Q: How do you recover from burnout?
A: I would start with getting curious about what’s going on beneath the surface of these feelings of burnout. We might feel burnout for a variety of reasons, each with a different solution. We can find relief from some forms of burnout by simply giving ourselves a day off, while other forms of burnout might be calling us to totally reshape our lives from the ground up. So let me pose a few questions for us to ponder together…
First, can you pin-point the areas of your life where you are feeling the most burned out? Once you can identify them, what’s your emotional relationship to those parts of your life? For each, you might ask: Is this something I genuinely love, but I’m just currently feeling worn down? Or is this something I’m doing more out of a sense of obligation, a feeling of “should” and “ought to”, and I’m really feeling sick of the whole thing? Those are two pretty different forms of burnout and probably require different solutions.
If you’re feeling burned out on something you genuinely love & care about, what might be needed is some version of stepping back, taking a break, getting a new perspective, and coming back to it from a break with a fresh set of eyes & a fresh feeing of renewed energy. For instance, I genuinely love this coaching work that I do. Every now & again, however, I get burned out on it (especially the marketing & business side of it). But I never have the feeling that I want to completely throw my hands up & quit. Deep down, I love it too much. Instead, I just need to step back for awhile. This could look like giving yourself a day off & spending that day doing something that truly nourishes you… that refills your own cup so that you actually have something to offer others. Maybe that means temporarily putting aside certain aspects of your work or responsibilities that you’re just feeling sick of & focusing on other aspects for awhile, knowing that you’ll come back to those others parts soon enough. Maybe that means a short vacation, a kind of mental and spiritual retreat where you remember what’s really important and rekindle that enthusiasm you feel for this thing you love.
On the other hand, perhaps there are things causing burnout that you don’t have that feeling of love & care for… things that are a part of your life more out of a sense of duty & obligation.. a feeling of “should.” If these feelings are present, it may be worth taking a deeper look at your relationship to these tasks. You might start by asking yourself: Is this REALLY my responsibility? Or, is ALL OF IT my responsibility? Have I taken on certain burdens that are really not mine to carry? (Or at least, I’m not meant to carry them all alone?) One emotional clue that might help you discover that you’ve taken on more than you’re actually responsible for is any feelings of resentment. If you really RESENT having to do something that is causing you to feel burned out, it may point to the fact that you’re not really meant to shoulder this burden.. especially not shoulder it alone. If any of this is ringing true for you, it may be time to set some important boundaries for yourself about how you spend your precious time & energy.
Focus on whatever seems to be the greatest source of burnout for you right now. How can you set a new boundary or limit on how much of your energy you will give to this task? Where can you draw a line that says.. “I will now be willing to give my energy up to THIS POINT, but after that, I need to step back.” Perhaps this new limit can also be accompanied by asking for more help, or requesting that others take a more active role. If your new limits and boundaries are met with resistance and push back, maybe it’s time to completely rethink or renegotiate your relationship to this aspect of your life. I reached this point several years ago in my former career as a high school English teacher. I loved teaching & my students in many ways, but I reached a point of unsustainable burnout and I simply had to walk away from that career. It was an incredibly hard decision at the time, but with the hindsight of 5 years later, it turned out to be one of the best decision I’ve made in my entire life. I was no longer willing to put up with that level of burnout, so I decided to choose an entirely new path for myself. And I’m so glad I did.
Without knowing the specifics of your feeling of burnout, I can’t give some easy prescription for solving it. But I hope these questions shed some light on what might really be going on with your burnout and point towards some strategies to either give yourself a much needed break or renegotiate your sense of boundaries with whatever is causing the burnout.