Herbert Freudenberger coined the term ‘burnout’ in his 1980 book Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. He defined it as the exhaustion, cynicism, and loss of motivation of an individual especially when their actions or relationships “fail to produce the desired result.” Sound familiar?
If you’ve recently gone through burnout, you know what it looks like — to-do lists unticked, close to zero motivation, exhaustion, and all-around frustration mostly at yourself. One day you’re fine and dandy and then suddenly you’re spiraling, listless, and anxious.
But although burnout is not some one-time illness you experience only once in your life, you can take measures to prevent yourself from falling head-first into its trap again and again. Think of these steps on how to deal with burnout as first aid to your mental health. Once you realize you’re on that path again, do a quick assessment with the items on this list.
Confront the emotions
Knowing why you’re experiencing burnout and acknowledging it is an important first step. Zero in on the cause. Is it too much work and not enough breaks? Is it because you’ve kept so many emotions bottled up and they’re wreaking havoc inside you? Burnout is messy. Sometimes it’s coupled with crippling imposter syndrome and feeling helpless through it all. But don’t avoid it. Analyze it. Go through it. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- Which specific emotions I’m feeling right now?
- Have I been taking care of myself as best as I can?
- What things do I really enjoy doing and why am I not doing more of that?
Stop putting pressure on yourself
When you notice the anxiety kicking in and the walls slowly caving, it’s time to get up and take a breather. We’ve all got different natures of work in varying stress levels but we’re also all human. Stressful work coupled with a stressful routine is a fast pass to burning out. Think of it this way, you can’t give 100% of yourself to work or studies if you aren’t feeling 100% fine. The world won’t burn down if you take breaks or decline new projects.
Spend more time doing what you love
It’s difficult to go out in the middle of the pandemic without fearing for your safety but there are safer alternatives available. During your breaks — and that means strictly no work on weekends — explore what you like. There are painting classes available online. You can teach yourself embroidery, cross-stitching, or knitting at home. Not much of an artist? You can try your hand at cooking. Even video games are a great way to blow off some steam and get your mind off things and playing with pets is always a good idea. The point is to discover doing what you love so the next time you’re stressed you can step back and do it.
Break down your tasks
You can approach this in different ways. For example, you can create a schedule of tasks you’ll be doing for the morning — check emails, complete one easy task, do a little work on one of the more difficult ones. In the afternoon you can switch to a different easy task and build on the difficult ones. You can also concentrate on one small task and break it down into even smaller assignments so you bring back that sense of accomplishment. Break down your tasks into smaller tasks so you won’t feel overwhelmed. Cross them off a physical to-do list too for that extra flourish.
Most of the time burnouts happen because you keep saying ‘yes’ to a lot of things. Taking on another project even though you’re swamped or not designating a certain time to stop working so you’re constantly pulling overtime. Set boundaries for yourself and for others. Don’t take work calls past 7 PM and strictly no working on the weekends.
Double down on self-care
When you’re at your lowest, that’s all the more reason you should focus on self-care. Each one of us has different ideas for self-care but there are certain things that remain similar. For one, we need to keep moving. Even 10 minutes of light exercise can make a difference in your mood and well-being if done consistently. Put your gadgets down and get enough sleep. Call a friend and have a day out. Burnout means you’re wounded and you need time to heal. Self-care is that crucial process of healing.
Talk about it with someone you trust
You don’t have to go through tough times alone. Tap a few trusted friends, a family member, or even a healthcare professional. Sometimes we get this idea that we can do everything on our own and it’s even more disappointing when you find out you can’t after all. The pressure builds once again but if you’ve got more than two arms to lift it up, the burden becomes lighter.
Lastly, cultivate a healthy mindset
Your attitude is everything and your mindset determines how you will see the world. If you keep looking at your life through a lens of negativity, the negative aspects will stand out. The same goes for keeping things positive. We should only pay attention to the things that should motivate us. Our negative thoughts only add fuel to the flames which, let’s admit, more often than not is our own doing. Get rid of toxic mindsets. Believe you can get through this difficult season and watch the world bloom around you.
Related to this article? Read more from 8List Breathe here.