burnout self compassion

A birthday gift

“When my birthday came, my husband asked me what I wanted to have as a gift”, Emilie shared. “You can buy me small decoration stuff, I love it. That’s an easy gift. But there’s a gift I really want, but it’s more difficult. Do you want to hear”? Her husband was afraid of hearing that, so Emilie never told him. Her “difficult gift”, was the following. “On my birthday, I don’t need to do anything. During one whole day, I can rest”.

She was extremely tired at that time, to the point that her only wish was to be able to rest for one day. Without knowing, she was on the road to burnout.

Burnout, why work/life balance isn’t enough

And Emilie was not the only. Burnout has become almost an epidemic. In 2019, a high percentage of people experienced burnout. According to Clokify, 7 out of 10 people have had contact with burnout. 5 out of 10 felt stress and burnout. This confirms Gallup’s research results that around 45% of millennial’s experienced “sometimes” burnout. 

When we are in burnout, we struggle to get out of it. Taking care of ourselves through work/life balance is important, but it isn’t enough anymore.

To overcome burnout, change ourselves

Ever felt tired of this world, of work, of family chores, of responsibilities? Burned out, we sometimes see ourselves sliding down to a bottomless gulf. My friend Emilie, burned out, rushed to reduce working time. She booked a relaxing holiday. She went to the doctor to get anti-depression medication. Do they help? Yes, they do. But you will be surprised to see how many of us fall again and again in burnout and never really get out of the circle.

We might try to change some other things that surround us. We expect them to help us feel better. Work regime, medication, holiday time, partner, children…

Yet, if we must choose only one thing that we can change, that can positively help us out of the difficult time? What it would be?


Will we be able to change our attitude? Mentally be able to give ourselves permission to be self-compassionate? To take care of whatever sufferings we are under?

When I started to learn how to see the goodness in others, I saw myself changed. When I started to learn how to be compassionate with myself, I saw others changed.

Self-compassion is a quality when we are in burnout

On her birthday, Emilie continued to work. Was it her husband’s fault that she couldn’t rest? Perhaps. But she wished she could come back to talk to herself at that moment. “It’s you who can permit yourself to rest. Practice self-compassion”.

Self-compassion is a great quality when we are in burnout. It is not an inborn character. It’s a capacity, a skill, that is learnable. We can learn to replace our inner voice telling us that we are responsible for everything. That we are indispensable. That we must understand and care for others. Yes, we can permit ourselves to be taken care of by ourselves.

3 things that prove you are self-compassionate and how they help with burnout

The potential benefits of self-compassion are undeniable in many domains. In particular in overcoming burnout. Kristin Neff is a pioneering researcher and author of the appreciated book Self-Compassion. She found through her researches that “people who practice self-compassion experience fewer negative emotions and stay emotionally balanced in difficult situations” (Greater Good Magazine).

Sounds good. But what are the three things that prove you have self-compassion? And how to learn to have one?

#1. You treat yourself as you do to a good friend

Neff says that the first component of self-compassion is self-kindness, or treating ourselves with the same care we would give a loved one. 

Emilie realized that she didn’t do it for years. She could have made time to listen to herself. She could have heard her sufferings (physically or mentally), and treated them with care. She could have permitted herself to rest, and told herself this:

I know you are tired. You’ve let children eat 2 hours later and move the meeting to another day, and everybody was disappointed. But that’s okay. Every mother or worker does that once in a while. But your children and your colleagues will survive and so will you. You did a good job. Thanks to that, you’ll be able to take care of them again.

Today Emilie is able to react firmly and with tenderness to herself and her loved ones. She seeks help. She takes care of herself without guilt. “I can rest. I can say no with joy”. And guess what? People surrounding her seem to change! People can do more when she does less. She doesn’t have the world on her shoulders. She has learned self-compassion. And burnout becomes a smaller and smaller point of light fading away in her life.

#2. You know you are (imperfect) human

“The second component of self-compassion is recognizing our common humanity“, according to Neff. What does it mean? We are not alone but among all other imperfect humans.

“That sounds easy”, we may say. “We all know we are imperfect”. But in reality, we tend to forget it too often. Dan did something wrong and spent a few days blaming himself. Julie is ashamed because she did not succeed. David tries to ignore his feelings because they show that he is weak mentally… We are hard with ourselves more often than we think.

When we recognize our imperfection, we are more compassionate towards ourselves. We reduce the resistance and pressure of failure. We know that failure is a teaching. We know that we are not alone in the struggle, and “hardship and struggle are deeply embedded in the human condition” (Neff). We are conscious that it’s our “common humanity”.

Will it make us badly perform? Indeed, you will see the contrary. This thinking can free us from being too hard with ourselves. We can be our best because we know that errors and imperfections are human. We can learn from it. And we can get up after falling. Don’t you believe that’s the quality of success?

#3. You are mindful

The third component of self-compassion is mindfulness. You are aware of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations at the present moment. Tired but don’t notice you are and continue to run? You are not self-compassionate. Have negative emotions without being conscious that you are having them? You are not self-compassionate.

When an adolescent asked him “How do I love myself?”, Thich Nhat Hanh said: “You breathe in, and breathe out mindfully. And you realize that your body is a wonder of the cosmos. It comes from plants, the sun, the rain, and generations of human, plant, and animal ancestors. You are a wonder”.

“When we love someone”, said Thich Nhat Hanh, “the most precious thing to offer him or her is our true presence”. And when we learn to love ourselves, it is also a true presence we can offer ourselves. Being present with ourselves, we learn not to ignore our fatigue. We then permit ourselves to take a break. Even when our children, partner, or others are looking at us with expectations.

Are we still a big heart? Yes, with self-compassion, we preserve ourselves. To be able to offer others a fresher, and loving being. With more energy and well-being, you’ll notice that your burnout is leaving you gradually.

As a conclusion

In burnout, we might try to change some other things that surround us. We expect them to make us feel better. But we never know that the one thing that we could change, is ourselves.

And if I have to share one thing with you, that is, we can learn to be more self-compassionate. Practice self-kindness, acknowledge our imperfection and be mindful. We will see that once self-compassion becomes part of ourselves, burnout finds its way out. And this for a long time…

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