2020, which very quickly become 2021, was (hopefully) the most challenging year we will experience in our lifetime and it’s left us feeling frazzled, exhausted and burned out.
And it’s no surprise given that we have been under huge amounts of stress for an extended period of time, a textbook trigger for burnout.
We are shattered and every single person I speak to is saying that they’re finding it really hard to get motivated to do even the simplest things. And I’m right there with them.
As well as feeling unmotivated some are:
- feeling forgetful and distracted
- have difficulty concentrating
- taking less pride in their work
- less connected to their purpose and goals
- irritable and short tempered
- experiencing tension in professional and personal relationships
- noticing muscular aches, pains
- feeling exhausted, sleeping poorly and in some cases have insomnia
That’s what I call a ‘cortisol brain mush’ – very, very technical term, I know.
Cortisol is the hormone that our body produces when we are under stress, so after 12 months of the world being bonkers our bodies are flooded with it and our brains feel mushy. That’s why so many of us are experiencing these unpleasant physical, emotional and behavioural changes.
This coupled with the usual stresses and strains of work is A LOT for even the most resilient person to manage, hence 79% of employees have reported mild to moderate burnout.
I’ve spoken about the signs, symptoms and causes of burnout and what we can do to prevent it in detail, previously.
But what happens if we didn’t catch it in time? Burnout can be a bit of a silent assassin. And sometimes, even with the best intention in the world, it can creep up on us and BAM, we’re physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted before we realise.
So what then?
Everyone will need something a little different, but these are my top 9 tried and tested tips for burnout recovery.
Before you try and do anything take a pause, step back and allow yourself to rest.
Trying to push on through, despite how the world glamourises overworking and hustling, is the worst possible thing you can do. It’s is a slippery slope to chronic anxiety and even to depression. Trust me, I speak from experience.
Your brain and body need some down, so please give it to them.
2. Figure out the source of stress
Once you’ve caught your breath it’s important to figure what it was that caused the burnout.
You need to understand everything that’s been going on so you can start to fix it.
Burnout often stems from professional triggers, like high workloads, long hours or poor management. But we all know that life can come thick and fast, too. Things like personal relationships, caring for loved ones, studying, or just doing too much, for too long, can also leave us exhausted.
Each one of these things on their own would be stressful, but we’d probably be able to manage them and recover fairly quickly. But when they come all together, that’s when we feel the strain and cracks show.
3. Identify what you can do to remove/reduce these stressors
As you identify all the different things that pushed you towards burnout you can start to unpick them and look for things that you can immediately do to reduce, remove or reframe them.
Was it the sheer volume of work? Can you take something off your plate? Is there someone you could delegate/outsource some work to? Removing overwhelm and scaling back can have such a positive impact.
Perhaps you were trying to please everyone and over-committing? There are only so many hours in the day and we need to come up for air occasionally. What meetings or events can you cancel, postpone or ask someone else to take on for you? Having some white space in our calendar can bring a lot of relief.
Were you ‘pushing through’ too much and too often? Not listening to yourself when you’re tired will quickly lead to exhaustion. Can you schedule in regular downtime during the day? What about booking in proper breaks throughout the year?
Putting things in place to tackle the sources of stress that are within your control is a huge and empowering first step.
4. Get support and speak up
Doing all this alone can be really overwhelming and identifying all the different causes and solutions when your brain is suffering from ‘cortisol brain mush’ can be tough.
Try speaking to a trusted friend or a family member to brainstorm ways to remove stress. I also highly recommend getting some professional support. A therapist or a coach that’s an expert in burnout will be well placed to help you figure out not just the ‘what’ but the ’why’ behind your burnout.
We have been conditioned to define our worth by the jobs we do and by our productivity. That can leave us with some pretty wonky thoughts and feelings that really need to be addressed if you are to avoid burning out again in future.
And certain personality types are extra susceptible to burnout. If you’re a perfectionist, high achiever or have a tendency for pessimism then it will serve you well to address the beliefs that come along with them so you can recover fully and stay healthy.
5. Get back in the driver’s seat
We can feel like we have lost control and have no sense of power over our lives when we are burned out. Time is flying by and we can’t keep up.
With stress, everything feels a bit too much but with burnout, nothing feels quite enough and that emptiness leaves leave us feeling powerless.
You may not have had total control over what happened to bring you to this point, but you can take back control now:
Prioritise: When we are stressed prioritising can be really difficult but tools like the Eisenhower matrix are a helpful way for you to determine what you really need to do and where to focus your energy. Only work on the things that are truly urgent and important. Having clear goals will help you determine exactly what those things are. If they don’t move you closer and they don’t need to be done now….Let. Them. go.
Delegate: Do you really need to do everything yourself? Who could you pass things to, get help from, or outsource to? Doing this when we are anxious and stressed can be very difficult, especially for high achiever, perfectionist types but micromanaging everything and juggling ALL the balls will not enable you to recover. If you find this difficult, ask someone you trust to work through this with you.
Switch off outside of work: Desperate for some work-life balance? Then you need to start putting life first and leaving your work ‘in work’. At the end of your day do something that helps you switch off, it signals to your brain that you are done. A walk, a shower, a favourite song, a glass of wine. Whatever it is, make it a ritual and you will soon find it far easier to unwind.
6. Establish clear boundaries
Limit the time and energy you give to others is essential to nurturing your mental health.
Understanding exactly what you need to feel good and what you will/won’t accept from yourself and others is key. A good way to figure this out is by looking at the sources of stress and deciding where your cut off point is if these come up again.
Then you need to be bold and let others know what your boundaries are. Don’t expect people to be able to guess, they aren’t mind-readers. It can feel scary the first time, especially for us people pleasers, but you need to let go of the idea that boundaries are selfish. They aren’t.
Setting boundaries not only gives you the time and energy you need but also gives others permission to do what they need, too. It will have a positive, domino effect that will help us all be calmer and happier.
If you’re struggling to actively express your boundaries you can begin by reactively protecting them. Before agreeing to work or invitations, as yourself:
Do I really have the time and energy to do this?
Do I have the desire to do this?
Will I get any value from doing it?
If I say yes to this, what am I saying no to?
If it doesn’t feel right, then that’s a boundary and where you need to start saying ‘no’.
7. Don’t expect different results from the same situations
Although we can look to make changes that help reduce and remove stressors on a personal level, we need to be really honest with ourselves and look at whether those changes are going to have enough of a positive impact.
It’s all very well getting great at prioritising, seeing a therapist and coach and making healthy lifestyle choices but on some occasions, this just won’t be enough.
If there is a boss that’s constantly on your case, overbearing clients or toxic people in your life you may need something more.
Maybe it’s time to look for a new job or ask for a transfer. Perhaps you need to ditch the nightmare clients and refocus your business on things that you’re passionate about. Or maybe you need to phase people out of your life to protect yourself from their negativity.
If you’re doing everything you can and not getting out what you are putting in then a more significant change, like one of these, might be necessary.
At least consider your options. Just having a plan to make them happen, should you need to can bring a huge sense of relief.
8. Treat yourself as well as you treat others
Are you your biggest critic? Do you give yourself a much harder time than you would give anyone else?
So many of us do even when we are ‘healthy’ but as we burnout it can get much worse. Feelings of inadequacy become overbearing and it all seems pretty hopeless.
You’ve likely pushed through what most people would consider realistic of someone yet you’re chastising yourself for not having done enough.
This is where you need to cut yourself some slack. Show yourself some compassion. Let go of the need to be perfect and constantly productive.
Ask yourself would you speak to a friend like that? Would you expect the same from anyone else?
If the answer is no then you really, really need to show yourself the same kindness.
9. Prioritise self-care, consistently.
Yes, Self-Care is a phrase that makes so many of us wince but it really is the foundation of a healthy, balanced life.
You’ve made changes, you set boundaries, maybe you even have a therapist but life will still throw you curve balls and bring stressors your way from time to time.
So, it’s important that you’re looking after your basic physical and emotional needs on a daily basis. That will mean you are in the best state possible to deal with these things when they happen.
You must learn to complete your stress cycle, so you can get rid of all that brain mushing cortisol, and relax and recharge regularly..
This could look like:
- Getting enough sleep.
- Having downtime to relax and do nothing
- Spending quality time with loved ones
- Spending quality time alone.
- Moving your body daily
- Eating a nutritious, balanced diet
- Avoid too much coffee and alcohol
- Getting creative – paint, cook, draw, play music
- Doing things just for fun
Burnout can make it hard to think of things that we find fun. If you get stuck think back to child hood. What did you love doing? What would you get lost in for hours? Perhaps it’s riding a bike, baking, collecting stamps? Do whatever it is you think will help and do it regularly. Don’t wait until yourfeeling rubbish, make it part of your weekly routine.
And there you have it, my top tips to recover from burnout and stay healthy.
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