Running on empty? Part 2 on burnout: How to renew an exhausted soul

In the second part of my blog series on burnout (see Monday’s post about signs you might be approaching burnout), I want to focus on techniques for absolving the symptoms of burnout.  You may have deciphered that you are on the path to burnout in your work or educational life and you are looking for ways to rejuvenate that passion for your career that has somehow lost its luster.  No one can run on empty forever.  When we work too hard, push ourselves too far, and try to achieve “perfection” in life, we risk overburdening ourselves and losing sight of what is truly important to us.  I play a part in this myself, and have had several instances in the recent past where I have needed to stop and check myself:  what am I pushing myself so hard for?  Am I really enjoying the work I do?  The answer is yes, though sometimes I find it at the bottom of a muddy pond that is covered by weeds of my insecurities and workaholic ethic.  I love what I do; it is my passion.  I am very lucky to be helping people every day in a way that is fulfilling to myself and hopefully fulfilling to those that I serve.  However, when I push myself too hard to be “the best” or to achieve some sort of unattainable goal, I am exhausted.  That is when I approach burnout and find myself saying “yes” to the seven symptoms that I listed in my previous post.

So what to do?  Take a deep breath.  In my view, burnout is actually an opportunity to re-evaluate your life and to make choices that you might overlook and pass on otherwise.  It is a way of forcing yourself to take a break and take a bird’s eye view of your life.  What do you see?  Here are several ways to renew yourself from burnout and to re-discover that energy that lies within you:

1.) Try to look at your life from a different perspective.  Sometimes when I am feeling emotionally overwhelmed, I try to stop wheels spinning in my mind and to look at my life from a different perspective.  I imagine myself floating above, watching me go through my day.  What this brings to me is an observer’s stance:  noticing how I go about my day in a way I had never thought of before.  It also helps me to realize that my concerns or obsessions are not as consuming as I make them to be.  This can help you ease up on yourself and make some choices that are most beneficial for your goals.

2.)  Remember where you find your energy and passion – and embrace it. One thing about burnout is that it can taint your experience with things that you really do love.  Your job, your school, a relationship — if you are burned out on these, you may lose sight of what you really love about them.  Try to remember what brought you to love these things in the first place.  Maybe it was reading a book about the subject, or watching a documentary.  Maybe it was having a conversation with someone who inspired you.  Go back to that place and memory in your mind.  Sit with it.  Write about it.  Remember that you are still the person you were, and that the passion still lies within you.

3.)  Define the stressors in your life and try to reduce them. When you feel like “everyday is a bad day“, it can be difficult to get up in the morning.  What is causing you to feel this way?  Is it the way your workplace makes you feel?  Is it a relationship that you wish could be better?  Sit down and try to think about what zaps your energy and happiness every day.  Are there aspects of these things that do not align with your personal goals and values?  Are you currently feeling engaged with your work?  Try to make a game plan for how you can reduce the extent of stress in your life and manage your day in a healthier way.

4.)  Think about how you measure and define success. Not feeling successful can be a leading sign of burnout.  Whether it is in a job, school, or in a relationship, if you continually are feeling like you can’t quite reach a goal, it can be more and more difficult to try.  Is your definition of success reasonable?  Do you have small goals that you realistically can attain each day, or do you have huge ones that overwhelm you and cause you to shut down?  Try to break down goals to smaller pieces.  The feeling of accomplishment is great; it can be felt even with small steps and those are the ones that help you feel balanced and achieve bigger goals.

5.)  Physically remove yourself from the source of burnout. We can get very stuck in our routines and we may have difficulty realizing that parts of our routine are contributing to our burnout.  Sometimes the best and only thing to do to reduce burnout is to remove yourself from the triggering situation.  Take a leave of absence from work.  Go on a vacation to a locale that is strikingly different from your home locale.  Surround yourself with people and environments that you do not normally interact with, and allow them to teach you their perspective on life.  This can be very refreshing and can help you get back to the values, loves, and goals that are truly meaningful to you.

I hope that this series on burnout has been helpful.  Burnout is a very real and common issue and can be avoided by taking care to notice what is going on within you.  We all go through it and can learn so much from the experience.  By healing what is exhausted within ourselves, we can re-energize and renew so that we are available to fully embrace our vibrant lives.

Don’t let yourself go down in ashes! Top eight signs you are approaching burnout

Do you ever have those days where you’re exhausted before you have even gotten up from bed?  Does your list of tasks on your to-do list outnumber the time you have in the day?  We are all busy people, with many opportunities and priorities continually being juggled.  But how do you know when you just can’t keep all of those balls in the air anymore?  What I am referring to is possibly “burnout” and it affects all of us to some degree at varying points in our lives.  And trust me — it is both preventable and curable.  Burnout is commonly defined as “the experience of long-term exhaustion or diminished interest.”  I call it emotional exhaustion.

Burnout is not recognized as an official mental health condition in the DSM, but it has the power to impact every aspect of our daily lives if we do not recognize when it is creeping up.  Burnout is most commonly thought to occur in occupational or educational spheres (such as working too hard or too long), but I believe that it also can occur in our personal, social, and familial lives as well.  Humans need a break from consistent tasks or stimulation — and “too much of a good (or not so good) thing” can lead to burnout.  And allowing burnout to intrude too deeply in your life can significantly impact relationships with others as well as with yourself.  It can also lead to more serious conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Have you ever said to yourself “oh, I am so burned out by this assignment…I can’t even think anymore”, or “I am so exhausted that I can’t imagine going into work and sitting at that computer for one more day”?  We all can relate.  Here are eight signs that you might be approaching burnout and some tips for putting a halt to it before it turns you to ash:

Eight Signs You are Approaching Burnout:

1.)  You dread doing things that you normally love to do.  Now this may sound also like a symptom of depression, which it could be and that is why I noted that severe burnout can lead to other issues.  Burnout can take energy away from your career or favorite past-time, and it may be difficult to cut back on tasks because they are where you typically find joy and fulfillment.

2.)  You are emotionally unbalanced.  What does this mean?  It could mean a variety of things and only you can be the judge for your own emotions.  For some, it could mean that things that typically don’t upset you or impact you very much are somehow having a greater effect on your emotional state.  For example, a minor conflict with a co-worker can create a heated discussion and cause one of you to leave in tears.

3.)  You have trouble saying “no”. Now this is a tough one.  How many of us have trouble saying no?  I certainly do.  This one incorporates #1 and #2 — if you are feeling emotionally unbalanced and lacking motivation to do things you normally love but continue to say yes to events or commitments that intensify the symptoms, this may lead to burnout.  This takes a keen ability to sense your own limits and know when you need a break, which can only occur with practice and compassion for yourself.

4.)  You avoid loved ones. Isolation is an indicator of many types of mental issues — depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, and domestic violence to name a few.  Sometimes this can mean physically avoiding loved ones, or it can mean (and more devastatingly so) emotionally withdrawing from them.  Burnout can lead to feeling hopeless and overwhelmed and closing those feelings in yourself so that others do not have to bear them.  In actuality, opening up and sharing the burden of the feelings can help heal burnout.

5.)  You are making mistakes or consistently forgetting things. When we are filled to the brim with tasks and responsibilities, it can be difficult to make room for new learning and memories.  Feeling burned out can appear in ways that might look like “I don’t care anymore” and lead to mistakes in paperwork or being short with co-workers.  In reality, you really do care but are emotionally exhausted and cannot fit any more stimulation into your emotional and cognitive brain until you clear out some of the “junk” – or factors that are keeping you stuck.

6.)  You become sick more often and to greater degrees. As I talk about often on my blog, the mind and the body are strongly connected.  When one hurts, so does the other (and vice versa – when one is joyful, so is the other).  When you are emotionally exhausted and spent, your body will feel it.  Stress affects mind, body, and spirit.  This could affect energy levels as well as physical symptoms.  I have had clients who have developed hives as a way to avoid work (without their conscious knowing) because they are burned out.  Listen to what your body is telling you.

7.)  You are neglecting your own needs. This relates back to #3, but goes deeper than saying no.  This can turn into assertively denying your own needs to meet a higher demand (or so the burnout wants you to do!).  Working late or adding hours to your schedule that take away from personal time are indicators of this type of burnout.  It is almost as if your own needs lose value and the influence of others’ needs (bosses, family, children, etc) make them appear to be more important.  Nothing is further from the truth and this is an important lesson in avoiding burnout: never let your needs go unmet for long periods of time, and give them the same values as other needs in your life.

8.)  You are reading this blog post.  You wouldn’t be so curious about what leads to burnout if you didn’t feel some of the symptoms, now would you? 🙂  Like I said earlier, we all have experienced some form of burnout and I encourage you to listen to your inner voice that may be asking for a break.  Running yourself into the group with work, relationship dynamics, personal obligations, or other stressful situations will only hurt you in the long run and defeat the purpose of trying so hard in the first place.  Notice that burnout is normal and universal and that it can be absolved.

Want to know how?  Read my blog post later in the week to learn techniques for breaking free of burnout – and how to keep yourself in a balanced and healthy state.   Further tips: