My story and how this very important blog came about (feel free to skip if uninterested,)
Recently I burned out— and the weirdest thing about it is how sudden and severely it seemed to have happened. I was carrying on how I usually do, (which tends to be a high energy output on its own, between my work and personal life,) but also, slowly working a few new recurring tasks into my schedule, and investing more time into my content as I am very focused on growing my platforms right now. These were all things I was ultimately feeling positive about. So here I was, busy and growing busier by the minute, nothing screaming at me to stop. After all, I have actually been through worse, and juggled even more many times. I had a few inklings that I was approaching that invisible limit of obligations, or that I could likely use some more rest time, but I pushed it off because I was certain I could save that rest for later. I dismissively told myself to keep pushing, everything is fine. The rest was TBD— right now I need to take care of my responsibilities.
Then one afternoon a couple of weeks ago, I felt so much anxiety trapped in my body, (which for me physically manifests as tightness and heaviness in my head, neck/throat, shoulders, and chest,) I was completely overwhelmed by it, and I couldn’t ignore it. The weight of my prolonged stress was finally catching up with me. It became obvious that I had my head down for too long, and I was suppressing too much, and I couldn’t go on even one more day like this. My body had enough.
That day, I felt unable to do anything. The well had run dry, the fumes I was running on were gone, and I couldn’t muster faking it for one more second. Aware that I was now having to confront this issue I created, I tried to tread carefully, a bit uneasy about what exactly was going with me. I figured the most straightforward thing I could do in that moment was give a “release” to that anxiety I felt pent up inside of me. I gave myself permission to let it out, and after a few shaky breaths, I found myself full out in tears. I haven’t cried like that in a long time.
I took notice of how hard this had affected me, despite how harmless it seemed coming to this point. Do I feel a bit cringy about sharing this on my public blog? Sure actually, of course I do. But I share this vulnerability in this blog to be as real as it gets with you— which is my every intention when discussing wellness on my platforms.
Burnout isn’t just some cliche that warrants a quick “treat yourself” moment and then it’s back to business as usual. Burnout can really break the spirit, usher you into a deep depression, and/or have you give up on the very things you were working so dedicatedly towards.
Now, this burnout was a bit different than some I have experienced in the past- it seemed so sudden, and it was particularly harsh on my psyche and body. I had a lot of thoughts about this. Confusion, because HOW did this happen without me being able to really take notice and intervene? Disappointment, because I am no stranger to overworking and burnout, and it’s no doubt been one of the biggest personal issues I have been working to leave in my past. How did I let myself get here again? And more stress, since I was unable to slow down when I needed to, I was forced at this moment to make a full stop instead. The very work I put so high- so high it apparently trumped myself and my own needs, now has to suffer by its own hand.
For the first week after that afternoon, I had no revelations. None whatsoever. I wondered if this would be a teachable moment at all, or if I would just suffer for what I’ve done- again. I did absolutely nothing beyond what was necessary— I couldn’t. I slowed to a crawl out of pure exhaustion. I barely even had my words or my normal charisma to be myself around the people I love. I tried not to think too much because my thoughts were coming overwhelmingly negative and self-defeating.
Despite my anxieties to hurry back to my regular work and routines, I knew with every fiber of my being that I wasn’t ready to. I truly did not have it in me. And that I wouldn’t be ready for a bit longer. This time—I decided to listen to what my body was telling me, and I found the patience and understanding I needed to sit it out. I realized that returning to “business as usual,” wasn’t going to be the solution, on the contrary, it’s exactly how I wound up here.
Ah, so then the teachable moment began.
What I learned and what you can learn:
Because all of us are going to have unique lives, circumstances, and personal needs, the way that I got through my burnout and the plan I made for coming back may not apply perfectly to you— And I wrote this blog with exactly that in mind.
If you have found yourself burned out as well, or feeling similar confusion and disappointment in yourself as a result, firstly, I want to say (now on the other side of it,) do not beat yourself up.
So, you burned out? Congratulations— this tells us you are caring, ambitious, and obviously very dedicated to your work. You may have playfully called yourself a workaholic a couple of times, maybe you’ve been complimented on your amazing work ethic. Whomever you are and whatever you do, I know you are a valuable member of a team. I know you are reliable. And I know you tend to be unselfish— to a fault. The behaviors that bring us to burnout are typically praised and encouraged in our work cultures and society, so it’s easy to justify yourself every step of the way, until collapse. (But no one is capable of operating at extremes all of the time, even the good ones.)
Burnout is common. That is unfortunate because it sucks, but fortunate because that is a reliable signal that you are NOT failing, you are NOT any more strange than the average person, and you are certainly not alone. (trying to look on the bright side, here.) Hell. With how many times I have gone through it, I should be an expert.
And not to pick favorites, but burnout tends to happen more often to individuals or are less in touch with their own needs. This can stem from a variety of personal reasons, which I sincerely hope you work through for your own wellbeing, but if you tend to make sure everything and everyone else is good before you are good, (yes, even despite knowing better,) I’m talking to you.
By both definitions, my first point is, you absolutely should NOT return to business as usual. Not unless you want to surely end up in this position again. Learn from this experience and make tangible changes in your life that you can thank yourself for later. To find out what changes you may need to make, I have a couple of questions you can ask yourself. I have also included what these questions brought out in myself, in case you resonate or find it helpful in distinguishing the answers for yourself.
Questions to ask yourself to make positive changes in your life and prevent burnout in the future:
To get started, take an audit of what you were doing leading up to burnout: what exactly, and how often you were doing it. (to help me organize these thoughts, I actually wrote all of my commitments, responsibilities, and daily tasks down— I encourage you to do the same, it’ll be helpful when answering these questions.) This is a great journaling activity to get your thoughts out and examine them, and have a reference point for later as you implement changes to take better care of yourself.
With this audit, you want to get an idea of exactly what you spend all of your time doing, down to the smallest things like scrolling on your phone.
Got your audit? Here come the questions:
- In the time leading up to your burnout, was the pace you were moving and the workload you were carrying ideal for how you want to live your life? (think of how full your days were, how much time was between tasks, how it felt moving from one thing to another.) Now, imagine the ideal pace you want to live your life and complete tasks, is there a discrepancy there?
If so- What does it look like for you to live and work at a pace you truly feel happiest with? Define. Describe that.
What changes could you make right now to make that happen, or get closer to that?
For me: I desire a slower pace to live and work. This is because when I slow down, I am clearer, I am more present, I have more access to my creativity, I am more in tune with myself and my needs, and I just enjoy my life more. (I actually started to eat more when my schedule wasn’t packed. Because I slowed down, I felt my hunger, and I did something about it. This is coming from someone who was sometimes eating once a day.) I learned that not feeling so rushed is actually healthier for me for many reasons.
- Now ask yourself WHY you are working at said pace/capacity – is it being asked of you? Is it for personal reasons? Define those reasons to yourself, pick them apart. Be honest.
- And as a follow-up to that, is it necessary? Is it truly necessary to work the way you have been to satisfy those reasons? And while we’re looking at it… how good are those reasons? are they valid? are they fair?
For me: I realized I was overworking not necessarily because it was being asked of me, but for a personal reason: Overworking is something I have always done to validate myself. This was a huge truth bomb for me, referencing where this habit began at a very young age, and why. It was bittersweet to acknowledge that I was trying to soothe and prove. Soothe my self-worth issues and my imposter syndrome issues by always working twice as hard as anyone else; prove something to myself, and the world, too. Trying my best to do a service to a past self, an inner child who suffered quite a bit, by giving her success and accomplishment to make up for that suffering. I realized I cannot fix nor heal from my past with success and accomplishment. I realized these reasons are unfounded, unfair, and ultimately insatiable.
I also realized that the pace/capacity I was working at was actually not necessary to reach my goals, I was putting a rush on it to achieve these goals faster. The truth is, it’s going to happen when it happens, and although I can increase my chances of things happening quicker by giving as much output as possible, I ultimately suffer from that, and so does my work. It is counterproductive.
- Do you have downtime in your schedule? What is your downtime? How would you rate the quality of that downtime?- are you actually charging your battery, or just doing something besides work? (i.e., if all you have under downtime is literal sleep or scrolling on your phone, you may have spotted an issue.)
- How can you improve your downtime— What is the best kind of rest and recharge you could give yourself? (think about your most authentic wants, your joys, your needs.) What gives you energy? What makes you happy? What sparks your creativity?
- How can you work more of the above into your regular schedule more?
For me: Well, I already blasted myself. More often than not, my downtime was scrolling on my phone, which was actually influencing more negativity to me than positivity at times. That was just something to do, not something that was feeding or energizing me. I made a decision to look at my phone less, and replace some of that time with my favorite ways to recharge: being with my family, spending time outside, painting, bubble baths, etc.
- Now, look at your audit again of everything you’ve been doing– what can go, seriously? What can you get help with, rather than handling it all on your own?
For me: there were a few tasks, once written down in front of me, that were clearly excess and not worth the trouble they caused. I also realized I could simply ask for help on a few of these tasks, whether because the task benefitted more than just me and it made sense to share it with someone else, or, just the fact that there are amazing people in my life who would be happy to help me if I needed it. Do you have tasks on your list that can go? Or that you can get help with, at least every now and then?
What did you learn about yourself?
After asking myself these questions, I reflected on my honest desire for a simpler, slower life. -A life I thought could only be reserved for the sparkling future I am working towards, just another thing I wanted so badly, being deprioritized behind endless work. But there’s no good reason it needs to wait. Sure, I’ll have to wait for that ultimate slow down of retirement one day, but right now, there’s so much I could change in my life to leave more room for rest and joy. And it suddenly made all the sense that it didn’t make sense to do so much, so often. Constantly working myself into a state of utter exhaustion was not even going to be necessary to make progress towards my goals.
So with all that said, I think it’s clear that this past burnout just hit different, and in the best possible way.
I hope between my story and these prompts/questions, you were able to find something that helped you learn more about yourself. And I wish you all the bravery you need to make any changes necessary to prevent burnout in the future and cultivate a happier life. Rest up and come back knowing you aren’t returning to business as usual, you’re coming back to yourself. You got this.