When You're Burned Out
It feels like I haven’t taken a breath since February. Five months since a job hunt began, since stress took over, since I spent every hour of every day trying to figure out where I wanted to live, what I wanted to do, trying and failing, and failing, and failing to make things work. To get hired. To try the freelance lifestyle. To cook meals with nutrients instead of trans fat and to get my body moving. To finish a passion project while my time was unrestricted.
I failed at so many things, and from the outside it looked like I was barely moving. But it felt like I’d never worked harder in my life.
I had to work to get up every morning. To call recruiters on the phone and put myself in the vulnerable position of facing rejection. To pick myself up after every fall. I’m not very good at those things—I’m not versed in the language of failure and negativity. They took everything out of me, with no room left for the things I used to love. The passions I used to feel.
A passion since I was a child to become a writer. But I wasn’t able to write.
A passion since I was 17 for running. But I could hardly make myself get out of bed.
A lifelong passion to be a good daughter, friend, sister, cousin. But I was laser-focused on my own pain.
So many flames that once kept me alive burned down to fleeting sparks while I spent all my energy fighting to stay afloat. Now that I’ve found my way back to a life I recognize and find joy in, my body finally able to rest, I’ve walked away recognizing the crippling effect of a burnout—and picked up some ways to work through them.
1. Speak kindly to yourself.
When you aren’t performing at the level you’re used to performing at, it’s easy to talk yourself down. You know you can do better, and you don’t want to get complacent in your “laziness.” But you’re not being lazy—you’re on a break. Give yourself permission to take the mental break you need without self-criticism.
2. Make short and achievable to-do lists.
Getting out of bed before 10am can be an item on your list. Buying groceries. Spending less time on social media. Even at work, break everything you need to do down into simple, achievable steps to avoid the overwhelm that comes with taking on a big project. When you check something off a to-do list, you’ll satisfy a part of you that craves productivity without continuing to burn yourself out with crazy demands.
3. Form a routine.
When your energy is spent, you don’t want to use any of it to decide how you’ll structure your days. Have an automatic, habitual everyday routine that will give structure to your life. Bedtimes, wake-up times, time to work, time set aside to read or go on a walk. Having it all laid out will make it easier to go through the motions with as little effort spent as possible.
4. Surround yourself with inspiration.
When you’re burned out, the most productive use of your time is spent preparing for what comes next. Soak in inspiration however it comes to you—listen to podcasts or audiobooks, spend time in nature, spend time with people who love you, buy new artwork for your walls, go to museums. Whatever fills you with happiness or reminds you why you’re alive, do that. When you’re finally feeling like yourself again, you’ll have a fresh bout of inspiration to spring back on.
5. Get back to it.
There’s no timeline for how long it’s okay to rest for—when you feel like it’s time, start slowly jumping back into the game. I’m not ready to get back to writing a novel, but I can do a blog post here and there. I’m not ready for running another half marathon, but I’m signed up for a 5k next month. Take it slow, learn to celebrate even small progress, and know you’re not going to feel like this forever.
Everyone gets burned out from time to time, and everybody goes through periods in life that are harder than others. Remember that you aren’t alone, and you have every right to take a break when you hit a roadblock. When you come back, refreshed and rested, you’ll accomplish more than you ever though you could.
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