At its core, burnout is a sign of exhaustion. You might feel chronically fatigued or have trouble sleeping. Lesser known symptoms include procrastination and loss of appetite. Because I spent many years feeling overwhelmed, and emotionally out of control. I would dip in and out of burnout frequently which negatively impacted my life. So I’m super passionate about this as a topic as part of a larger conversation about mental health.
I’ve learned to recognize the symptoms early on, and knowing what helps me alleviate some of the stress is essential to my overall well being. It doesn’t mean I totally avoid it, but I can lessen it.
Here are some recent things I’ve experienced that tell me I’m burning the candle at both ends and headed right toward burnout:
- I make dumb mistakes. Last week, I loaded my groceries in the wrong car outside my neighborhood market. I just walked over to a SUV that just so happened to have it’s trunk open, and put my bags in a strange mans car.
- I procrastinate simple tasks. Like submitting invoices, which is the only way I get paid, or answering the most benign email.
- I lose all creativity. Sometimes, I get so tired and fired I do not have single clever thought – not helpful when my livelihood depends solely on my thoughts.
- I have no attention span. I cannot stay focused for longer than a few minutes at a time, and quickly, almost manically, switch from one task to the next.
- I can’t sleep. Granted, I’m currently very pregnant, but I’m not sleeping and I’m totally exhausted.
- I have no patience. Little things are annoying me that usually won’t bother me at all. I’m also getting on my own nerves.
Right now, it feels like the universe is throwing every conceivable curveball at me to see what I can handle. I’m focused on staying calm and steady, trying to find the humor where I can, and giving myself a break.
At some point, we will all deal with burnout. Whether you’re at home with little ones day in and day out, trying to balance a career and family life, becoming an empty nester, or taking care of aging parents something will eventually be too much.
Frankly, I’m proud of how I’ve navigated the last seven months. Many of the lifestyle choices I’ve consciously made over the last two years are paying off. I can see a significant difference in my bandwidth. I still have days I want to scream into my pillow, throw my laptop across the office, or just have a good old fashion hissyfit. But instead, I tap into the very low reserve of discipline I have left, take a deep breath and reach into my toolbox of strategies to help the keep burnout at bay.
How I Handle Burnout
I am almost eight months pregnant so working out is a challenge to say the least. I don’t like it and I don’t want to do it. Aside from the fact that I can’t breathe, everything hurts and at this point I’m doing more modified movements than not. Just the other day my friend and instructor told me I looked like I was riding a beach cruiser in cycle class.
But here’s the thing, no matter how miserable I feel during the class, there is no doubt I am calm and focused outside of class because I got my heart rate up. Sometimes, working out when you want to do it least is when you get the most benefits.
Try to sleep if and when you can. Whether you can sneak in a 20-minute nap, or go to bed earlier. If your body is fighting fatigue giving it the sleep it needs is the best fix. If you can get 30 minutes of cardio in during your day, you’ll have an easier time falling and staying asleep.
It’s incredible when you realize how many balls we keep in the air, and the subsequent overwhelm that comes with it will take its toll. To help you sleep, and release some stress, write everything down. Not in an app, or your paper planner, but list everything that is on your mind on a few pieces of lined paper. Get your thoughts out of your brain. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel when you see it written out.
From there you can eliminate, delegate or move back anything you can, prioritize your to-do list and transfer tasks to your planner of choice. Sometimes the act of putting a plan in place helps you break out of the burnout.
Find what feeds your soul, what makes you feel centered, and go do that for a few minutes. For me, a walk with my husband, a snuggle with my kids, a cup of tea (or wine, gosh I can’t wait for wine again) at night with a good book, all makes me feel better.
Don’t force yourself to do something that doesn’t give you peace. What works for one person might not work for someone else.
Accept Help BUT Only If It’s Actually Helpful
If I know my mom is coming over, it’s like my stress level decreases by 50% instantly. She just makes everything better, and easier. I don’t have to clean my house, or manage her in any way. When she walks in the door, you can feel the collective sigh of relief, “Mom-mom’s here.” It’s comforting for all of us. That’s the kind of help you should welcome.
But, we all have those people in our life who, despite good intentions, are more work and strain for us. Their “help” is more trouble than it’s worth. I’ve learned that saying “no” to help that causes more stress is just as important as saying yes to what you really need.
Have a Good Cry
It’s common knowledge that I am a crier of epic proportions. Pet adoption commercials and videos of soldiers coming home surprising their families might be my kryptonite. Sometimes, when I can physically feel the strain of burnout sitting on me or there is a lump in my throat that I push down for days at a time, I watch a movie guaranteed to make me sob. The release makes me feel better and helps me avoid crying in less than ideal situations.
The trick is to find something that makes you cry without upsetting you more. For me, Ghost, Stepmom, and P.S. I Love You, give me a good cry but I can quickly recover. Marley & Me, on the other hand, is a guaranteed ugly cry that ruins my day. It’s important to know the difference.
Put Away Your Phone
There’s a ton of research that shows our dependency on our phone, and our ability to always be plugged in leads directly to burnout. Try to put your phone away about an hour before bed, keep it in a different room during meal time with family, and wait to check it in the morning. Small changes in your habits will help lessen your stress.
Eliminate Draining or Unnecessary Activities
It’s not always feasible to pare down your schedule. Sometimes you have to push through. But if you can, scale back even in small ways. It’s not selfish to pull back, say no, and put yourself first. Often, being all things to all people is the very reason we face burnout in the first place.