3 ways to tackle burnout
After a very busy (and long) week, I found my motivation dwindling…which is unusual for me, I must admit. Over the last year, as I’ve started to change the focus of my career, and “detoxed” various areas of my life, to make way for elements I truly love, I am generally excited about most things I do (even studying…I know, the epitome of cool – that’s me). However, this week nearly had me beaten. Don’t get me wrong, I had a really good week – very productive, stimulating and interesting, time with friends and family, and even a glass of wine. But I collapsed on the couch with a takeaway on Saturday evening, and really couldn’t do anything for almost 24 hours…except think, and coincidentally read this interesting article by Jennifer O’Connell, all about the rising issue of burnout.
Many people these days wear working hard, and long hours like a badge of honour, boasting about how little sleep they’ve had. I don’t think that I do that (obviously I’m a bit biased though – maybe it can come across like that occasionally?!), I generally find it easy to motivate myself in areas I genuinely find interesting – and simply throw myself into it, 100%. On the other hand, being self-employed and having a tendency towards perfectionism (which really, outside of dentistry, can be more detrimental than anything else) is a relatively robust recipe for burnout in itself. I had always thought of burnout as being related to a job you hate, or working conditions grinding you down (which definitely can be major contributing factors) – but reading Jennifer O’Connell’s article really gave me food for thought. You really only have a certain amount of resources, such as energy, focus and drive – so even if you love what you do, there must be a limit that you can push yourself beyond, and end up with the same physical and emotional exhaustion that occurs in the typical burnout scenario.
So, as always, what to do? I’ve written before about dealing with stress, and how I have found meditation helpful…but what about right in the moment, when your beyond tired and can’t motivate yourself to do anything at all? Sleep, “relax”? Unfortunately not the easiest answers when my mind won’t calm down – and not the most straight forward time to meditate either (when I say I couldn’t do anything for 24 hours, I really mean anything – even reading a book was difficult to focus on for any substantial amount of time). There are a couple of things I found useful though, and hopefully you might too, should you ever find yourself feeling like you’re running on empty:
- Remove “should”, “must” and “try to” from your vocabulary for 24 hours
And the most important part of this is THE VOICE IN YOUR HEAD. Give yourself 24 hours with no obligations, no to-do list and do exactly what you want. If you find it hard to rationalise this, consider how unproductive and incompetent you are likely to be at any task you undertake in this state – so you really are better off delaying it for at least one day – and these hours are your recovery time, like after a workout. If you want to lie on the couch in your pyjamas for 17 hours eating only Nutella, do; if you want to curl up in bed, and not shower for the weekend, do (although you may regret that one when you wake in the morning), if you feel like you should be doing something, be it socialising, working, reading, going to the gym – let yourself off the hook. The part that actually made this work for me, was having a time limit – I could let everything go as I knew I had some things scheduled the next day, and had a specific time when I would be facing reality again anyway.
2. Step away from social media
This can be pretty tough if you’re sitting on the couch, duvet and Nutella in hand, but no one around (I was lucky in this respect, I had a couch buddy!). However, studies have shown that browsing mindlessly through social media is not good for your mood or self-confidence ( not to mind the hours that you can waste when you could be halfway through the second season of Gossip Girl or Narcos). So , leave your phone in another room if you can (i know it’s not easy), find a movie or book that will absorb your fleeting attention and dig into the takeaway/chocolate/icecream.
3. Exercise – at the end
Yes, contrary to point one, above – this is not about a spinning class, or fitting in the workout you said you’d do. It is simply to harness your body’s own mechanism for feeling better – endorphins. I recommend doing this at the very end of your 24 hour vacation from reality. Nope, not exactly what you feel like and really, really had to push myself into this one. I resorted to a trick I used when I first started running – I promised myself I only had to run for 5 minutes, the necessary part was just getting out there. and just like when I was a novice, and 15 minutes used to be tough, once I started, keeping going was much easier than starting (just like it is with anything). The main effort involved is pretending to yourself that you honestly are only running around the block. Likewise, you could organise to meet a friend or book yourself into an exercise class you like if you find that a better motivator. But the endorphins work, every time. Sweating, as I’ve mentioned before, is also fantastic for your skin – something definitely needed by the tired, translucent shadow I had turned into by Sunday.
Burnout is becoming far more common in our constantly “switched on” world, have you ever suffered from it or come close? I’d love to hear anything that worked (or didn’t work) for you.