Career Stuff, Productivity & Motivation, Well Being & Mental Health

How to Deal with Burnout

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 🙂

14 thoughts on “How to Deal with Burnout”

  1. Lovely post and I agree with your tips. I have experienced burnout a few times to a point that I started getting anxiety attacks (it was really bad). I have since learned what I call ‘the art of doing nothing’ aka breaks and it’s working well for me 😄

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Lapaka,
      Thanks for sharing your experience. I totally agree doing nothing sometimes is important, but often difficult for people to do without feeling guilty. Do you have any tips? 🙂
      Have a lovely day,
      Jenny

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Rhiannon,
      Thanks for taking the time to comment 🙂
      I’d definitely recommend trying out the steps to avoid burnout. When I was at uni I was in a similar position myself, and the times when I just took a break and then looked at what needed doing really helped! What course are you studying? Good luck with everything and let me know how you get on using the tips.
      Have a great day,
      Jenny

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m doing early childhood studies with psychology so not the hardest course 🙂 a good break always helps with getting back on track x

        Like

        1. It doesn’t have to be ‘the hardest course’ for you to get burnt out though! I think sometimes we minimise all that we’re doing in order to tell ourselves that we should keep going. All courses have their challenges and parts that may be difficult for us. I did Creative Writing at uni, which I loved, but still had 1 module which was a real struggle for me!
          Hope you have a happy and productive week 🙂
          Jenny x

          Liked by 1 person

  2. This blog improves! Sometimes idleness is ok. Not just being asleep. Whatever it takes to switch off. If silence and meditation just make your head explode with errant thoughts, it might not be the path to contentment and health right now. Meditation is originally a way to transcend reality anyway, and if you’re ready to achieve that enlightened lucidity by going straight through it then props to you. But sometimes I think its bad CBT, putting yourself on such a journey when you’re stressed and delicate, risks a hell ride as Wesley Willish would say. Idleness (not just sleep) is not a sin but part of a balance with leisure and work… I know Ted talks are often full of themselves and big money and no follow through on there delightful fixations, but here’s one I recommend that I heard about relaxing being different from busy busy leisure time in https://www.ted.com/talks/ricardo_semler_radical_wisdom_for_a_company_a_school_a_life?language=en

    Them Sundays used to be days of rest. No matter what you’re grasp on metaphysics, it is quite severe how rampantly busy we are these days. There is always something going on, something to do. There’s no time allotted to just pause, maybe reflect. There sure used to be look: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEnQ7cNoJaY

    Does the listing of all the things you’ve got going on, all the annoying things too work? For more than planning. I bet there are some people who had better never see your lists! I find actually sketching them works too. Whoever’s riled you up into a state you don’t want to be, when you get a moment draw a little caricature. As a device it really helps you through, clarifies things, and you will have done something and feel like it because you’ve defined them there even if its only for you. Don’t believe you you can’t draw… If you can hold a pen and write you can make shapes, and drawing the inspector on the train with his big stupid face getting snide about little things that don’t matter… I really do find it helps me deal with the bitterness and rise above it. Best not to show them the picture though.

    Its a funny worry of mine that rich tossers who have themselves conveniently convinced they are ‘hardworking wealth creators of the sort Robin Hood would aid’, would lap this up. Tony and Cherie Blair and Martin Shkrelli would read this article and think yes, they really need to relax and be idle and not do any real work. But then the world would be a better place if that happened. And everything can be wilfully misinterpreted. Difficult problem though. How do we make sure the articles about being comfortable and accepting and forgiving with ourselves address the depressed and self-loathing, and don’t affirm the real smug bastards.

    Like

    1. Thanks for your comment! It’s great to spark such a thoughtful response 🙂
      I think in the end it comes down to everyone doing the best they can to own their life and live purposefully, and do what we can to encourage and support others in that endeavor. If we want to win against the big guys trying to keep everyone down then we need to start a revolution piece by piece, person by person. I don’t necessarily believe that huge, screaming demonstrations and protests always work as they’re often dismissed by the masses as little more than ‘vandals’ and ruffians making lots of noise. But if we can change people’s hearts and minds by helping them accept their own truths and realising that they fit differently in the world than the elite/government/machine want us to be, then we can effect change. I have been one of the depressed and self-loathing, so I hope I can express that struggle and the empathy of knowing it’s not as simple as it sounds in my writing. If we talk about the tough stuff more, then we can break it down not in so much as trying to ‘cure’ it but just to say ‘yes this exists, and that’s ok, and we want to try and help everyone to live the best life they can working with their unique challenges, not against them’. But I’m just one girl, I can’t change the world…

      Like

  3. Hi Jenny!
    I have recently started a blog on mental health and the music industry. Burnout is something that we talk about quite regularly, so this post was really insightful 🙂 thankyou!

    Beth

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve been following your blog Beth, it’s really great what you’re doing and I’m so interested to see how your project progresses! I’m glad you found it helpful 🙂
      Thanks for taking the time to comment.
      Have a great evening,
      Jenny

      Like

  4. Hi, I wanted to invite you over to a blogging event I’m holding on a monthly basis, it would be absolutely lovely having you partake as well. It consists of you documenting your life every month through your memories.
    I already posted my writing about my month and I have the rules here: https://thoughtsofasociallyanxiousextrovert.wordpress.com/my-monthly-memories-monthly-blogging-event/ It’d be lovely reading one of your My Monthly Memories posts. Thanks again and I hope you have a wonderful day!

    Basant She
    https://thoughtsofasociallyanxiousextrovert.wordpress.com/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Basants,
      Thanks for inviting me to join your blogging event, it sounds fab! Count me in, I have a month round up post scheduled anyway 🙂
      Have a great day,
      Jenny

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for writing this! I can absolutely relate and with starting a new job in two weeks while I still have another one I’m so scared this will happen to me but your post really made me think x

    mecupcakesandtea.wordpress.com

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Kirsty,
      thanks for taking the time to comment. Wow good luck with your transition, make sure you take time for yourself and check in with how you’re doing, and I’m sure you’ll do great!
      I’m really glad you found my post helpful 🙂
      Have a lovely evening,
      Jenny x

      Liked by 1 person

Comments, stories and responses

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.