It’s Time to Take a Break: Dealing with Burnout

I have spent the last couple of weeks trying to scrape old latex paint off of our wood deck in the backyard. I know, just use paint stripper. Well, this isn’t your typical paint. It’s a product designed to be used on concrete. ie. It is never supposed to come off. Only it did in some spots, wherever the sun was consistently hitting it. So, it was high time to freshen up for spring. Let’s get it together and get this thing done!

Initially, stubborn, headstrong me, decided she was going to get this all done at once. If I really put my mind and back in to it, it will get done – no problem! Sometimes we need a tight deadline to push through and make sure we complete what we set out to do. However, after days… and days… I was slowly broken down. Mental fatigue began to set in as the list of neglected priorities piled up. Here comes our old friend, Anxiety. Anxiety loves to whisper little lies when she comes to visit. Her favourite one lately has been:

“You are running out of time.”

“You will never accomplish the things you set out to do.”

There are, of course other variants of this, but we all get the idea. The physical struggle began to take its toll on me as well. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a tough gal! But I’ve also learned that pushing myself to the point of potential physical harm now, can result in adverse long-term health effects. I’m not willing to pay that price, and I don’t want my future family to handle that burden either.

So, what can I do? Let’s get real. It’s time to take a break. Rest is so important. I cannot stress this enough. It is a hard lesson to learn, especially for those like myself – riddled with stubbornness, perfectionism, and the fear that they will never have enough time to accomplish anything that matters. I struggle with this every day. The tempatation to listen to the little lies is strong, and it is perpetuated in our culture in a really big way. We are told we can “make it” one day if only we have enough hustle, enough grit, if we don’t sleep (because sleep is a waste of time), etc. You all know what I’m talking about.

But here are some facts…

Sleep deprivation can cause the cortex, the part of your brain responsible for thought and action, to shink! Try being efficient and effective without sleep, my friend. It ain’t gonna happen. Shrinkage of this part of the brain is also linked to increased vulnerability to depression and addiction. Read more about the research here.

For those of us with the “I can do it all… forever” mindset, a state of burnout is likely, I’m sorry to say it, just around the corner. I wish this weren’t so. But I’ve experienced it, and I’ve experienced it often. It is an ongoing challenge for me to know when to call it, and make the decision to take a break, or end the day. Burnout is characterized as a state of chronic stress that causes us to experience mental and physical exhaustion, feelings of detatchment, ineffectiveness, and hopelessness. I think we can all agree this is bullsh** that none of us needs. Let’s take a look at how we can better recognize when it’s time to take a break, and what to do if and when we end up burning ourselves out. Early signs of burnout can look like this:

  1. You feel tired all or most of the time.
  2. You have trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep.
  3. Your concentration sucks.
  4. You feel anxious and irritable.
  5. You just don’t enjoy the things that usually make you happy.

If you’re recognizing some of these signs, calm down. You don’t need to get it all done today. I recognize that sometimes we have a deadline coming up, and it does in fact, need to be done today. But as soon as you can, take it easy. You will not be effective or efficient at anything when you’re running on fumes. And let’s be real, it’s just a sh**y way to live. Here are some steps we can take to recover from burnout:

1) Take some time off. Real time off.

Not just replacing the tasks you are taking a break from with other ones you think somehow don’t count. Everything counts.

2) Do something you truly enjoy.

For some of us that can be reading a book, going for a hike, gardening, or spending some quality time with friends.

3) When you are ready, reassess what is important to you.

As high-achievers, we tend to thow ourselves into our work, whatever that might look like. Often we can begin to lose touch with other important things in our lives like our family, friends, or hobbies that bring us joy. I find that journalling has been a great tool for this step. Even scribbling down some quick bullet points can help us visualize and put into perspective the things that are important to us.

4) Learn to say “no” to new oportunities during this time.

This is a tough one, but it is possible.

5) Practice positive thinking.

Positive affirmations spoken outloud about yourself can be very helpful in recovering from our burned out mental state. We are not hopeless! Starting with, “everything will be okay” is a good place to start. In the same way, speaking God’s word over our lives and mediating on these truths will uplifit our thinking, and our spirit! You can read some of these truths here.

If you are anything like me, seeing these steps in a simplified list makes overcoming burnout bullsh** seem doable. And it so is. I forsee that learning to move past the “I can do everything” thinking will be a lengthy process. But I do truly believe that we can get it together and get through this! One small step at a time. Don’t forget, every little thing (that you don’t think counts), counts. Keep moving forward, and move forward in joy!

Photo Credit: unsplash-logoAki Tolentino