When you look up the definition of burnout, you’ll see a few technical explanations: “the reduction of a fuel or substance to nothing through use or combustion” or “the failure of an electrical device or component through overheating”.
If you think about your body and mind as a machine, you can exhaust all your resources to the point of experiencing burnout. Let’s face it we are humans and we need to take care of ourselves, especially in busy seasons to keep being happy and productive.
Here are 4 things I learned once I was through the other side of a burnout as lessons to avoid repeating the past.
One quick note before continuing. I’m not a doctor or medical professional. I’m sharing what’s working for me based on my research to help you figure out what to consider next. Check with your favorite medical professional to help you decide what works best for you.
Take a look at what you’re eating and not eating
It’s hard to think straight and to keep going at full speed if you’re not eating well. Take a look at what you’re eating and also what you’re not eating. Are you fueling your body and mind to keep performing at that stress level?
Maybe you’re eating a lot of fast food that’s high in salt and low in quality. Just like your car won’t go very far with the wrong type of gas, your body will only function so well for so long without enough and the right types of foods.
While I recognized I needed to eat better and put effort into taking a better lunch to work, I was skipping dinner too many nights for too many weeks. I wasn’t eating enough to keep up with the schedule I needed to follow.
To get back on track, try planning your meals sticking to simple options so you don’t have to struggle with the choice of what to eat.
Bring your lunch to work to both ensure you have something to eat and you’re eating a better quality option.
Start adding freezable meal prep to your weekend chores so you have quality dinners waiting for you instead of high salt, limited nutrition TV dinners. For as much as you love the convenience of some of those made-for-you options in the freezer aisle, read the labels on the back before grabbing another one.
Meal prep doesn’t have to be a large amount of work. Chicken breasts cook quickly in an Instant Pot and freeze well. Pair chicken with a quick-to-make side such as frozen veggies for a fast dinner.
Set boundaries before you hit the wall
Referring to this as knowing your limits feels negative. Accept the fact you are human and that’s ok.
Repeat that to yourself a few times. You are human and that’s ok.
You can only run for so long at high speed before it doesn’t end well.
With enough time you can work your way up to a grueling schedule. But going from 0 to 60 in a short time and trying to stay at that pace for a long time puts extreme strain on your body and sanity.
There’s the level of pain we can each endure, which is not the same for everyone. AND we don’t all show how we’re doing with the pain. Some of us hide it better than others for longer than we should.
Consider the changes you can make at work and home, especially if long hours are paired with a long commute.
The hardest part is learning how to speak up. And honestly, if your employer isn’t ready to stand by you, maybe it’s time to move on.
Does your employer value you as a team member and a human? Just like it’s a business decision if they decide to keep you employed, it should also become a “business decision” on your part to decide if it’s still the right place for you and if it’s feasible to continue to work there.
Honesty I am blessed to work with an amazing group of people that when I finally reached a point of speaking up and continued to speak up, people were there to support me. And they stood by me in the future to avoid such a situation from spiraling again.
Build a 6-month emergency fund
If the world is starting to spin beyond what you can control, the level of stress that comes from not having an emergency parachute makes the situation worse. If you really feel like you’re spiraling towards disaster and don’t have a way out, your ability to think through the situation rationality will be a problem.
The relief comes in the form of a savings account that covers multiple months of your regular expenses in case you need to leave your job before you find another one. Or if you’ve stumbled all the way into burnout, you may need a month to decompress before finding a new job.
A 6-month emergency fund sounds huge but the sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll be done. You also won’t have to put as much strain on your budget to make it happen. Keep this money separate from any other savings accounts. Try to plan for other expenses you’ll have in the future using sinking funds.
Ideally, it’s usually easier to find a new job when you are still working, as well as be in a better salary negotiation position. So it becomes a personal decision on how you want to proceed, and what actually works in both the industry and the area where you work.
Having that emergency fund on hand at a minimum gives you peace of mind that you can get out of a problematic situation if it’s not something you can fix.
Make time for exercise
There are many reasons why we need exercise to maintain our wellness. Sitting all day does not do good things to your health. You need to get up and start moving again.
If you’re following an absurd schedule, try simply taking a walk outside for 30 minutes, in almost all weather conditions. No excuses that you can’t get to the gym.
Walking outside or your choice of exercise is time away from the computer screen. Decompress for a while. Rest your eyes and your mind. Take some time to breathe deep fresh air into your lungs to push out the recirculated office air.
If you’re eating well, you’ll notice the benefits to your legs with enough walking. Just saying. And if you’re not eating well (maybe not enough protein), it shouldn’t come as a surprise if your leg muscles don’t tighten up for the efforts put in.
In all seriousness, you need time away from the grind of the day. If you’re struggling to think productively, exercise helps release your mind to potentially spark the thought of a solution that’s been eluding you.
Wrap up. What else have you learned from nearly hitting burnout?
Maybe self-care isn’t something on your radar. Hint it’s more than a bubble bath. You’re only as good to yourself, your employer, your family, and society if keep yourself from falling into burnout.
What are you doing to protect yourself from burnout, or what other tricks helped you recover in the past?
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