Sometimes I get burnt out.
Sometimes I’m sick and tired of being productive.
There, I said it. I love reading about and trying out productivity and motivation ‘hacks’, and writing about them here. But like everyone I have days where I’d much rather curl up in a little ball and watch Netflix while eating junk food. Usually when this happens I try to refocus, remind myself why I’m doing what I’m doing, and then get stuck in again. However sometimes I get genuine burnout and just need some time off. I’m all for pushing yourself and working hard to get to where you want to be (though that’s a misleading way of putting it as ‘where you want to be’ isn’t a fixed point!) but I know that pushing too hard won’t help you, it will eventually set you back.
Let me tell you a story about a girl who tried to do everything.
When I finally found a job after uni (2 to start with!) I was determined to keep up with my volunteering for Team V, Young Women’s Trust and Youth Employment UK. I tried my best to go to events and meetings, stay active online, and run my campaigns, as well as travelling to Hampshire one day a week for my internship, working shifts at Cath Kidston and commuting in to central London 1 or 2 days a week. After a while it got too much and I ended up taking almost two weeks off. I was tired, stressed out, worried about all of my projects, and beginning to feel anxious about going to work. I sat down and took a long, hard look at where I was headed if I kept doing what I’d been doing, and how I could avoid that.
The thing about burnout is that it gives us warnings but we usually ignore them.
I’m as guilty of that as the next person, and looking back I realise that there were plenty of signs I was headed for danger. The headaches behind my eyes, the little amount of sleep I was getting as I got home late and had to leave really early, the fact I often missed meals. It all added up to one big case of burnout, but if I’d noticed the symptoms I could have prevented it. I wasn’t coping though, and I wasn’t taking care of myself properly. Between often working 6 or 7 days a week, travelling for hours each day, and barely being able to pay for everything due to emergency tax I forgot to look after my mental well-being too.
I realised I needed to focus down and stop trying to have my fingers in all the pies
when I was barely able to hold onto one of them. This led me to leave my retail job, and later leave another job that was making me really unhappy and stressed. I think sometimes we’re so afraid of quitting things that we try to keep going regardless, but leaving behind things that were making me miserable was freeing. Too often we get trapped in a cycle of doing things out of necessity rater than joy, then add more things to our schedules to try balancing it out. It seems like a good idea as we’re taught to stick things out and not give up. Keep calm and carry on. When you’ve got more on your mental plate than you can carry though, you start to struggle.
The first thing to do when you’re feeling burnt out is take a break.
I mean it – a real, total, complete break. Even if it’s just for a day or two, take some time where you don’t have to think about work, or the things stressing you out, or come up with a plan. If you really can’t take a few days then at least an evening. Just chill out, read or watch a film, go for a walk, or simply curl up in your bed fort with some music. Whatever you do make sure it’s not stressful or difficult. When you get to break point your mind and your body just need a rest. This helps you to clear your head, recharge, and hopefully start to feel a little better. It might be ‘inconvenient’ for you to take some time out right now, but the alternative is that you stretch yourself even thinner, and trust me it’s more inconvenient making a bad mistake or ending up in hospital because of burnout. Make the time to look after yourself now before it’s too late.
The next step is figuring out what got you to this point in the first place.
Make a list of everything you’ve got going on right now. Make it specific and detailed; don’t just write work, write each of your projects and responsibilities at work, and any other factors like a difficult colleague or the horrid commute. Make this list for all areas of your life, even the ones which you don’t immediately think are stressing you out. Do you have a pet? Even if you love them taking care of them is another responsibility on your plate. The goal here is to get a clear picture of what your life looks like so you can figure out what is important, what you can stop doing or change, and also where the stress is likely coming from. It might help you to put things in categories, so you can easily see if one area of your life is bringing in most of the stress.
Now give yourself another break.
Seriously, going through and working out everything that is stressing you out is pretty, well stressful! Take 10-20 minutes and dance around the room, go for a walk, or make a nice snack. You’ve done well so far and it’s important to be gentle with yourself. When you come back from your break begin to look at any obvious areas where stress is coming from, or patterns in your life. Is work always getting you down? Do you hate housework?
Once you’ve figured out where the stress is coming from it’s time to prioritise.
There will be some areas of your life that are non-negotiable. You probably need to do some kind of work to bring in an income, and some level of housework is probably a good idea too (I know, sorry…) But there are probably things which you can drop, delegate, or alter how you do them. If commuting to work every morning is a major source of your stress can you start and finish work later, or find a different route to get there? If that’s not an option or you feel like it won’t really fix the problem, maybe it’s time to find a new job closer to home. This step is difficult, as you may feel like you have to keep juggling all the balls and don’t want to give anything up, but you don’t. Be ruthless; it’s ok to put your health and well-being before other things. In fact it’s necessary to keep going.
When you’ve got your plan together you can start to move forward.
It’s a great feeling to get back to work after some time out, but it’s important not to slip back into your old ways. Keep an eye on your plate, check in with yourself regularly and if you feel like you’re starting to get too stressed out redo the steps above to help you refocus. Of course a bit of stress can be a good thing, but there’s a line, and you need to realise where your own personal threshold is to keep healthy. As I’ve said before everyone has mental health and we all need to look after it. It’s good to be productive, but it’s even better to have good mental well-being and avoid burnout.
Have you experienced burnout, or managed to avoid it? Please share thoughts or tips in the comments, and if you know someone who is always stressed out maybe link them to this post as a gentle nudge in the right direction 🙂