Recovering From Burnout
As a therapist and recovering perfectionist, I often dive into what I myself need to learn. Being ambitious, motivated, and passionate about my work always came naturally to me, so imagine my surprise years ago when I stopped caring at all. But it wasn’t stress or depression robbing me of my drive. It was a syndrome called burnout, and it totally extinguished my flame. As Dr. Joan Borysenko wrote in her book, Fried, “When you’re stressed out, you keep chasing the same old carrot, whatever that may be for you. But when you’re burned out, you eventually give up the chase”.
Burnout begins long before we hit the edge. It’s a series of 12 stages, beginning with an underlying desire to prove oneself and ending in physical and mental collapse. People who have the greatest investment in their careers are much more likely to burn out than those who do not, and perfectionistic, results-driven individuals are at highest risk.
So how does one know if they are burning out? It’s kind of like watching your cell phone running out of charge. You are the phone; the battery charge is your energy level. You are in burnout when your battery turns red. You see that it’s red, you know that it’s not a good sign if you want it to keep going, but you keep using it, failing to plug it in, and it gradually runs slower until it’s no longer functioning at all.
Burnout can look like:
· Never feeling rested
· Wanting to crawl into bed as soon as you get home from work
· Hiding from friends and family (not answering the phone, isolating, or literally hiding in the bathroom or closet)
· Constantly feeling defeated (“who cares?” and “why bother?”)
· Irritable mood with negative energy (“screw it!” attitude)
· Experiencing compassion fatigue
· Wanting to escape or run away from your life
So how does one recover from burnout?
Plug Yourself In
Whether you take a staycation, a leave of absence, or continue to work, you will need to start prioritizing sleep. This must happen first and above all else. The process of burning out likely took many months or years, so this prioritization has to last a while, with no exception.
Adjust Your Expectations & Pace Yourself
The pace at which you are working is clearly harmful. Come up with a plan to slow it down. Set more manageable goals, delegate responsibilities, and better balance your schedule between work and rest.
Take Care of Physical Symptoms & Injuries
It is amazing the things we don’t see or ignore when we’re in a state of burnout. For me, it was a tumor the size of a grapefruit growing in my neck. I never even noticed. Our bodies are great at sending us clues when things are going awry. Check in with yourself on a daily basis and address any symptoms or injuries immediately.
Implement an Exercise Routine
Research shows that the single most important factor in avoiding relapse of burnout is regular exercise. Physical activity is a necessary part of a healthy lifestyle and avoiding or not making time for it is a good indicator that other areas of self-care are lacking.
Address Psychological Concerns
If you find yourself in a state of burnout, you likely have psychological concerns to work through. The driven, talented, and successful people I work with have a difficult time accepting this fact, and I did too. Ask yourself, what purpose is over-functioning and over-working serving in your life? What experiences did you have as a child? What messages did you receive to make you work so hard and neglect self-care? Addressing early life messages or trauma can help resolve burnout and avoid future episodes.
Be Keenly Aware of Your Work Environment
There are many wonderful, respectful employers out there. There are also many who will expect you to work yourself into the ground until you have nothing left to give. They will discourage time off. They will take advantage of those with lax boundaries. They will pile more and more work on you, knowing that you care enough to go all in and do it well. Take the steps necessary to plant yourself in a pot that will inspire healthy growth, rather than one that encourages over-production.
Louisa N. DiLeone is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Huntsville, Alabama. She is the owner and sole practitioner at Bloom Counseling, LLC, where she treats high-achieving, perfectionistic teens, professionals, and athletes and the struggles they face. For more information, you can visit her website: www.bloomhuntsville.com