It’s tough to think clearly when we’re feeling the effects of burnout. Our energy reserves are low and sometimes it feels like a chore to think about recovering. The wellness world can lead us to believe that self-care is a quick fix for burnout, that your stress will simply melt away with the perfect bath salt! And while self-care practices are key ingredients in relieving the symptoms of burnout (especially in the short-term), they won’t get to the root of what depleted you in the first place. With the right cocktail of awareness, support, and healthy practices (and perhaps a sprinkle of those bath salts!), there are ways to get that short-term relief from burnout and recover and reset for the future. It might take a few extra steps and a bit more time, but here are some ways to do it!
Spot It, acknowledge it, and name it
This might sound too simple to be true, but the first step to recovering from burnout is acknowledging that it exists. Being in the midst of stress can feel as if we’re going full speed ahead without an end in sight. This doesn’t give much of an opportunity to notice what’s driving our struggle. Instead, we just feel the symptoms of the struggle. Many of these symptoms like fatigue, exhaustion, and an inability to relax are more obvious. But others like neglected hygienic needs decreased immunity, and tummy trouble are less so. And if you’re like many folks going a mile a minute, you know that it can seem more convenient to ignore the symptoms and put them on the back burner until a later date. But there is real power in facing what we’re experiencing head-on. When we admit that there is something in our lives that is not working we can move forward knowing that is our truth, rather than being held back by a more convenient lie. There’s also power in naming the experience, so actually calling it burnout versus something else. If you know you’re struggling, but not sure if you would categorize it as burnout, check out out these resources on signs to spot it (link to article) or hop on over to our burnout quiz. Once you’ve correctly identified your experience, try simply writing it on a piece of paper or saying it out loud as your first act of getting back in the driver’s seat.
Practice self-compassion over self-judgment
Now that you’ve identified your struggle as burnout, give yourself the opportunity to get in a good headspace before any concrete next steps. Allowing ourselves the space to sit with feelings in complete awareness, helps us approach things with more clarity. This is where strengthening our mindful awareness is essential. Just like working out or learning a new skill, practicing mindfulness requires consistency to feel the long-term benefits. While mindfulness is now widely accepted as something that is good for mental health, the way you approach mindfulness is not one-size-fits-all. What your mindfulness routine looks like in practice should fit in with your individuality. Meditation, breathwork, journaling, or just taking a few moments throughout the day to intentionally breathe are all examples of practicing mindfulness.
One thing to remember when you develop a mindfulness practice is that uncomfortable feelings or emotions might arise. Sitting with them from a place of curiosity and compassion rather than one of judgment is where change can begin to happen. When we’re struggling, we might try to place burnout blame on ourselves, or something we did to deserve it. Try instead to greet the thoughts that come up without assigning a judgment value to them, then let them pass through your consciousness. This will not only help us observe what might contribute to burnout but also help us feel calmer and more grounded.
Enlist a support squad
It can be tough to let people know you’re struggling, and your instinct might be to retract or try to go at it alone. And that’s understandable, vulnerability can indeed feel scary. But the evidence is out – social and community health affects our overall wellbeing. And while we might trick ourselves into thinking that sharing our vulnerability is weak, letting people in is actually an act of bravery. Without community, we cannot truly invest in our whole-person health. Enlisting a “support squad” can help you build out this pillar of your health! So, what exactly is a support squad, you may ask? A support squad is a group of people whom you know you can rely on for mental, physical, and emotional support. Similar to most concepts we’ve explored, what that support looks like can vary based on the person. A family member or close friend’s place in your support squad will look different than a manager or mental health professional. Yet they all have one common goal: to help you on your burnout recovery journey. Try to be selective with your support squad, only letting those in who contribute positively to your journey. Here are some questions to ask yourself ahead of enlisting your squad:
Medical or mental health professional:
Do they have the training and credentials to help me?
Do they have experience with burnout relief?
Will they offer a 10-15 minute consultation to see if their services are a good fit?
After our interactions, do I feel energized or depleted?
Do they know enough about my life to contribute in a productive way?
Are they going through something that they need to focus on for themselves?
Manager or colleague
Do I trust this person to have my best interests in mind both personally and professionally?
Will talking to them help me reimagine my current situation for the better?
If it’s a manager, are there suggestions I can bring to the table that might help me?
Hit the pause button where you can
Certain messaging we receive implies that if we take a break from something, we’ve somehow failed. We’re taught that stillness somehow implies stagnancy, and means that you’ve thrown your hands up as unworthy or unsuccessful. But saying you need to be still while you get back to your best self is the ultimate act of growth. Taking a timeout in the midst of burnout can empower you to get back in the driver’s seat of your wellbeing. And once you’ve strengthened your awareness and enlisted the help of your support (steps 1-3), hitting the pause button becomes a lot less daunting and a lot more doable. So what does that look like in practice? For starters, try identifying a part of your life where you might be able to relinquish some control, commitment, and responsibility. In other words, ask yourself where you can set your status to OOO for a bit (remember, this doesn’t just have to be work!). While there might be things that come up during this time, setting the precedent that you are in pause mode for a bit will help frame this essential time differently. Once you feel good about taking a step back, use that time to recharge and reimagine.
While the act of taking a pause can feel restorative, it can’t combat burnout entirely. That’s why it’s important to consistently incorporate times throughout the week that bring you that same feeling. Many of us have the tendency to put off relaxation time until the weekend, or that next vacation you booked. And listen, you definitely should still be taking that vacation! But if that’s your only time to recharge, you’re more likely to get caught up in the vicious cycle of burnout. A way to stop the cycle in its tracks? Prioritize self-care the way you would a meeting or work commitment. The goal here is to get ahead of excess stress before it reaches the point of burnout, so take a look at your month and see where you can literally pencil in recharge time. Pending any serious changes to your week, make this a non-negotiable. While the experts agree that exercise, sleep hygiene, and nutrition all help with stress management, make sure you’re also scheduling in types of self-care unique to you and your values. A hike in the woods? Schedule it. Deep-tissue massage? Schedule it. A good book in your hammock? Schedule it!
Pro-tip for prioritizing your version of self-care? Explore limiting your social media intake. Social media can trick us into thinking that we should be living our lives in a particular way, even when it comes to self-care. Think about your Instagram feed – how many times have you seen someone in a face mask or on a yoga retreat and thought that’s what you should be doing as well. There’s a fine line between letting the screen inspire us and feeling like we need to be what we see on the screen. Similar to getting selective with your support squad, get selective about what you let (and don’t let!) into your headspace.
Regardless if you’re in it or recovering from it, one thing remains true – burnout stinks! Not one of these things will be the be-all-end-all of burnout, but together they can make sure you get the rest you need while prioritizing your wellbeing for the future.
Give some thought to how much self-compassion you have and answer our 1-question reflection (this is required if you would like to receive credit in the LVL app for reading this article)