On Burnout

Hey Sweet Mo Family!

I just got back in town after almost an entire week of rest and relaxation on Orcas Island. Amy, my Mom, and I camped at gorgeous, serene, Moran State Park. It was my first time there, and I loved everything about the San Juan Islands: The misty ferry ride, birds chirping after drizzling rain, hiking under the canopy of old growth forests, crawling around on the most massive fallen logs. So, so good.

And, I’m excited to be back! Let me tell you, I love what I do so much that I have a hard time peeling myself away. I thrive when my schedule is packed, and I’m immersed in my work. Although it’s hard to be gone, over the past few years, I’ve realized the importance of scheduling rest breaks into my life.

See, there’s no shame in being in love with what you do, but like any sustained romance, it takes work to keep the flame alive. Like most successful relationships, much of that work is preventative, and it’s work you do on yourself. Without consistent and individualized self-care, a love affair with your job can lead to burnout. Believe me, I’ve been there and it’s not pretty… nor does it make me an effective leader, trainer, manager, or spouse.

One common misconception about burnout is that it’s time to drop what you’re doing completely. That being burnt out means that it’s you need to move on or find a new career. This is especially challenging to imagine beyond while you’re in the thick of it, especially if you’ve lived there for a while. According to researchers at Stanford, “beating burnout is not just a matter of reducing the number of negative [aspects of a job or workplace]. Indeed, sometimes there is not a lot you can do about the negative aspects of work. Instead, it’s often more useful to think about increasing the number of positives, and of building the opposite of burnout, engagement. When burnout is counteracted with engagement, exhaustion is replaced with enthusiasm, and bitterness with compassion, and anxiety with efficacy.”1

So, what can you do to avoid burnout, or to begin to overcome it? That practice is something that is unique to you, what you love, what gives you energy and zest for life. Here are a few things that are part of my self care practice:

  1. I work out regularly and move throughout the day. Okay, I bet you totally guessed that this would be at the top of my list. A 2013 study exploring the impact of consistent aerobic exercise on people with occupational burnout found that increased exercise over the course of 12 weeks “reduced overall perceived stress as well as symptoms of burnout and depression” among participants. Not only that, but participants reported that their “mood states improved considerably” after just one exercise session. 2  In my own life, there’s no question.  If I go without a workout or some physical activity for more than a couple days, I can feel my stress level rising and anxiety kicking in.  If I can’t afford to get in a full hour long workout, I get on the battle ropes for 10 to 20 minutes and walk away with a new lease on the day.
  2. I do something I love, because I love it everyday. It’s so amazing to get lost in the enjoyment of doing something. This doesn’t have to be huge. Some evenings, when I’m exhausted and on my bike commuting home, I pull over and put on my current favorite playlist, pump my pedals to the beat, and use the music to fuel the rest of my journey home. It’s simple, but it turns a bummer ride into a great time. What’s something simple that you can do like, right now, that you love?
  3. I eat regularly. This sounds so simple, but it is HUGE. I was always the kind of person who could get completely absorbed in a project and totally forget to eat…even if that project was boring. As the day progressed, I’d become more and more exhausted, I’d have a headache, and get grumpy just in time to go home to my wonderful partner. That doesn’t work. Not to mention what it feels like to live that way everyday. Now, I eat lunch and keep plenty of snacks on hand. Nuts and fruit are always go-tos.  
  4. I spend time alone. I guess this is one that is more of an individual preference. As squarely seated on the introverted end of the spectrum, I recharge by being alone. It doesn’t mean I don’t love people.  Actually, alone time helps me love people more, and give more of myself when we are together. It is essential, and a luxury that I create time for every single day. Sometimes that means reading by myself for two hours, other times it’s during my workout, or it’s my 15 minute early morning commute. I rarely compromise around it. It’s that crucial. Maybe you’re an extrovert, or you’d prefer to be social to recharge. There are ways to schedule this in, too. Workout in a small group class, start weekly potluck lunch group at work, carpool. If you work from home, move to a coffee shop or to a co-working space when you need to be around other people.

How do YOU prevent burnout? What are some aspects of your self-care practice? What would you like to incorporate that you aren’t already doing? What should everyone do more of? I’d love to hear from you. If you’d like to talk more about this, or if you need some help strategizing, send me an email or chat with me at the studio before or after class.

Hope to see you very soon!