's finally arrived at your doorstep is because you HAVE been muscling your way through. It's just that it isn't working anymore. Burnout is caused when you're in a non-optimal (or hey, let's be real - super tough) situation and have been pushing through for too long.
What You Might Not Know
I'm going to tell you something you might not know about burnout. There's almost always an element of self-abandonment and self-betrayal involved. It starts when you have thoughts and feelings that start sounding like "I don't want to do this anymore," or "I don't like this type of work," or "I'm tired, I need a rest." Sometimes it's "This situation is continually frustrating to me," "I feel stuck," or "I don't like the path I'm on." The part that starts the burnout clock countdown is when you don't listen to those thoughts and feelings because, in reality, you feel like you can't listen right now.
Understandably, we tend to act like a stern parent "It doesn't matter what you *want* to do, you WILL be doing it." There is an absolute reality that sometimes (ok, maybe almost always) we need to be an adult and do things we don't want to do. I mean, SOMEBODY'S gotta pay the bills; they aren't gonna pay themselves! But also, there is the truth that we all have good and healthy internal indicators that let us know what's NOT working for us. The thoughts and feelings that are expressing these truths are part of our inner guidance. It's our "gut" feelings of what is right or not right for us.
When we start feeling this way, we don't have to do something extreme immediately. When people are afraid to listen to that internal voice with some uncomfortable or inconvenient truths, we're afraid we're going to go off the rails. "If I listen to it, it will make me quit my job tomorrow, and then what will I do?!?" And "If I listen to it, it will tell me to leave my spouse, and that would be terrible!"
So What Should You Do About It?
Instead of being afraid that if you listen to what you are thinking or feeling, you’ll do something extreme that will ruin your life, let’s instead think:
“Maybe there are problems I need to acknowledge that I can start thinking of better solutions to.”
Please note - the solutions can and should be reasonable, and what your thoughts and emotions are communicating to you is that SOMETHING needs to be done - something other than just muscling through, hoping the situation will change all by itself.
Let’s walk through the first part of this process.
As we start to name what isn’t working, we’re going to do this gently. We’re not going to do anything about this information YET. First things first, let’s name it, next we’ll talk about some things you can do about it.
Burnout Exercise - STEP 1
(1) Start with deep breathing for 3 minutes to get your thoughts, emotions, and body settled. Set your phone timer for 3 minutes. Breathe in for four counts, hold for seven counts, breathe out for eight counts. The reason to do this is to make sure you bring your body out of a panicked or anxious mode, which is essential for what you’ll be doing next.
(2) Notice anywhere in your body where you feel heaviness or tension. Often people feel this in their chest, stomach, shoulders, or back. What is the emotion you can identify with that heaviness or pressure?
(3) Next, ask yourself what this burnout is about? What is going on? Is it your job? What is it about your job? Is it your relationship? What is it about your relationship? Is it other factors? Are you too isolated? Is there something you’re missing? Something you need more of? Less of? Something you’re grieving?
If you don’t have somewhere handy to write this down, You can always use a note-taking app on your phone to make a note of these things.
In the next blog post, we’ll discuss what to DO about what you wrote down.
Of course, if you get stuck or need more support or insight, I’m always happy to help. Please send me a message!