So You're Burnt Out. Now What?
5:30 AM. The alarm goes off. You resistantly roll out of bed, groggily down a cup of coffee, and try to avoid thinking about the slew of seemingly unending responsibilities that lie ahead of you today. This has been your life for the past weeks, maybe months. In your 10:00 AM meeting, you're zoning out, agonizing over your endless task list for the day. And by lunch, you're bogged down with a lack of motivation, unable to accomplish anything. You even lash out at your co-worker who catches you mid zone-out asking for clarification. You're burnt out.
The WHO characterizes burnout by three symptoms: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy. Experiencing low energy, restlessness or insomnia, a lack of motivation, or even changes in your eating habits can all be signs that burnout is setting in.
Let's face it - life requires a lot from us. We have to show up daily in so many aspects of our lives, often without taking a minute to catch our breath. We are tired, but we keep going. We are stressed, but we keep chipping away at our to-do lists, our motivation diminishing as the days go on. And sooner or later, our bodies throw up walls.
A global pandemic. The busyness of summer. Tragedies on the news. Responsibilities with our families. Not to mention society's underlying message that we must "be more", "do more", and "accomplish more."
If you're feeling the signs, you're not alone. A recent study done by Indeed found that 52% of all workers are feeling burned out, a 9% increase since the start of the pandemic. Burnout may be a reality for individuals around us as well - our friends, co-workers, family members.
So how can we escape? How can we break free of the hustle-culture
and center ourselves?
Identify the Problem. Sounds almost silly to say, but in today's culture, we have to practice removing ourselves from the cycle of "shoving away our feelings in order to meet the demands of our career, family, etc." Find 20 minutes of alone-time to journal (check out this post for tips for creating a journaling habit!), or bring it up over coffee with a friend. Admitting we are headed on the path to burnout is the first step to turning things around.
Set Boundaries. Commit to turning off work when the work day is done. Limit the pressure to check your work email, and do your best to leave worries about tomorrow's work tasks for tomorrow. Separating your work life from the rest of your life is critical if you're going to recover from mental burnout.
Be Unproductive. Take a step back from the aura of accomplishing, producing, and getting things done. But don't simply resort to scrolling social media or binging Netflix. Practice truly quieting your mind. Trust that delaying some of your responsibilities won't kill you, and your brain will thank you. Try 10 minutes of meditation. Take a walk. Personally, going on a walk alone and without the distraction of music/podcasts helps my brain to calm down. Journal about what you see around you right now. Sit in the sunshine.
Be Gentle With Yourself. Falling into burnout is not a weakness, or a sign that you aren't capable of meeting the demands required of you. The pressures of this society we live in can often be unrealistic and unhealthy. You are doing the best you can. Sometimes in order to show up strongest for the people around us, we have to focus on ourselves first. For bettering yourself, you are bettering the world around you. And that is something you can be proud of.
Overcoming burnout is a practice. It takes intentionality and commitment. But let it not be another task on your endless to-do list, but rather a priority you make to yourself for your own health and wellbeing.
What is your experience with burnout? What strategies do you have to overcome it?
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