I recently wrote a blog post on my personal blog about the road to burnout. The signs, signals, and symptoms that burnout was around the corner were obvious:
- energy depletion
- mentally distant
- problems “getting the job done”
- sense of failure & self-doubt
- insomnia & chronic fatigue
- constantly falling ill
- emotional exhaustion
- anger issues, cynicism
- depression & anxiety
- forgetfulness & inability to concentrate
But I had ignored them, blaming them on my auto-immune disease (Celiac). I continued pushing myself. I blamed the chronic low-grade stress in my life on my illness. And I mistakenly thought that my problem was my mindset, time management, and the need to establish clearer priorities.
At the same time, however, I felt that I had no control. It didn’t matter what choices I made – it would not change the outcome.
I felt like I had no say in my professional life. I had employees that needed me in my business to take care of them and their concerns. There was no room for saying “no” to commitments or requests from others in my Church. And I had a small child to look after at home. In the end, I was getting angrier and more irritable by the day.
For professional women, life at home can play a role in burnout. It is said that in many homes, a woman works some 39 additional days each year than a man, because of the unequal division of labour within the home. As wives, mothers and primary parents, the mental load can tip the scales. This article from the Guardian presents an interesting perspective on why women need more time for themselves.
I knew better. I taught others better! But I wasn’t applying what I knew to myself and my own life.
Getting out of burnout:
For most women heading into burnout, there is a gaping hole that divides the expectations that are on you — and how life actually treats you.
Trying to close that gap leads to exhaustion — a gaping hole breaks open. Doing everything for everyone leads to feelings of irritability, hostility, and anger. Once the cup you pour from is broken – kindness and compassion drain away and everyone you are serving is just getting dregs!
To start the road to recovery – step one is recognsing where you are.
It doesn’t matter what journey you are on – if you don’t know where you are, it will be difficult to map out how to get where you want to be! Understand this – burnout does not need a vacation or a beach holiday. That will not be enough.
If you want to get out of burnout, you will need to dive deep into the root cause. Lifestyle changes will need to be made. The road to fully recovered and got all of your energy back may be long and slow – not a quick fix.
Any resentments that you are feeling – need to be explored and addressed. These resentments point to what is missing, what you’ve been overlooking.
The first step is recognising burnout for what it is – mental and emotional exhaustion from the lifestyle you’ve chosen for yourself.
Stop the world, I want to hop off!
Recognise that you need time and space to recover. The same way that you recharge your phone, iPad or laptop on a regular basis – your mind and body need rest and recharging.
We live in a world where even our relaxation and vacations have become “work hard, play hard”. So, for many of us, doing nothing feels like the hardest thing possible. We feel guilty – “I should be doing something, not just sitting here doing nothing.”
Stopping your world means taking a hard look at your goals and priorities. Reassessing what you truly value. Each and every commitment. It even means reassessing your image and identity. Accepting that perhaps that “superwoman” or “superman” image you have of yourself needs to change – soften – be gentler and more understanding.
Whose expectations are you trying to live up to anyhow?
What does it take for that picture-perfect image of your life to break in your own eyes? Because if you’re honest – the only person holding you up to these standards – is you. Everyone else – from the outside looking in – believes it’s picture-perfect when you’re struggling to breathe.
That’s your choice – it is within your power. You cannot continue to pour from an empty cup.
Rebuilding life: how do I want my world to be?
If you are ready, you will need to consider where you can build restoration and rest back into your life. Look at all aspects and areas. Consider how you will include time for yourself. You need boundaries – learn to say “no” to some people and their requests. Then, you can yes to yourself and your wellbeing.
There are three areas I find helpful to consider when rebuilding after burnout:
- Getting help – identifying what kind of help and support you need in your life.
- Incorporating more movement – this could be a short walk in a park or somewhere quiet. Somewhere you can get away and have silence, just for yourself.
- Connection with your tribe. Not people who need something from you, but the connection with people who will build you up as well as you giving to them. True friendships and support – who share your values and interests.
When you look at your work-life balance and you find that it’s all about work, family, and charity — but no room and space for you, where is the recharging taking place? Allow yourself to ask this question:
What do I want in my life?
Not just what you are supposed to want – but what you really want?
Give yourself permission to put aside all the expectations others have of you. Allow yourself to drop, for a moment, the family and social pressures that you are carrying and ask yourself about where you find purpose and meaning. Yes, we all need routine, but that routine needs to have meaning and purpose. Otherwise, it just becomes a treadmill and we become the hamster on the wheel.
Rediscovering passion and purpose after burnout
For me, rediscovering my passion for life came with a 4-day retreat with Bonnie Muenz, called “Starting Over”. It was the perfect break from life that I needed – space to step back and look at the hamster wheel I had created for myself. It was only the first step in changing my lifestyle – but it was an important first step.
I recognised that I was doing all the meaningful things, but they had lost their meaning. The picture-perfect life I had was one that I wanted to run away from. I was no longer thriving, but only surviving! Burnout had me frustrated, meaningless and without direction.
So, I invite you to schedule some time for yourself to take a step back and look at your life. As yourself these questions:
- What am I truly passionate about?
- What do I want to be doing with my life – career, home, family & friends, and community?
- Have a look at your current priorities – are these aligned with what you consider to be important? What is truly important in my life? Consider not only what you really think to be important, but also what you feel is important.
- Where do I feel good and that life has meaning? Is this where you spend part of your time?
- Am I making a meaningful impact on the lives of others? How do I want to make a meaningful impact?
- What are the values that I have and how am I living this day-to-day? Are these values shared by the people I spend the most time with?
- Do I feel strongly supported and valued by others?
And give yourself permission to replace “perfect” with “excellent”.
Acknowledging who “I” am
Perhaps you need someone to remind you – You are a human “being” – not a human doing. Possibly the biggest cause of burnout is that you have begun to identify with what you do, rather than with who you are. You cannot imagine who you will be if you are not wearing all of those hats!
But you no longer feel in control of what you do, because you feel obligated to say “yes” to others in whatever they ask you to do for them.
Give yourself permission to sit down. Do nothing for a day. And just sit with yourself. Being.
Acknowledge that you created this hamster wheel – and if you created it, you can also change it!
While it may feel like you have no control – you have the choice of saying “no”. You are the author of your own life and, as heart-breaking as it might feel, acknowledge that you put yourself here.
With all the best intentions of the world.
But this was your doing. Each little decision you made along the way brought you to this point and place. And you get to change that.
Who do you want to be now?
Building boundaries: safety, security & self-preservation
All of us need safety, as well as healthy boundaries. So I invite you to practice being and feeling safe:
- learn to say NO to others. Inform that you are not available, that you don’t want to take something else on.
- let others know you will cut back on your responsibilities and your charity work.
- does your child really need five after school activities, or would they be happy with 4 days, and one day of playdates?
- ask for more help in the home, if that’s where you need it.
Most of all, give yourself permission to say “no” to people who are currently draining you of all energy. This may be short term or permanent, but limit their access to you. Start to control the space (where) and time (when and how long) you spend with someone that you find draining.
If you have a person that uses you as their personal rubbish dump – where they come to dump all their cares and woes – either flush that rubbish down the garbage disposal unit as soon as they have left or invite them to find someone else to dump it on! You do not have to continue being that place that others come to dump their woes.
Self // Not-Self
One of the roles of your gut – both the digestive system and the immune system – is that identification of SELF // NOT SELF.
A primary reason that we burn out is that we’ve lost that boundary: what is me? What is not me? We fail to identify: what is mine to do and what should I not be spending my time and energy on?
With healthy boundaries in your life, you can push and challenge yourself to grow, moving beyond your comfort zone. But knowing when to rest and recharge.
When you move into that space where you are hustling and grinding, day and night, putting work and others first and above everything else, you will soon find yourself back in burnout. Being busy should not be worn like a badge of honour when the ultimate cost of your getting things done is your mental, emotional and physical health!
Rewriting meaning into your life
You are responsible for the meaning that you give to your life – to the activities and the feelings that you experience. What meaning will you choose to give to the connection with your family and friends, to your relationships with colleagues and other professionals in your industry? How will you choose to define your day, your week and your months?
We are meaning-making machines. But each of us individually is responsible for giving meaning to our lives. Someone else cannot do that for you. Their expectations and the meaning that they assign to what you do or fail to do – only means something if you choose to allow that to mean something for you.
Someone may label you as selfish because you turn down the opportunity to volunteer in an event that they would like you to work in. But in self-awareness and self-management – you might recognise that saying no to this event is self-care. This no provides space and energy for you to participate more fully in something you hold more dear.
When you have clarity on what you value and hold important – this creates more possibilities for you to choose. Your choices can align more easily with your dreams, passions, and purpose – because you know what they are.
Opening up to possibilities: creativity
For creativity to flourish – you need space & silence. Some alone time is essential.
Give yourself permission to recreate your schedule – planning rest and recreation, not just responsibilities. Consider the possibility of having a day with nothing to do – and schedule it in. No commitments. No planned schedule. And keep the promise to yourself – don’t fill it up with catch up work!
Start with a large page divided into three sections:
WANT TO HAVE IN MY LIFE || MIGHT KEEP || MUST DELEGATE OR SIMPLY SAY “NO”
- Brainstorm what responsibilities and activities you would like to keep. Take a good look at your schedule and see how they fit in. You may discover there are things you need to add in that you haven’t give time and space to before.
- Then move to those that you might keep. Consider carefully how they align with your values, purpose & passion. Are they really you? What boundaries will you need to consider for these responsibilities?
- Finally, consider how you might delegate or ask for help from others with things that need to be done – just not by you. And let go of all those things that don’t fit.
Recovering from burnout is not just a question of taking a holiday.
It’s accepting that you need a new lifestyle!
A change of thinking about the way you approach life – your image of yourself.
There may be some trial and error in the process – especially as there may be things you think you can’t possibly let go of until you’ve digested fully the implications of continuing to carry that load.
But if your picture-perfect life has you only surviving – why not change the picture so that you can return to thriving!