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How to Come Back from a Burnout at Work

Posted on April 15, 2019 by Ally Powell

According to Webster . . .

“Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.”

First, Determine if You are Burned Out.

If you have ever found yourself experiencing the following, you too may have suffered, be suffering from, or getting ready to suffer the pains of burnout.

  • Nothing captures your interest.
  • You can’t focus long enough to read.
  • You find yourself surfing the internet, with no landing spot.
  • You have a long list of to-dos requiring your attention, but you have no idea where to begin.
  • You have tunnel vision; you can only see what is immediate, with long-range thinking being out of the question.
  • Your body hurts; shoulder and neck tension are persistent and your head throbs.
  • Friends and loved ones have said, “You need an attitude check” – you have had a short temper and snapped over “nothing”.
  • You don’t want to do anything, even fun stuff.
  • No matter how much sleep you get, You. Are. Still. Exhausted.
  • Or, you have insomnia; not able to go to sleep or waking up in the middle of the night, lying there desperately wishing for sleep, not being able to shut off your brain, thinking about everything.

Next, What Caused You to Burnout?

How did you get here? You didn’t take care of you. Everything and everyone became a higher priority than you. You said, “Yes!” when you wanted to say, “No!” You didn’t carve out time for you; time to just be, time with friends and family, time to read, and time to work on what was most important. You weren’t kind to yourself in a time of need. You continued to ask for more to do, even when you had nothing left to give. You didn’t laugh – no lighthearted moments for you, because life is serious stuff!

In a nutshell, you forgot to picture what you wanted your life to look like – who you wanted to be, what you wanted to accomplish, and how you wanted to relate to the people you hold dear. Without that picture, you were not able to protect the precious life you envisioned, by setting boundaries and upholding them with everything you could muster.

What Can You Do to Get Out of This Mess?

First, set realistic expectations for your recovery. You didn’t get here overnight, which means you won’t recover quickly. Start with one step, one day at a time; taking you in the direction of calm.

STOP!!! Though this is simple, it is not an easy thing to do, especially when you have been living your life at a fast and furious pace.

Take a breath. Find a quiet and protected place to sit. Allow your body to relax, your shoulders to come down, your breath to move in and out in a natural way. Just be.

Take a break from social media. Yes, silence your phone. Put it aside. No checking in. And, if total abstinence is too much to bear, limit yourself to a specific timeframe, or media (choose e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram – but not all). And, when you get on the other side of burnout, consider reading Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World.

Be kind to you. Wrap your loving arms around this exhausted and empty you. Practice self-compassion, the comforting kind. Talk to yourself the way you would talk to a good friend who was depleted and running on empty.

Practice self-compassion; the protective kind. Figure out what you want this one precious life to look like. This may take more than a few attempts to gain clarity. Once your vision for your life is clear, you can begin to take the steps you need to protect your vision. It means that sometimes you might have to say, “no”. It means knowing the actions and steps you need to take to make your vision a reality and holding yourself accountable to acting on these actions and steps.

How to Prevent a Burnout from Happening Again?

Be present and mindful as you live your life. Stop. Breathe. Notice. Check in with yourself: How are you feeling emotionally and physically? Are you practicing self-care? When is the last time you ate a healthy meal? What kind of exercise are you getting? When was the last time you had a conversation with family, friends or colleagues?

Remember, how you live your life is a choice. The only way you will be able to be in a place of choice, is to slow down long enough to consider what your choices are.

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