I am willing to bet that every human on the planet has experienced burn-out multiple times in their lives.
Decades ago, people lived more simple, quiet lives. But today’s mindset seems to be that if you’re not running yourself flat, you’re not busy enough. Busy-ness is everyone’s normal; it’s a state we are all well accustomed to.
A busy life in itself isn’t detrimental, if you’re managing your time well. But once you reach the point of burn-out, you begin to get stuck in a cycle. When you’re burnt-out, you’re not functioning efficiently or effectively, and it doesn’t take much to keep you in that state.
In burn-out mode, tasks that would usually be small and manageable instead blow out of proportion and can feel insurmountable.
The idea of self care may be way, wayyyyy off your radar when your life is so insanely busy that you can hardly function.
But times of burn-out are actually when we must step back, recalibrate, and focus on ourselves and our needs.
Think you might be burnt-out?
Check these warning signs of burn-out and see if they sound like you…
1. You feel obliged to say yes despite your already full schedule
When you’re in a healthy mindset, you are in a good place to evaluate your schedule and know whether you have the capacity to take something on. When you’re in burn-out mode, you struggle to see your limits because, well, you have surpassed them a long time ago. So when someone asks something of you, you quickly say “yes”.
And by the way, if you’re not burnt-out but do find yourself saying yes to everything asked of you… you’re actually in danger of burning out!
2. You spend all your home time in recovery mode
You give 330% to everyone and everything, every day. Then you come home and crash on the couch, grab a quick dinner and binge on Netflix while mindlessly scrolling on your phone until 11 o’clock at which point you drag yourself to bed and pass out. If this sounds like you, you’re probably burnt out.
There is nothing wrong with taking a night of recovery on the couch once in a while when it’s needed. But if it’s a daily pattern, you have to wonder why your body is so desperate for this kind of recovery. Because we’re not designed to push ourselves so hard during the day that we can’t actually function and live well at night. Of course night time is a great time for winding down from your day – but the behaviour I’m describing is less winding down and more full-blown mentally collapsing.
3. You are always tired
When people ask how you’re doing, do you always respond with, “Tired”?
The fact is, adult life is tiring. Almost everybody is tired at different points throughout their day. But when you’re burnt-out, you’re exhausted: physically, mentally and emotionally.
The kicker? If you’re burnt out, it’s entirely possible that you’re also not sleeping that well. So you’re not even able to replenish that waning energy overnight.
4. You feel paralyzed in multiple areas of your life
Not only is your schedule crippling you, but so is the state of your home, your relationships, your physical health and/or maybe even your financial situation. This is because your body and brain are in survival mode.
Survival mode shuts down a big part of our brains to allow us to focus on just that: surviving. So things slide. You begin ordering more takeout. You stop wiping down the counters. You spend money without much thought. Anything that requires more than minimum effort falls by the way-side in favour of easy, basic-level functioning.
And let me be clear: it bothers you. You desperately want to change things and start functioning properly. You. Just. Can’t. You’re depleted. And though you can see how crippling your life is, you don’t have it within you to begin functioning above that bare-minimum level.
5. You’re not even nailing it
It can be easy to feel that busy-ness = successfulness. If our lives are packed, we’re doing something right. But anyone experiencing burn-out knows this isn’t the case.
Impaired concentration, distraction and forgetfulness are all classic symptoms of burn-out, and they do not make for a well-functioning human. The very things that you are working so hard on, that are causing your burn-out, are probably not even receiving your best efforts and attention. And this is a tricky cycle to break.
6. You’re generally unhappy
The burnt-out life is NEVER a happy life. There may be things in your life that still give you joy, but these are regularly over-shadowed by the things that are draining you. We are not supposed to be so dissatisfied with our lives! If the bulk of your time is spent feeling overwhelmed and miserable, burn-out can be a huge factor in this.
Burn-out can even lead to depression and anxiety over time, making it extremely detrimental.
7. You get sick a lot
Exhaustion, unhappiness and lack of attention to your physical health inevitably take a huge toll on your immune system. Burnt out people are regularly sick, and that sickness can draw out for a much longer period than a person who hasn’t been pushing their body as hard. Or sometimes, the adrenalin pumping through you when you’re burnt out is enough to sustain you, until you take a moment’s rest – maybe a quiet weekend, or a longed-for little holiday – and that adrenalin drops off and lets sickness take hold.
Either way, sickness will catch up with you.
If you’re burnt out, please understand that you need to make changes TODAY.
You don’t have to be burnt out.
In fact, you shouldn’t be burnt out.
I don’t want you to accept burn-out as a normal state of being.
But I’m not your Mum. I’m not going to be hollering down the phone at you telling you to take it easy, stop over-committing, listen to your body, etc. If it were as simple as that, you wouldn’t be here, reading this.
I know you can’t just drop all those spinning plates overnight.
But I am going to insist that you commit to some self care.
Real, healing self care is essential for everyone and is easy to begin practising if you know where to start.
I go through it in-depth in my article on how to self care, and examples of what is and isn’t proper self care. But you’re not necessarily going to click through and commit to read another long article (though if you have time, it would be a great resource for you), so I’m going to sum up the most specifically important self care tips for YOU right here.
Reminder: I am not a qualified health care professional. All advice offered is anecdotal and based on my own experience. If you believe you need a qualified opinion on your health and wellbeing, please contact your doctor who can point you in the right direction.
How to begin self care when you’re burnt out:
1. Start assessing what you take on
See how I didn’t just blanket tell you to stop saying yes? I know that’s impossible. But I do want you to consider for at least 24 hours before committing to anything new. Even if it’s something that seems obvious, that you’re certain you will/should do. Spend 24 hours mulling it over. Work out where/when/how it would fit into your bursting schedule. Consider whether, if you did commit to it, you would do it well. Not only will this help you weed out the things that you know deep down you can’t fit in, but it will put you in a healthy mindset for the things you do take on, as you’ve already considered the practicality of it.
2. Rest, don’t recover
Try this for one night: don’t turn on that TV. Don’t mindlessly scroll through that phone. Eat dinner at the table, then spend the rest of the evening in the quiet. Read a book, take a bath, meditate, journal – whatever will help you properly unwind. You may find that you need to head to bed a lot earlier, and listen to that instinct – it’s your body telling you that the restfulness is working and you should capitalize on it!
3. Do one small chore
As much as we hate doing chores, completing them does give us a sense of control. So pick a chore that has been burdening you and do it. If the kitchen is bothering you and you haven’t had the energy to clean it from top to bottom, just put a load in the dishwasher, take out the trash or wipe down the benches. If the garden is out of control, pick one area and give it a quick weed. If your bedroom is messy, make your bed. If your living room is heaving with clutter, clear the coffee table. You don’t need to commit a lot of time (because I know you don’t have a lot of it!) but achieving one small thing that has been niggling at you will bring a surprising sense of peace; every time you walk past that blessedly crumb-free bench or that beautifully made, ready-to-jump-into bed, you will gain some breathing space. I love The Creekline House’s five-finger trick for clearing clutter – it’s an easy but home-changing habit that anyone can pick up.
4. Buy some vitamins
This is a two-fold win for someone who’s burnt out. One, it will add some nourishment to that worn-down body of yours. Two, the act of committing to taking vitamins every day will actually give you a sense that you are doing something small to take care of yourself. If vitamins aren’t your thing, intentionally eat a piece of fruit every morning or make up a roller of a calming essential oil such as Roman Chamomile. The idea is incorporating a small, manageable habit that will benefit your health.
5. Do something for yourself
A burnt-out life is usually a very outwardly-focused life. You are too many things for too many people, and somewhere along the line, your own needs have been surpassed. It’s not selfish to do something for yourself purely to boost your mood. I have a list of 10 easy pick-me-ups to get you started if you’re out of ideas. Whatever you choose to do, ensure you do it with intention. Indulge the thought “I’m doing this for me”.
As you begin to get used to incorporating small self-care habits into your days, it will become easier to add more and more until you strike a healthy balance and finally beat the burn-out.
For more self care ideas have a read of my article on what does (and doesn’t) constitute self care. And if full-time work is burning you out, please also check out my self care tips specifically written with full-time workers in mind.