This past weekend, I went to a friend’s backyard barbecue. Sitting around a fire, surrounded by friends – the evening was nearly picturesque – kids running around, adults enjoying cocktails, all while playing some fun yard games.
As the night wore on and we all began to wind down, a familiar topic of conversation emerged which has prompted me to write today’s blog post. Over the past several months, I’ve been hearing many of the same frustrations and concerns from my friends, family members, colleagues, and even students (plus, I’m pretty sure I’ve said these exact words more than once):
I’m working all the time and just can’t get caught up
I go to work early and leave late, but it’s not enough
It’s never enough
It seems we’re facing a huge problem as a society, but nothing is changing. We continue down the same destructive path, hoping that if we just spread ourselves a little bit thinner, stretch a little bit farther, we’ll achieve some miraculous act which will allow us to finally find some relief.
We’re burnt out. And the truth of the matter is, there isn’t some magical fix around the next bend.
What is almost certain to happen is that we will exhaust our bodies and minds to their breaking points. We will face health issues that impact us physiologically and likely, psychologically. Our bodies will demand that we stop the madness — that we finally get some rest! Unfortunately, it will be at the cost of lasting damage which will set us back even further than our previous starting point.
Not to mention the strain that this lifestyle is likely to place on our relationships with others (your SO, your kids, other family members or friends).
And the cycle begins again.
Unless, we choose to change.
Perhaps, even worse than the sentiment of burnout are the feelings of failure that we seem to adopt as a result:
I’ll never make enough money
I’m always letting my family down
I hate what I do, but I don’t have another option
I will never do better than this
If you’re still reading this and you find that you can identify with one or more of these statements – please, stop lying to yourself.
Stop lying to yourself today. Make the commitment to yourself to stop being your own worst enemy and to instead, have some self-compassion.
Think about all of the great things you are…
You’re practically GD super human!
You (and only you) have the power and ability to change your life. To make it what you want.
You can improve your circumstance and you can become a happier person. It won’t be easy, but you’ve almost certainly been through harder things in the past – and you survived!
Reading over these last few lines, I realized how much I’m sounding like one of those self-help books or motivational cassette tapes (yep, I remember those). The truth of the matter is that you already know all of this – I’m not saying anything you haven’t already told yourself. But, maybe seeing it here in text, written on this page, will push you one step closer to actually making the changes you want to make. Maybe today will be the day that you commit to yourself to actually take some action.
You can start today.
As you probably already know, burnout is the result of sustained stress and exhaustion. It will not resolve itself or get better on its own. The only way to tackle burnout is to work on decreasing the underlying stress and to help ensure your body is able to get the rest it needs. Below, I’ve pulled together some of the best practices for learning to cope with (and hopefully recover from) burnout which I hope you find helpful.
Best Practices for Coping with Burnout:
Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. Ask yourself what’s most important to you – What are your non-negotiables? What must be done today? What can you let go of? What can you delegate to others?
Once you have a list of your true priorities, you can begin breaking them down into realistic goals. Maybe you need to shift or adjust your goals to better fit with your current place in life. It’s important to be honest with ourselves during this process because over-committing or setting our goals too high, will only land us back in the same spot again. It’s much better to start with small, attainable goals, than to feel defeated by unrealistic goals.
If you have difficulty gauging what you can actually accomplish in a week, break it into days. Then, break those days into hours. Do whatever it takes for you to regain control of your goals and to begin feeling a sense of accomplishment. I use todoist.com to help me stay organized and on task, but there are lots of great resources out there. So, find what works for you and take control of your priorities.
I will likely write more about goal setting at a later date, but one approach that tends to work well for people is setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. Here’s a page from MindTools that will give you a quick rundown of the SMART Goal Strategy to help you get started.
Find restorative outlets. While the very best thing is likely to take some time away from the source of your stress (e.g., work, school, etc.), I realize that this may not be possible in many cases. If taking a restorative vacation is out, then look for things that can bring some peace and calm throughout your week.
It may be as simple as making time to take a walk or calling a good friend to catch up. It might be getting a massage or taking an afternoon out on the lake to fish or paddle-board. It may be enrolling in a yoga class or practicing meditation at home.
Whatever it is, it should be fun – this should be the thing that brings you joy, the thing you look forward to throughout your week. I know you’re probably thinking that you don’t have time to fit another thing into your schedule – after all, that’s what started this whole mess – but, I assure you, carving out some time each week (even if it’s just one hour on a random evening) will exponentially be worth the investment for your health.
Learn to say no. This is something that I definitely struggle to do. I’m always worried that turning down an opportunity could mean less opportunities in the future. So, I say yes until my plate is so full that I can’t really give my best effort to anything.
Here’s the truth: We cheat ourselves and we cheat the projects we work on when we don’t protect our time.
Saying ‘no’ doesn’t mean we have to be jerks either (because I know sometimes it can feel that way) – it can be as simple as saying, “Thanks for thinking of me. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to designate to helping with this project right now, but I hope you’ll keep me in mind for future opportunities.”
People really do appreciate honesty and they would rather have you turn them down up front, then to watch you bail out half way through or do a haphazard job. And, if you’re really as amazing as I know you are, the opportunities will continue to present themselves in the future.
Show some self-compassion. Believe it or not, most people really struggle to show self-compassion. We’re so hard on ourselves – we push ourselves to set extremely high goals and then, berate ourselves for failing when we aren’t perfect (because no one is!!). Give yourself a break. Try thinking about what you would tell a good friend in the same situation and then, practice some positive self-talk.
Did you miss a goal? Were you unable to complete your to-do list today? Focus on the positive – remind yourself of everything you did accomplish today and then, adjust your goals for tomorrow (and so on) accordingly.
Avoid thinking of goal adjustment as “lowering” your standards and instead consider how goals can be fluid; something that we can adjust and adapt over time. We don’t have to give up on a goal if we don’t quite reach it when we face obstacles. We can simply shift our goals to account for the new information we have acquired and then, continue forward.
More than once during my graduate program, my timeline has shifted because of my research. Of course, hind sight is 20/20 and I might choose a different research path based on what I know today. But, I didn’t stop doing research and I certainly didn’t quit my pursuit toward finishing my Ph.D. when faced with these challenges. Knowing my research will be worthwhile in the end and that I have the opportunity to investigate something I’m truly passionate about has helped me realize that my goal hasn’t really changed, it’s just adjusted a bit. And, in the end, I will still have those 3 little letters after my name. 🙂
Lean on your support network. Spending time with those who genuinely care about us and who lift us up is all the more important when we’re experiencing burnout and feeling down. It may be the last thing you feel like doing, but it’s important to socialize – even if it’s just a night out (or in) with one or two of your closest friends.
Your support network should consist of people who help provide objectivity and clarity. People who act as a sounding board and can provide compassion when you have a hard time being compassionate with yourself.
You don’t need a large group of friends to establish a strong support network. Draw on those around you who are authentic, the people you can count on when things are tough. This may consist of people who are colleagues, your siblings, or friends from college – whatever the case, whoever makes up your support network, spend some time with these people to help pull you through the difficult times.
Get enough sleep. That’s basically it – just get enough sleep (as in at least 7 hours). You would be amazed at the difference a good night’s sleep makes on your overall mental and physical state. There’s an excellent book by Arianna Huffington, The Sleep Revolution, that is simply a great read and provides a much more in depth explanation than I could possibly provide here. If you’re short on time to read, consider listening to the audio book version on your morning commute.
Seriously though, prioritize your sleep schedule and watch the positive impact it will have on your life.
Fuel your body with nutritious food. I think nutrition and diet are extremely important and I will probably talk about this more in future blog posts, but what I want you consider today is how food makes us feel. If we’re always carb-loading (despite their awesome deliciousness), we’re likely to feel heavy and sluggish because that’s the type of food we’re putting into our bodies.
It’s important to eat a balanced diet that provides us with the energy we need to make it through the day. (This means actually taking the time to eat meals throughout the day and not just refilling our coffee mugs!) Our diets should be full of colorful fruits and vegetables as well as healthy proteins.
In terms of diets, there are lots of great options out there and plenty of information (plus some amazing recipes) available at no cost to you. I encourage you to do some exploring to find what works well for you. Clean Eating, Paleo, Whole30 (based on Paleo), and the Keto Diet are some reputable ones that I would recommend as starting points.
Get up and move. Most of us sit in the same spot all day, every day. We sit at desks, in front of computers, and barely get up to move unless we’re compelled because nature calls. I know it may seem like just another thing to fit into your already tight schedule, but finding time to move each day is important, not just for our bodies, but for our souls (or whatever you call that inner part of yourself that feels deeply satisfied when you do something that’s truly nourishing or fulfilling).
It’s important for us to see outside of our office walls, beyond our computer and phone screens (this totally includes late night binging!). Make a commitment to yourself to spend some time being active each week. It doesn’t have to be something you hate – if you don’t like running, consider doing some yoga, or go kayaking, or go for a scenic walk (or – hey, why not have sex?!) .
Bottom line: Find something you love, that makes you feel good, and get active — it will be so worth it!
I know there’s a lot of suggestions here and the last the thing I want for you is to leave this post feeling even more overwhelmed than you already do. I recommend choosing 1-2 things from this list to start working on immediately and then, over time you can work toward integrating more things into your own life.
Choose to start with things that get you excited (like finding a restorative outlet or getting active) as you will be much more likely to actually stick with them. Set realistic goals for yourself like trying to get enough sleep at least 2 nights a week.
Whatever the case, recognize that no one is perfect and it’s okay if you don’t achieve your goals on the first attempt. Don’t let this defeat you – instead, have some self-compassion and commit to giving your best effort again next week.
I welcome you to post your personal goals in the comments section below. All my best to you as you start this journey!
HelpGuide.org. Burnout prevention and treatment: Techniques for dealing with overwhelming stress. Trusted guide to mental and emotional health. Retrieved September 18, 2018, from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/burnout-prevention-and-recovery.htm
Mind Tools Content Team. Recovering from burnout: Recovering passion for your role again. MindTools. Retrieved September 18, 2018, from https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/recovering-from-burnout.htm
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). 5 ways to cope with burnout. PsychCentral. Retrieved September 18, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/5-ways-to-cope-with-burnout/
Photo Credits (in order of appearance)
- Female head from behind, Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash
- Camp Fire, Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
- Path in the Woods, Photo by Me 🙂
- Fruit Tree Harvest, Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash