Burnout is a term we hear often, but what does it even really mean? We can feel tired and overwhelmed any day right? So what is so special about burnout anyway?
My experience of Burnout is one where it sneaks up on me like a silent assassin, waiting for the perfect moment to take me down, literally! But it doesn’t just turn up and pounce, it is a gradual shift that can be very subtle and sometimes totally easy to miss until it’s too late. Like a lobster who thinks its taking a cosy warm bath and doesn’t notice the heat turning up gradually until it is already half boiled you can find yourself in it and wonder “How the hell did I get here?”
The pockets of my lifestyle are many and therefore I have a lot of perfectly set elements to my day that can happily contribute to my overwhelm and burnout demise. I am a mother, this in its self some days is enough on it’s own – despite my little humans being everything to me, being a mum and all the responsibility therein is a source of worry, stress and fear – all of overwhelms favourite snacks!! I am an Entrepreneur with my own amazing brand, three businesses and a full team – I probably need say no more. Then you can pile on top of this my own inner work, my family, my relationships and the fact I live in the UK where the weather helps no one with their emotional state and without going into the global pandemic and those emotional markers left on me forever, I suffer with self managed OCD, anxiety and am being investigated for ADHD. I am however despite all of these things not a mess, generally speaking.
In the last 5 years or so I have become more self aware as a human being, I know myself better, I love myself better (thank you for the applause – it’s a work in progress) and this means I can see the patterns in my feelings and physicality when burnout is going to hit. I would love to share them with you so that if you recognise them in yourself too – you can check yourself before you wreck yourself….you have time to jump out of the pan my lobster friend!
I start negotiating my downtime to lend to work time.
When I find myself thinking “I can just work the weekend to catch up” this is a fire flag for me and I do this often. It is the subtle beginnings of me giving my work and busy self more value than my at peace and rest self and believe me when I say those two women need the same amount of attention or things get ugly. Work self is driven and will arm wrestle you for just one more moment on that project or next million making idea. Peace and rest self is so sick of work selfs s**t that she’s going to protest with two days of utter physical exhaustion and mind fog to teach work self a lesson. Both my selves are too self righteous for their (or my) own good. Once I start robbing from Peace and rest to loan to work I am firmly on dangerous ground.
I stop taking care of myself.
I don’t have time to shower, shave my legs, exfoliate, hair mask my hair, blowdry and style it, do a 126567 step make up routine and work and do all the house stuff. So it starts with reduced and timed “essential” baths only and ends in a messy mum bun , pjs and me walking around without my eyelashes on (which if you knew me is def con 1).
My steady loving relationship with coffee becomes abusive
I am a “give me coffee” the moment I wake up type and YES I know its not good for me and YES it is on my list of 6000 things about me I am working on but, on a normal day my relationship with it is loving and supportive. When I find myself making my 6th or 7th cup “just to get through the next couple of hours” I know I am starting to slide into an area I should not be allowing.
My sleep patterns change
I suffer from the odd sleep paralysis and I am happy to say it hasn’t happened for a while (cue next episode). However when I notice either *trouble sleeping *Weird dreams or *waking up as exhausted as I went to bed I know that my mind is struggling to get the full on REM she needs and considering how much she does for me – I feel I owe it to her to give her what she needs.
I become judgemental and irritable
Me, surely not….but yes it does happen. If you know me really well you may also be able to tell by my slightly more ranty facebook statuses when this happens. I notice that foot tapping across the room, I get sensory overwhelm at the noise around me, I feel frustrated. I am suddenly triggered by ALL of Facebook and social media and its like someone set of a smoke machine in my brain. If you have ever read the book the chimp paradox by Steve Peters you will recognise that all of this lives in the chimp part of my psyche!!
When you are in the space where you feel the heat creep in you have choices. The first choice is to allow yourself a reset in the hope that it will support your journey back to baseline. The second choice is to brush it off and ignore it as normal tiredness, fatigue, the bad burrito you ate last night or any other temporary objections that your stellar willpower can scale with enough internal justification. I suggest, with love, the first option!
Here is how I steer myself into a self imposed reset.
- I give myself 2-7 days of rest depending on the level of fatigue I feel or how many of the aforementioned fire flags have presented themselves to me.
- I drink water – boring yes – necessary yes – total magic we take for granted – absolutely yes!
- I sleep, or sit , or watch netflix, or nap.. you get the hint.
- I allow myself long periods of self care a three hour bathroom routine that includes grooming, teeth whitening and a skin care routine? Come here you son of a gun, I’m in!
- I tell my friends and family – I love you, I am in burnout, I need some time to re coup- thank you for your understanding.
- I reschedule , anything that doesn’t include me time or cup filling activities.
- I eat regular small meals and avoid excess sugar or carbs. I still eat sugar and carbs so please read that sentence correctly, I deny myself the urge to dive head first into a litre of ice cream and just have one regular sized portion instead. I’m still human!
- I avoid alcohol – I really don’t think I need to explain further.
- I watch comedies – no joke, its a fully fledged coping mechanism and I have zero shame around it – I also enjoy memes , gifs and cat videos. Not sorry!
- I do activities that are not heavy for me and only after I have removed all expectation from myself. I will do nothing today allows for “Maybe I will write an article on thriveglobal about how I navigate days like this” or “Maybe I will pop that small bundle of laundry in the washer as I walk past”. The art of this is the lack of expectation, pressure and self shame. Getting to this stage of “Actually i don’t have to do all the things” is a state of personal mastery for me and was totally worth the battle to get to it.
More importantly, if you are getting to a stage where you are noticing these triggers for emotional overwhelm in yourself then it is definitely time to look at your overall life and what needs to give. It can be really difficult for everyone sometimes. During busy periods or even in the midst of big projects, but if it is happening to you really often then there is a bigger problem to be addressed . Look at the structure of your life and see if there is anywhere you can gain some support. Do you need to outsource some work, hire a nanny or a housekeeper or just see your friends more? Make some conscious changes to your weekly structure so you tip the balance back in your favour!
and good luck , you can do it