Strictly speaking, there isn’t a standard definition of burnout or how to diagnose it. If you pull out the common threads, burnout is a state of prolonged (and chronic) stress resulting from a chosen lifestyle.
I deliberately say ‘chosen’ as a reminder that the individual is not completely powerless and ‘lifestyle’ to expand burnout as more than just job-induced. We can burn out from toxic relationships, stagnation, stress from caring for family members and depression and so on.
Here’s my take to approaching burnout.
Focusing on Mindset
Burnout tells us something is not going right in our lives. That something needs to change. This is not always so easy because neuroscience tells us that our brains are hardwired to resist change. Yet it also tells us the brain is very adaptable and new behaviors can be learned if time and attention are given.
Cultivating a strong mindset requires us to reframe our thinking. This means finding new helpful interpretations of our situation and better ways of responding and behaving. It’s really about reworking our beliefs and values around our work and lifestyle.
Working on mindset stuff also means teaching the mind to rest. Our brain needs to rest just like the body. At rest, the brain is able to rejuvenate, ideate and create. Think about those times you had an ‘aha’ moment. Probably happened when you’re showering or daydreaming. Not when you’re half exhausted from the day’s work and chores.
Taking Care of the Body
When we burn out, our bodies take a toll. We feel worn out, tired, exasperated and often unable to cope. Without care, this can lead to physical illnesses, ailments and all sorts of nastiness.
Our bodies (and mind) are resilient but that doesn’t mean we don’t look after them. Burnout reminds us that we are on the edges and hitting our limits because we are after all human. That it’s time to really listen to our bodies before we completely fall apart.
Burnout can happen to us time and again, even when we are careful.
I know sometimes looking after ourselves isn’t always so simple, especially when you have so much on your plate. Sometimes basic care flies out the window. You forget time to eat, you lack sleep, you forgo rest and personal time for others or work. Some days we won’t get it right or we let it slip. That’s OK. But we get up, brush ourselves and try again. That’s how we build resilience.
A thought about resilience: it’s not just about bouncing back from the occasional life shocks. It’s equally about facing every day, with all its pressures and stresses with courage, flexibility, and kindness to you and to others.
Look Around You
Oh, how we love to humblebrag about how we busy we are. We push ourselves to do more because somehow that represents a rich and productive life. Our FOMO leads us to desire more. And for what? No one really seems to know.
Our days are packed with to do lists, hours of looking after others, long hours believing we are indispensable, silently comparing ourselves on social media convinced we need to do more, be better and we hang out with people who drain us rather than uplift us. Have you ever wondered why?
Society does play a role in causing us to burn out. But where and how do we even begin to change any of that? We start with us. We start at the fringes. It starts with individuals courageously coming forward to share their experiences and fostering a culture supportive of helping others overcome their burnout. Once we realized that we don't need to be imprisoned by the rules or 'just because it's always been like this', we can start rewriting those systems that are causing us so much harm.
So take a look around you and ask yourself, ‘what is helping me and what is not?’
Burnout is unavoidable in modern living and this guide is here to help you make sense of it.
Will it be easy to practice in reality? I don’t know. That’s entirely up to you.
Change is hard work. If you’re willing to be open to an approach that is centered on what you already have, then this is your guide.
A final note when using this guide: at any point of your burnout recovery, remember that it’s OK to take your time and build your own pace towards recovery.
If you like a little motivation, repeat, ‘I will meet me where I am. I will be kind to me.’