How to nurture yourself when burnout takes its toll
Let’s start this post with a brief pause for thought around how you are feeling in this very moment. Anxious? Overwhelmed? Tired and emotional? Over-stretched? A little out of sorts? A lot out of sorts? Unable to sleep? Irritable more often than not? At dis-ease with your life? Then take a moment to really dig into just how long you’ve been feeling this way. The last few days? The last six months? As long as you can remember? Then, take stock of how you spend most of your time, let’s start with what you’ve been doing over the past week. If it helps take a look through your diary, or planner and mentally review your activities of the last seven days. What did you do? What did you achieve? What did you complete, or not quite finish? What went completely out of the window? My guess is that you were pretty busy each and every day, be that working for someone else, building your own empire, chasing around for – and after – your family. All in all, being pretty much here, there and everywhere. Is this all making you feel pretty stretched thin, like there’s not much fuel left in the fire? Well, you’re not alone, and depending on how long this has been going on for, it could be that you are suffering the effects of mental, emotional and spiritual burnout.
I’ve been talking about the effects of overwhelm, stress and burnout with increasing regularity over the last year or so. I can recount endless horror stories from friends and loved ones, or old colleagues who feel completely rung out. A large proportion of my clients reach out to me displaying symptoms of burnout for a long time before they’ve taken the step to do work alongside a professional to do something about it. The thing about burnout and overwhelm is that we put up with the symptoms and warning signs for far too long before we do. It could be that we’re not aware what those signals are, putting a brave face on things, fearing that if we that we can’t handle the pace then we’ll get ‘found out’. Or, we may simply tell ourselves that we should toughen up. Believing that unless something dramatic happens that forces us to stop, or we get diagnosed with the physical or mental effects of nervous breakdown, then we have to put up and shut up – carrying on regardless of just how bad, sad or mad we may be feeling.
I have my own story of burnout – or should I say stories plural? I wish it was just one, but like so many of us, I didn’t recognise it when I was in it, or consciously ignored the fact that it was happening to me. It can be utterly terrifying and debilitating. You may not know upside from down, or right from wrong, and you certainly don’t trust your ability to make the right decisions. It can feel as though you will be letting everyone down unless you carry on regardless. On a personal level, I felt as if I was living life on a constant knife’s edge of anxiety. I was over-thinking, over-eating, over-working, over-drinking, and being involved with toxic people and toxic behaviour. It felt as though every day of my life had been an abyss of poor choices, and self-loathing. And the daily fear battle I was fighting around the impact have on my future was real. It was exhausting!
I’m sure you can identify some, if not all of it, as you’ve hit certain roadblocks in your life. Or maybe you’re in that space right now. It’s important to be aware that burnout isn’t just when you can’t pick yourself up off the floor, or when it’s gone so far that you need to seek professional help – although please do if you feel you need to. Burnout could be happening to you right now, but you’re putting it down to an unhealthy amount of stress in your life.
It’s incredibly important to emphasise at this point that burnout displays itself as an indicator that you can’t handle it. Or that it could signify that you’ve failed in some way because you are feeling such huge amounts of vulnerability. In fact, that’s so far from the truth it’s been lapped on the circuit – twice! No, the fact that you are in this space means you are a human being, with human emotions, and human feelings, simply trying to do the best that you can do, but doing that for everyone else rather than looking out for your full-self first.
What is burnout?
In this post from Psychology Today, it states that
“Burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to:
physical and emotional exhaustion
cynicism and detachment
feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment”
What are the symptoms of burnout:
You may be feeling some of these symptoms, you may be feeling them all. It may be something that has become so part of your every day life, that you just haven’t considered the impact it’s having long term:
Lethargy – feeling tired, or without energy most of the time – leading to chronic fatigue
Sleeping too much
The inability to concentrate
Loss of appetite, or over-eating (mindlessly consuming)
Any kind of dependent or addictive behaviour: alcohol, drugs, sex, eating
Constant headaches, colds, or illnesses that won’t shift
Physical symptoms; chest pain, headaches, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), skin conditions (psoriasis, acne, rosatia)
Feeling constant tension or irritability that leads to anger
Feelings of despair and hopelessness
Putting on the oxygen mask first
This is where the idea of nurture and self care comes into play. It’s my number one goal when I am working with any of my clients, and the place we always start from when getting to that place where life that feels full of creativity and vitality. You see, the thing is that however much it feels as though we need to spend our time looking out for every one else first, this is actually detrimental. The secret to being that superwoman (or man) is to actually make sure that you look after yourself first. That way, when you are in full power you have more energy, health and capacity you are so much more able to be of service to other people, by being of service to yourself.
Here’s 15 questions (plus a bonus question at the end) for you to work through, which are designed to help you identify where – and how – you can take the time to put on your oxygen mask. So grab a pen and paper and work through each one:
In which area(s) of your life are you aware that you need to slow down?
Who are you giving all your time and energy away to?
Where do you need more adventure, excitement and creativity in your life?
How do you want to feel more often?
What are those things that you wish you could more of / less of?
What does self-care mean to you?
What would you do to make yourself feel good / happy / relaxed / cared for if you had all the time and resources in the world?
What does having fun mean to you?
What can you do when you are at your absolute best?
What’s the 1 degree shift needed to spend more time on your own self care?
What can you do to make sure you get better sleep and relaxation?
Be completely honest with yourself, even if it’s really tough: What can you give up, let go of, stop doing?
What can you start doing to honour and nurture yourself?
Who can you get to help?
What commitment are you going to make to ensure that your self-care is honoured?
How will you celebrate taking the first step towards putting your oxygen mask on?