You can recover from Burnout.
I’ve done it, against all odds, and while pregnant. It’s tough, and it’s a long road, but it does get so much easier with time.
It’s likely going to be much easier for you than it was for me – unless you are also bedridden with morning sickness and surviving solely on white potatoes (that’s a story for another time!)
I believe these are the necessary steps you need to progress through in order to come out the other side of Burnout thriving. Right now that might seem like a long way off, and that’s OK. I know. But trust me when I say – You will get there!
For the majority of people reading this, this process won’t be easy, but it will be straightforward and do-able. It’s also not going to be a linear progression through the steps – you can get started with a few of them straight away if you want to. Some require work on your part and others are a mindset. Some may be painful and others nourishing.
The steps are ordered by priority, i.e. The most important steps are at the top. You’ll need to tackle these beasts first as they will allow you to get the most out of the steps that come after.
1. Stop. Everything
I know, I know. You have commitments. Work, family. That’s OK. Just do as little as possible. Go to work and do what you need to do, but no more. Don’t under any circumstances take on projects you do not need to take on. Offload anything you can to colleagues, family or friends.
If you’re suffering from Burnout you likely have 5,000 things on your to do list, so just stop it all. Stop making lists, stop setting goals, stop doing anything you don’t have to do.
This step is likely to incite panic in anyone with burnout, as the reason you’ve likely burnt out in the first place is because you’re an over-achieving Type-A who is constantly ‘getting shit done’. And the prospect of a to do list that doesn’t get done is enough to send you to a padded cell for a few days to ‘unwind’… if this sounds familiar, read on.
You have two options: The bandaid approach, or the gradual approach.
Either delete/clear your entire to do list in one relieving cull, or if that thought gives you hives, slowly wind things down over the coming days/weeks. But don’t let the gradual approach lure you into thinking you don’t need to do it – you do.
Physics says that an object in motion is far easier to keep in motion than to stop, and this is true in Burnout. It will be hard to slow down and eventually stop. Your mind will fight it, but it must be done. Ignore any thoughts to the contrary. However you can get yourself to complete this step, do it.
2. Let go of achievement
As with the point above, you have to let it all go. This is excruciatingly hard for a Type-A – I know. I had to shut down my business and let go of projects I’d been working on for months, and it was truly painful. If you’re invested in whatever it is that made you Burnout (and how could you not be?) this will be painful for you too. Realise that, and let yourself feel it.
I would tell myself ‘This isn’t the time for achievement right now, there will be plenty of time for that later on.’ It always brought me back to focusing on getting better. Right now, it’s recovery mode and nothing else.
This step should be accompanied by a good serving of relief after it’s completed, so enjoy that and embrace the freedom that you now have.
3. Don’t rush the process
You can’t manage recovery like you can manage your to do list. It’s messy, and it’s often two steps forward and one step back. Just accept this and whatever else comes to the surface throughout the process.
Don’t rush it, it will only make things worse. You will recover, so give it time to happen.
4. Face up to the truth
The truth hurts most of the time, but you must accept it to move on. So, accept where you are at right now.
Don’t waste time on wishing it was another way or regretting things you’ve done. Or blaming other people. It doesn’t help. Focus on the things you can control and on the future, rather than beating yourself up over the past.
Think about how you got to this point. What were some of the factors at play in your Burnout? How can you make changes so this doesn’t happen again? What do you need to do to look after yourself from now on?
Move your body. You don’t have to run a marathon – in fact, I’d strongly advise against it, but you need to move. Walk. Stretch. Do some restorative yoga.
I took up hiking and Yin yoga and it drastically helped in my recovery. Moving your body will clear your mind and help you heal.
6. Do things for enjoyment again
When was the last time you did something just for fun? Read a book purely for enjoyment? Took part in something solely for how good it makes you feel?
For me, it was books. I hadn’t read a fiction book in years, and returning to them was exactly the form of self-care that I needed to de-stress and calm my brain.
There’s a huge amount of processing to be done – not just your thoughts and emotions but also the letting go of goals and your imagined future – and you can’t do it alone. You mustn’t.
Talk to someone you trust. A professional, or if it helps, someone online. Having a sounding board will help you to understand how you got here and help you to move forward.
8. Get a change of scenery
If you can, get away from your normal everyday life for a little while. Take a holiday or day trip.
Getting away from all the things that remind you of your life will allow you to de-stress and you’ll come home feeling recharged – a feeling we definitely want to cultivate during the recovery period.
9. Get offline
Escaping the use of technology is almost impossible these days, but it doesn’t mean we can’t switch off for a few hours here or there.
Constantly staring at a screen has been shown to increase stress hormones, which is not good at any time but especially not when you’re already stressed out and exhausted. Excessive screen use can cause depression too – a compelling reason for switching off regularly.
In addition, comparing yourself to others on social media when you are feeling like a big, fat failure is the last thing you need.
Switch off for an hour, a day or a weekend. It will be hard but get over the hump and I promise you will feel refreshed.
10. Spend time in nature
Studies in stressed-out Japanese businessmen showed that ‘forest bathing’ or getting out in nature lowers heart rate and blood pressure, reduces stress hormone production, boosts the immune system, and improves overall feelings of well-being.
So go find some greenery and strap on your shoes. Your body and your mind will thank you.
11. Be patient
Recovery can take weeks, months or years.
For me, it was about one year, but things started looking up after about three months.
It will be hard in the beginning, but it gets easier – like most things in life.
Yes, you will have setbacks. Obstacles to overcome. Regressions. Be patient with yourself, trust the process and if you feel like you aren’t getting anywhere read back over these steps and ask yourself which one you’re resisting. Then go from there.
This is by no means a comprehensive guide to Burnout recovery but it will get you started on the right path. I’ll be working on a book shortly which will go into greater detail on the condition and recovery process.
Please share your story below, I’d love to hear what worked for you!
Disclaimer: I’m not a Doctor or Psychologist, therefore this post should not constitute medical advice. If in doubt, speak to your Doctor 🙂