Back in January as the new year started, I was proud of myself for setting up my life on my terms. I was working jobs that fulfilled me and were aligned with my purpose, I was about to embark on my yoga teacher training, and I was feeling happy. Then, I began working non-stop. I was working 3 or 4 jobs, often running from one job to the other, plus yoga training every other weekend for 10 hours each day. I always had to be on, teaching, taking a call, writing, posting to social media, talking with people, commuting on the subway. There were many late nights and early mornings which can happen sometimes, but this was constant. The only break I had during this time was a 4-day weekend back home for Easter. And as anyone knows, visiting your family during any holiday is not a “vacation”
As we entered the month of June, I began to feel exhausted and not just tired from lack of sleep but actual lack of energy. I had difficulty getting out of bed, I didn’t want to move or leave my house. I had to physically force myself out the door every day. I had lost all joy for the things I loved to do. I didn’t want to teach, I was so tired of being on social media, and all my creativity was gone which began a two-month writer’s block that I am slowly crawling out of. There was no spark in my life as I found myself just going through the motions each day. Ladies and gentlemen, I had reached burnout. Only I didn’t realize it until a friend posted on Facebook, an innocent picture listing signs of burnout. I read that list and burst into tears. This was it; I was burnt out. I had simply taken on too much. Now I know I’m not cut out for a 9-5 job, but this life I had set up wasn’t sustainable either. I also didn’t see any solutions as I was headed into a full-time summer position with no sign of time off in sight.
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. While stress can be overwhelming, burnout takes it to an extreme where we can’t seem to go on or fix the problems. This occurs when we feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. We then begin to lose interest and motivation in our life. Burnout reduces our productivity, drains our energy and leaves us feeling helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Reaching this point is often THE sign that something needs fixing.
According to a recent Gallup poll, 23% of those surveyed reported feeling burnt out at work very often or always, while 44% reported feeling burnt out sometimes. Anyone can feel burnt out, it isn’t regulated to only one profession or industry. When we take on too much and the stress builds up, no matter who you are, burnout can happen. Burnout is different from stress in that we feel empty, lack motivation and are beyond caring. We don’t see any hope in our situation. Also, when we are in burnout, we often don’t realize this is the case, whereas when we are stressed, we know what that looks like.
So, what are the signs we should be looking for to diagnose a state of burnout?
- Feeling tired and drained most of the time
- Lowered immunity, frequent illnesses
- Frequent headaches or muscle pain
- Change in appetite or sleep habits
- Sense of failure and self-doubt
- Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated
- Detachment, feeling alone in the world
- Loss of motivation
- Increasingly cynical and negative outlook
- Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment
- Withdrawing from responsibilities
- Isolating yourself from others
- Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done
- Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope
- Taking out your frustrations on others
- Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early
If you notice any of these signs starting to develop in your life, then you are on your way to burnout my friend. As I look at this list, I can check off most of them with a resounding YES! This is not something I am proud of. There is busy and then there is burnout. So, what did I do with this knowledge? I stopped posting on social media, I stopped making plans, I did the minimum I needed to do for work and most days argued with myself until I got out of bed. None of which is healthy.
I finally had a four-day staycation this past Labor Day weekend. (Yes, it took that long for me to finally slow down!) I told anyone who asked that I planned to stay home alone for a quiet weekend, being a sloth and relaxing. For the most part this wish came true. I was able to sit quietly with myself as I wasn’t running from place to place. This allowed me time to think and become clear about what I want and who I am.
I love what I do, but I can not keep the pace I previously had. I am developing a new plan for this school year finding balance in my life by making myself and self-care a priority. I am setting up boundaries which include setting aside relaxation time and taking time off. (Both of which are usually unheard of in my life) I’m no longer available to work on Sundays, I will be watching football and meal prepping. Eating healthy helps with stress and energy as eating more whole foods and less processed foods can boost mood and energy levels. Prepping some meals to help me get through the week sets me up for success. I’ve set limits for social media use so that when I do interact with technology it is in a more meaningful way with posting and conversations. In order to get plenty of sleep I am aiming to be in bed by 10:30pm and wake up at 6am to meditate for 20 minutes. This morning meditation allows me to center myself and start the day in a calm mood rather than anxious about my deadlines and projects. I had previously stopped making exercise a priority but will be creating a new routine this fall that brings me to classes and physical activity that I enjoy which also boosts my mood and energy. Creativity is one of my top values, so I need to nourish that by making time to write each week, whether that be blog posts, articles or curriculum I’m developing. This is my life and if I intend to continue living my purpose, then I need to take care of myself first. We can’t help anyone else if we are drowning ourselves.
If you are feeling burnt out or reaching that capacity, I urge you to talk to a friend, a co-worker or a counselor to discuss how you feel or even take some time to try out one of the suggestions in my new plan. Taking control of your life and the situation is the first step to recovery and bringing joy back into your life.