When you pursue a bold idea long enough and hard enough, it’s bound to happen…burnout. It’s that heavy emotional and physical exhaustion that you feel from prolonged stress. Stay in it long enough and you’ll not only lose sleep, you’ll lose resilience and vitality in your overall health.
But how do you know if you’re at risk? One of the first signs of burnout is negative self-talk. If you are increasingly impatient with yourself or others or find yourself with increasing anxiety, you may be experiencing the early stages of burnout and not simply fatigue.
The Mayo Clinic encourages people to ask themselves questions such as these: Have you become cynical or critical at work? Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started once you arrive? Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients? Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
While fatigue can be repaired relatively quickly with increased rest, a better diet, and exercise, burnout can take far longer to repair, and often involves a situational change rather than just a change of habits.
Be careful, though, about the decisions you make during burnout. I once called my boss late at night to let him know I needed to move on—later regretting that I didn’t wait until I had more thoroughly processed what was happening to me. Burnout can leave us looking for quick answers and cause us to hit the eject button before we’re recovered enough to make sound decisions.
So, if you’re experiencing burnout, here’s some ideas that may help. Think of these as your personal burnout recovery plan:
- Recognize it. Do you have the symptoms of burnout that go beyond fatigue?
- Accept a long recovery. This isn’t a single-good-night-of-rest kind of fix. Give yourself permission for a long recovery.
- Don’t make immediate life decisions. As I mentioned before, take your time. Things likely feel more charged than they actually are right now.
- Make self-care a priority. There is one important life change to make immediately: make self-care a priority. Set strong boundaries to protect time for yourself. Whether it’s with a hobby or immersing yourself in learning something new engage in something that brings you joy.
- Limit the changes you make. Making too many changes when you’re already depleted can add, rather than reduce the stress you’re feeling.
- Ask for support from family and friends. Can someone step up to take things off your plate immediately? Can someone help you think through other ways to manage the stress you’re carrying? You don’t need to be a superhero. (Perhaps that’s why you’re experiencing burnout in the first place).
- Evaluate the cause of burnout. Is your job a poor fit? Are you not setting healthy boundaries on your time? If you could change just one thing about your situation to dramatically reduce your stress, what would it be?
- Learn to say “no.” For many of us, saying ‘no’ is hard. We like to be needed—perhaps need to be needed. But know that you’re less helpful to others when you’re in burnout.
- Set priorities. Forget time management. You can’t actually manage time. You manage priorities. What’s most important? Settle your attention on those things first.
Admittedly, when you’re in the midst of burnout from being overwhelmed and overstressed, the last thing you need is a list of things to do. But I’ve discovered during my seasons of burnout, that that’s when I’m least sure about what to do. So if this list helps you move through your season of burnout, then it’s a burden I’ll gladly share with you.
(If you’d like to hear more on this topic, take a listen to the podcast that I did on this topic)
Comment below: If you’ve been through burnout, what would you add to this recovery plan?
Perfectly timed post, Leary. I’m walking through much of what you’ve described here right now. Great insights. Thank you.