Hard work and burnout often go hand in hand.
But it doesn't have to.
If you've experienced any level of burnout, you know that it can be debilitating. It squashes your creativity, can threaten your livelihood and may stress your personal relationships. It muddies the lens through which you view the world. Burnout can affect you on all levels: mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually.
What Causes Burnout?
Burnout develops from a variety of underlying causes. Sometimes it's too much focus on something that you love. Or what you're doing may be uninspiring. It can be caused by not seeing enough successes in your endeavors. Or it may even stem from not have enough quality social interaction. Knowing your personal reasons for burnout can help with prevention and with strategies to keep it from happening again.
But the overarching cause of burnout is one thing: a work life imbalance.
And you usually don't see it coming until it's too late. You've been busy doing good things: forging ahead, doing your best, and giving it your absolute all. Before you know it, you're done. Depleted. Overwhelmed. Depressed.
Unfortunately, you can't stay under the covers forever... but there is good news.
You Can Recover from Burnout
Simple steps to give your brain, body, and environment a little love can work wonders to help you recover from burnout. And can prevent it from happening in the first place. You're resilient. Burnout, in all it's horrible terrible ugliness, can sometimes be a gift. More on that later.
The first step of burnout recovery is to recognize that something's out of balance. By the time you're in a full fledged state of burnout, your imbalance is clear. It's gotten your attention; you can't ignore it any more. If you feel inklings of discontent now, pay attention and make a plan.
Burnout is a Message to Make Changes
Changes that will make you feel better, be more creative, and even happier than before.
The most important realization you'll have when you're dealing with burnout is this: all of your systems are connected and interdependent. Your energy levels, your attitude, your emotions and your clarity are all affected by your body, your brain and your environment.
You can support yourself. Or you can sabotage yourself. Burnout is your internal guidance system letting you know some part of you needs attention. The great news is that you can make changes and turn this around. Your first plan of action for burnout recovery is to fortify yourself. Nurture your body, mind and spirit, and create intentions to prioritize yourself —every interconnecting part.
Go ahead and get under the covers. And make a good night's sleep a habit. It's critical in replenishing and restoring your overworked brain and body.
2. Eat Nourishing Foods
Whole foods —vegetables, fruit, quality proteins, good fats and plenty of water will nourish your body and support all of your systems. Food that are high in omega-3s can be protective for the brain according to Harvard Medical School. Fiber, too. A variety of fresh, unprocessed foods is key.
Any exercise will increase oxygen to your brain, reduce stress and give you more energy. Plus, exercise releases endorphins that will make you feel happier. Walk around the block. Pull up a yoga video online. Dance around your house. Do some jumping jacks.
4. Take a Break
Have vacation time? Take it. Working on your own project? Set a daily time to stop. Have to finish for a deadline? Walk away for just a bit. Do something for nice for yourself. Even if you don't have time. Especially if you don't have time. Make time.
Cleaning can be therapeutic, even a little zen with immediate gratification. But more helpful is that a clean, peaceful environment can also make you feel more peaceful and spacious. Organize your space so you can get more done with less energy.
Spend time with friends or family, smile at the cashier at the grocery store, hang out with a pet. We are social creatures and connection is healing. Reach out, say hello, make a call.
7. Cultivate Balance
Your work ethic is most likely beyond stellar, and your focus, intense. Be nice to yourself. Balance is learned and cultivated. Especially if you're driven and inspired. Meditation helps you to be more focused, productive, and calm.
Talk to yourself. And pay attention to the words you say. If a project is really hard, try, "I am so excited I get to do this". If you're angry about an injustice, try, "I'm going to find a solution." Notice your negative thoughts. Reframe them with things that you want to happen.
9. Take Responsibility for What's Yours
And only yours. You're responsible for your own energy. No one else is. You're responsible for your own happiness. Realize what's beyond your control —which is any other person or event, really. This doesn't mean stop caring or working to make the world a better place. It means do your best (that's you) and let what you can't control go. (A little trust in the Universe helps here.) Protect you're own energy. Take the reigns for your own happiness.
10. Do a Reality/Gratitude Check
Just 3 things —what are you grateful for? If you're having trouble ask yourself this: Is the earth under my feet? Is the sky over my head? Am I breathing? If you answered yes, that is what is happening right now. Every single time you shift your thoughts to something that makes you feel secure or happy, even if for a brief moment, you're building neural pathways in your brain that make those feelings more accessible next time. It works the other way, too. So try to minimize spiraling negativity.
11. Go Easy on Yourself
Failure is never fun. But it's how we're motivated to make changes for the better and grow. If you're not failing, you're not learning. Failure is the first step in making something better. Yay Failure! It means you're on the upswing. (As long as you're paying attention. On to step twelve.)
12. Examine Underlying Factors
When you can think clearly, take a good hard look at the parts of your life that may not be in balance. Do you get enough sleep? Balance work with play? Are you taking on other people's problems? What makes you happy? What frustrates you? What gives your life meaning? Pay attention to the sensations in your body when you ask yourself questions or think about situations. This is part of your body's intelligence giving you valuable guidance and direction to sort things out.
13. Explore Solutions
Try writing down what's working and what's not, then brainstorm possible solutions. Simple changes in your attitude or schedule may make the world of a difference. Or a full-fledged pivot may be in order. Take your time. Try things out. Be gentle and patient with yourself. Hand things over to the Universe, your Inner Wisdom, or Higher Power. Stay flexible and open to ideas you may not have considered before.
14. Give Yourself Time
Bouncing back from burnout may take some time. Accept that. Focus on healing your body and brain, and your clarity, energy, and emotional resilience will follow. Changes you implement may take some time to work out and take effect. Initial solutions can lead to others. Rome wasn't built in a day. Relax. You're in this for the long haul.
15. Prioritize Self Care
Learn to give yourself as much care and attention as you give your projects. Because it's all connected. The healthier, happier, and more fulfilled you are, the better you'll be able to problem solve, create, and innovate. You'll be able to think more clearly, be more productive, work smarter and make yourself and the world better.
Not only can you recover from burnout, you may look back on it as one of your greatest gifts. It can lead you to make changes to expand and grow. You're on your way to creating a richer and more fulfilling life than ever before.
For now, rest and recoup. Small steps lead to big changes. You've got this.
Sedulous Creatives are especially prone to burnout, although none of us are immune. Curious about your Creative Mode? Discover your Creative Mode with this FREE assessment.
photo: Thomas Edison in his lab, 1888
A hallmark of Sedulous Creativity: "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." —Thomas Edison
Have you ever experienced burnout? What pulled you out of it? How is your life different now?