I was fast approaching 40 and heading for complete mental and physical exhaustion. Work, life, even the fun stuff was turning into a never-ending drag. I felt like my body was letting me down. I even had a sense of my own mortality for the first time in life.
I now know it was complete and utter burnout.
I know I’m not alone in this – rates of burnout have skyrocketed during the last few years and continue to climb.
So what, if anything, can we do about this? With self-reflection, I’ve come to realise there are definitely actions we can take to dodge the burnout bullet.
Here are my biggest mistakes and top advice around how not to go down the burnout path.
Running an energy deficit
Burnout is about demands and having the energy to meet them. When you truly burn out it feels like you’re the dancer in a wind-up jewellery box. You suddenly stop turning, literally running out of energy.
I was running an energy deficit for a long time – mentally and physically expending more energy than I was receiving. It became harder and harder to manage everyday demands and eventually felt like my dancer had stopped turning completely. Burnout truly hit when I didn’t even have enough energy to get out of bed and face the next day.
Regaining energy is not about accepting the depleting demands of our everyday lives. It’s finding a power-bank that lights you up from within. What provides a sense of joy and excitement? What draws you to it effortlessly, providing a zing of energy? It may be a hobby. Or a sport you play. A person or group. A new skill you’re developing. A challenge you’ve set. It feels exciting. You’re drawn to it rather than needing to push. You bound out of bed ready to engage!
These are all signs of energy positivity and an antidote to burnout feelings. Follow these signs to keep your dancer spinning!
Not updating your self-expectations
In our twenties we can do it all – work hard, play even harder, run life’s marathons and keep a smile on our face whilst doing so. By the time our thirties hit we have a rhythm for life that can be…well exhausting!
Do you expect the same from yourself in your thirties as you did in your twenties? What about your forties? Fifties? Sixties? Failing to update our self-expectations substantially adds to the risk of burnout.
This is not about feeling any less as we move through the decades, not at all. I started listening to my body and quickly worked out that I still liked doing the same things, but with less intensity. I stopped pushing so hard at the gym. I stopped feeling guilty about leaving work on time. I started embracing quiet nights in my PJs and accepted I didn’t need to attack the social scene with quite the same ferocity.
It’s about realising that adding continual demands on top of an already busy lifestyle is not smart business. For the go-getters amongst us this might seem…well challenging. But operating at a pace that’s not only comfortable but also sustainable is a sure-fire way to bullet proof yourself against burning out over the long-term.
Following the ‘should’s’
We all have a wise voice inside us, our boss babe, that knows what’s what! But how often is this voice drowned out by the crescendo of loud opinions around us. It seems like whoever speaks with the most confidence wins.
I’ve stayed way too long in jobs that were literally killing me with stress. Why? I knew it wasn’t a great place to be. From the outside I was confident and capable, looking after my own best interests.
But like so many I followed the voices that told me I should have a ‘good job’ at all times. Not doing well? You should just work harder! Feeling stressed? You should feel lucky you even have a job! And I was lucky…right up until the killing me part!
Listening to opinions about how you should run your life is a total recipe for burnout. These hit all aspects of our lives – we SHOULD be in the right relationships, we should work hard in our jobs, we should get married, get divorced, have kids, get fit, lose weight, eat better, travel the world, stay at home, save money. So many of these “should’s” are literally killing us!
When you operate from a place of SHOULD you’ll eventually find yourself out of alignment. How can we re-align? It takes reflection, even soul searching. That wise voice inside has our best interests at heart. It knows who you are, what inspires you, what brings you joy. The challenge is drowning out the loud crescendo of opinions and tuning into what it has to say.
Caring too much
This last mistake is a biggie – sometimes we care too much. Now it’s good to care right? Yes of course, but under certain conditions. When the exquisite pain of caring feels like it’s ripping you apart from the inside out, this becomes a massive energy drain. This I call drainers!
What are drainers? I’ve always been a people pleaser and this translates as going above and beyond to gain approval, often to my own detriment. Who hasn’t done this at times? Yes, but making this a habit becomes a total drainer.
Another drainer? Caring about what’s outside our control. My valuable lesson is focussing on what’s within my sphere of influence. You can control a lot – your response to your emotions, feelings, thoughts, memories and opinions. Where you put your focus. How self-compassionate you allow yourself to be. There’s a lot to work with here.
Our last drainer is caring out of habit. We all have people in our lives that we have history with (or maybe we’re even related to) that are total drainers. This one is a delicate balance of creating distance and boundaries without getting anyone’s back up.
Long-term burnout prevention requires you to conserve that energy. For energy drainers…sometimes that means caring a whole lot less!