First, what is burnout?
According to an article written by Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Lawrence Robinson on Help Guide called, Burnout Prevention and Treatment, “Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.”
Why Fran Faces Burnout.
One thing I have always struggled with is taking a break. I know taking a break is good for my mental health. And yes, I know it is important to allow myself time to rejuvenate. However, sometimes, it feels even more exhausting to separate myself from my work.
Overtime, between managing a full-time job of running a nonprofit organization and a full-time master’s program, I get mentally, physically, and emotionally drained. Add all of that to waking up at 5am to read new books, research, and articles to stay up to date on trends within the mental health field, I often forget to turn my brain off. Even in the car, I listen to podcasts on mental health, health, and business. My life is consumed by learning and producing, which I absolutely love. But, even when you love every single thing that you do, you can still burnout.
For me, burnout looks like laying in bed longer than usual. It looks like eating more processed foods and skipping workouts. Burnout reduces my desire to read, study, or work. I often stare blankly at my to do list or computer screen trying to find a piece of energy to get me going. In fact, I even start to lose confidence in myself and my work. My depression sometimes takes control of my brain.
I often question if anyone relate?!
Well, if you can relate, fear not! I have developed my own burnout recovery plan to share with you! And some tips on how to create one that works well for you!
Fran’s Personal Burnout Recovery Plan:
One of the biggest pieces of my burnout recovery plan is clearing my calendar for 72 hours – with the exception of mandatory items (like school attendance or meetings). Over the 72 hours, each day I try to accomplish 1 very small task that is on my current to do list to silence the negative voice in my head telling me I am lazy or unproductive.
Step 1: Reaching out to friends.
I used to really disconnect from those around me when I start to burnout. I would hide in my room and binge-watch comfort shows (The Nanny and Friends, anyone?!) Now, I reach out to my friends. I live in different cities and states from many of my friends, so FaceTime and Zoom have become staples in staying connected. I prefer seeing someone’s face and hearing their tone rather than texting behind a screen, because it feels more genuine which improves my ability to connect with them. When I have the ability to see my friends in-person, I often schedule daily breakfast, coffee, lunch, or study dates. Forcing myself to be around people helps prevent my depression taking over.
Step 2: Prioritize My Work.
I am sure it is not surprising to hear that I often overwhelm myself with things to do. I must think I have some kind of superpower that allows me to accomplish more than humanly possible in 24 hours. Thus, I create a very long to do list of everything I want to accomplish. Any task, big or small, that has appeared in my head is written down. Then, I separate the list out into different sections.
- Section 1 is items with actual deadlines, not self-imposed deadlines. I organize this in chronological order to ensure I meet deadlines.
- Section 2 is items that are super important to me that make me feel accomplished when completed. I organize this chronologically by the self-imposed deadlines I created.
- Section 3 is items that are important but will not negatively impact my life or self-esteem if I do not complete right away. I organize this by ease – items that take less time and energy are often ranked higher.
- Lastly, Section 4 is long-term goals. These items are simply listed without any specific order. After splitting up the four sections, I create weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly goals that combine items from all the lists. I break down bigger projects into smaller milestones, such as outlines and rough drafts. Identifying my goals in an organized way helps to alleviate some of the overwhelming emotions I face.
Step 3: Update My Morning and Evening Routines.
My usual morning and evening routines often include new items added on as each day passes. Thus, my mornings and nights are consumed by too much external work, reducing the quantity and quality of internal work. To start, I usually go back to the basics. Food, water, and skincare. These are my necessities to feel good. Day 1 is just the basics – I cook, I track my water intake to ensure I consume 64oz of water, and I do my daily skincare routine. Then, each passing day for the next 5 days add 1 priority item. For example, my 5 priorities are: moving my body, reading, journaling, cleaning, and drinking tea. By restarting my routines slowly, I am able to mentally and physically slow down while re-introducing tasks that work as self-care / coping mechanisms.
Step 4: Sleep.
On the last day, I turn off my morning alarm and remove my phone from my bedroom. I sleep until my body naturally wakes up and feels ready to get out of bed. I do my morning tasks without checking the time or offering energy to other people and/or social media. And I go to bed when my body feels tired and ready to sleep. There is no concept of time or deadlines. I allow my body to naturally tune in with itself and the earth. This helps separate my addiction to production by deadlines and my ability to enjoy each piece of what I accomplish.
How Do You Make Your Own Plan?
I know what you are thinking: “This recovery plan sounds great, I will copy it!” No! Do not copy my plan, instead create your own. Your needs, your body, and your mental health are different than mine. What your body and mind crave may not be the same as what my body and mind crave. So, instead of copying my plan, you can copy the questions I asked myself when creating this plan:
- What am I feeling right now?
- Where are these feelings coming from?
- When I feel this way, what do I tend to do?
- What have been my priorities lately?
- When I prioritize this, what am I sacrificing?
- What small changes can I make to not sacrifice my productivity or myself?
- Listen to my body, what is it asking for?
- Listen to my mind, what does it need?
After answering these questions, I realized that my depressive symptoms increase when I experience burnout. I isolate myself and give in to the depression. I do not listen to my body or my mind’s needs; I just listen to the focus on production. I tie my work to what I produce. Then, I decided on 4 things I could do to help change my answers from “negative” to “positive.”
So, I challenge you to listen to yourself and create your own burnout recovery plan. You got this!