The ultimate guide to burnout recovery
Burnout occurs when you’ve been experiencing high levels of stress for long periods of time. It is not necessarily the stress that comes from working long hours for a few days to meet a deadline and then sleeping a lot on the weekend to recover. It comes from months, or even years of your body being on flight or fight response and basically doing much more than our minds and bodies can take.
If you feel like you are constantly stressed and exhausted, you are not achieving your goals and you don’t quite feel like yourself, you are not alone.
In fact, a few weeks ago, I found myself in this exact situation. I’d been working really hard both professionally and at home for over nine months; I was exhausted, stressed, de-motivated and started questioning the point of life. My stomach hurt constantly no matter what I ate and everyday felt like I hadn’t slept at all, even if I managed to shut my eyes for a few hours. I tried vitamin supplements, food sensitivity tests, blood tests, you name it and the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with me.
It all came to a halt on a Sunday morning when I was sitting on the terrace trying to relax by listening to a guided meditation. It was a beautiful sunny day and I just couldn’t relax, then it hit me like a ton of bricks – “I can’t keep going this way and I cannot work until I fix this, whatever this is”. The scary part is that I did not see it coming.
I am an accredited coach, I read about self-improvement all the time, I know the theory, yet I had no idea how bad my stress levels had gotten. My body, mind and soul just said no more, I now know that stress is what was causing my exhaustion and health issues.
Luckily, I was able to fully recover within five weeks and I will share with you how I did it.
When you get to the point of burnout, no amount of meditation, breathing, eating healthy, or exercising will make a significant impact if you are still experiencing the same stressors.
The one thing that will be most effective at that point is taking time off. It sounds counterintuitive, yet taking yourself out of the environment that is causing the stress to fix what needs fixing is the best way to recover quickly. Use your vacation days, if you are employed look into your company’s sick policy – a few weeks are enough to recover if taken consecutively.
Here is guide of what to do when you take time off:
It took me a few weeks to feel like myself again, the first few days of time off were tough as I was still experiencing the symptoms of prolonged stress. Be kind and patient with yourself and remember that it will get better.
Let go of the negative feelings
I experienced a lot of guilt and fear during the first few days I was off which just made it harder to recover. I had to work hard to internalise the fact that I wasn’t well and that I deserved to have time off. Eventually, the guilt dissipated.
Fix your sleep
If you’ve been stressed, it is likely you haven’t been sleeping well. I thought I had good sleep habits but it was not until burnout that I found how much more I needed to rest to feel good the next morning. This was the number one thing that made me feel better.
- Get blackout curtains/blinds if there is too much light in your room.
- Go to bed at the same time every day, even if you don’t fall asleep right away, make it a habit to go to bed at the same time. Set up an alarm on your phone an hour before you want to sleep and start getting prepared – you’d be surprised how long it may be taking you to get ready.
- Put your phone and any electronic devices away one hour before you go to bed. The light on the devices messes up with your internal clock and prevents you from falling asleep quickly.
- Reduce or eliminate your caffeine intake – remember that chocolate, tea and other foods may contain caffeine so it’s better not to have them before noon. I used to drink two cups of coffee and I replaced one of them with decaffeinated coffee, and even that small change made a huge difference.
- Reduce alcohol intake – especially before bed, even one glass of wine can make a difference on how rested you feel after sleeping.
- Go outside at least once a day – sunlight will help your body keep consistent circadian rhythms – all of the processes that need to take place so your body knows when to go to bed and when it needs to wake up.
If you don’t have one, start an exercise routine. It doesn’t need to be strenuous, a brisk walk outside will help. It is also good if you are experiencing anxiety or negative feelings.
Simplify your life
I made a list of the activities that are taking energy away and the ones that are adding energy to my life. Then I took the energy sucking tasks and either simplified them or eliminated them altogether. For example, instead of plastic food containers that need to be washed by hand, I purchased glass containers that can go on the dishwasher. I realised even little things add up and create stress.
Say no with kindness and elegance
One of the reasons I found myself in burnout land was the fact that I said yes to almost anything, when I made a list of the things that were a must in my life – like eating and showering – I realised that the to do list is not as scary as I thought and that life doesn’t have to be busy to the point where I don’t enjoy it.
Another reason that got me to this point was wanting to do everything on my own – what I call the superwoman syndrome – once I realised I could accept help and that I was worthy of help and support my stress levels started decreasing more and more.
And finally, get support – talk to your coach, friends or family about your experience and allow them to help you through the process. Sometimes, even just talking about the situation will make you feel better.
My biggest lesson from this experience was a simple yet powerful one – If my cup is not full I cannot expect to fill another’s cup.
Now that I feel better I have vowed to take great care of myself, to take breaks, to be brave and say no with love and kindness and to monitor my stress levels closely.
Disclaimer – I am not a healthcare professional and in this article I’ve outlined only my personal experience. If you need help, please consult your doctor.
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