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Kicking burnout to the curb




Recently I found myself in a place I have seldom been – and not a happy place. I have been burned out, and not only burned out, but almost to the point of total exhaustion.

 

How did I know I was there?


Well, here are some telltale signs:

 

·      I couldn’t sleep. I was averaging about two to three hours a night because I’d go to bed, immediately fall asleep, but wake up two or so hours later, and stay up for the rest of the night. I was exhausted. I could fall asleep but not stay there. Although everyone over the age of two occasionally suffers from sleep issues, the intensity of this was new to me, so I knew it was significant.

·      I love my job. But suddenly, I didn’t. I didn’t have patience for things that would otherwise not annoy me. I dreaded the beginning of the workweek. It was so abnormal for me it caught my attention.

·      At the end of the week, I couldn’t wind down. Nothing I did seemed to help me relax and unwind. In fact, in some ways, my stress just got worse.

·      I was incredibly unmotivated, increasingly cynical and negative. This is not me, at all, and was a huge sign I was not myself. I also felt defeated. I couldn’t motivate myself to do what needed to be done, and then I gave myself a hard time because I didn’t get those things done. I felt helpless and trapped in my burnout.

·      I had a lot of self-doubt and feelings of failure, some because of my motivation problem. I felt alone, like no one understood me, or even wanted to. And this was despite the love and care from those around me who I know do love me.

 

It wasn’t pretty.

 

I know why I was burned out, but that didn’t help much. Many people like myself are still suffering some anxiety and stress from our recent difficult years. Added to the complications of the world scene, it can feel really distressing. For myself, several years without a significant vacation (yes, I do know that’s a mark of privilege, and I am so grateful for it), increasing and changing job stress, pressure and overwork, health issues with a loved one, and mismanaging life’s challenges caused me to be more than normally “fried.”

 

So what do we do when we are just at the end of our rope, and it’s starting to fray?

 

Here are some ways to beat burn out, or at least to defeat it for a time.

 

·      Consider “microvacations.” An article in Well+Good (Feb. 23, 2002) caught my attention. It discusses the advantages of short, inexpensive and easy breaks that give a much-needed breathing space. This can be a day trip somewhere, a day off in which you do only what you want and have no commitments, a change in routine that shakes things up a bit, or even adding something unusual and relaxing to your regular life (like a special infused oil or a different food or take-out).

·      Think about what you can change. Sometimes burnout is a sign you need to fix some life issue or problem. For instance, you could make a work change that would make your life better, or you could find a compromise for a distressing life situation.

·      Add creativity to your schedule. Even if it’s just coloring in an adult coloring book (which nearly everyone, including my art-challenged self can do), do something creative. One of the Sanctuary team, a gifted artist, did some amazing paintings in the early months of Covid as a way of maintaining calm and centering.

·      Exercise. I am an exercise fanatic, rarely missing more than one day in a week (and trying not to even miss that day), but I found my familiar routine didn’t help. Adding some different activities helped tremendously. Fresh air and sunshine, which should be in increasingly good supply with the advent of spring, are also restorative.

·      Be mindful. Mindfulness is all about regulating your breathing and being intensely aware of your feelings and senses in the moment, without judgment. You can meditate, pray, practice simple breathing exercises (check YouTube for hundreds of them – search “mindful breathing”), or try muscle relaxation techniques (search “mindful muscle relaxation). Or try yoga or Tai Chi. Moving helps.

·      Find ways to enhance your sleep. This was the biggest challenge for me. I found that when I woke in the middle of the night my immediate inclination was to reach for my reading device, but in the long run, it appears that not reading was better for my sleep habits. I also added some chamomile tea at bedtime and worked hard on making my bedtime routines, well, routine. For me, sleeping better was the last thing to come back.

·      Find support. One of the classic signs of burnout is feeling alone and isolated, which is easy to feel in our busy culture. I found that if I added in some regular, scheduled connections with friends and family to my schedule, that really helped.

 

A recent article in The New York Times (Feb. 15, 2022, “Your Body Knows You’re Burned Out”) found that burnout cannot be fixed simply by good self-care, which, as a therapist who talks about self-care to her clients all the time, I already knew. In some ways, that just makes it worse – you are doing all the right things, and yet you’re burning out. That can feel like you are failing in that area, too. Sometimes what’s necessary is to fix problem areas of your life to prevent burnout from reoccurring. Even small changes can help.

 

For me, a four-day no-contact, isolating mini-vacation, some long-overdue job changes and a little bit of hopeful planning ahead to better times helped me find my mojo again. For you it may be different, but you don’t have to live with burnout. Find what works for you, and, if we can help, let us know. We’d be glad to.

 

At Sanctuary Christian Counseling we help grieving individuals, distressed kids and teens and couples in conflict find peace, solutions and connection.

 

Sanctuary Christian Counseling

9974 Molly Pitcher Highway, Suite 4

Shippensburg, PA 17257

 

717-200-3168

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