Feel the burn

The summer holidays are fast approaching (a collective “hurrah” I hear) and it’s got me thinking about burnout. Not the kind involving excessive sun exposure (ouch), but the one involving complete and utter exhaustion (double ouch).

Burnout, in a nutshell, is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. Key symptoms of burnout include chronic fatigue, insomnia, increased irritability, feeling overwhelmed and impaired concentration (to name but a few).

What separates burnout from good old plain exhaustion is that it is normally accompanied by a lack of meaning in our lives. Problems we encounter seem impossible to overcome and things can feel quite despairing and hopeless. Therapist and coach Dina Glouberman (in her book The Joy of Burnout) explains that we often hit burnout as we’ve become over invested (be it in a job, in a relationship etc.) so that the idea of stopping or changing is inconceivable. Dina explains, “Your soul is whispering but you are not listening.”

What our soul is exactly trying to say is different for each of us (and is something that can absolutely be explored in therapy). The key is to hear our soul’s whisper before it turns into a scream.

None of use are immune from burnout (sorry to all those wannabe “super humans” out there). Well known entrepreneur Arianna Huffington almost lost an eye from burnout. Arianna was so tired at work that she passed out, hitting her face on her desk (ouch) resulting in a broken cheekbone and four stitches on her eye. Talk about a wake up call!

We often don’t notice how exhausted we are until we get the opportunity to take a break. I for one used to experience what I would call “holiday sickness” for many a year. I would become ill (mainly with the flu or a terrible cold) the moment I took some time off.  It’s as if while working, my mind was able to control my body to delay getting ill (“oh no I can’t take time off work” syndrome) and then the moment I had time off, my mind and body relaxed and all the delayed illnesses came at me.

So with our holidays approaching (and by the way if you’re not taking time off this summer then there’s a bigger issue afoot), let’s take this time and space to start putting some self-care in place to help avoid future burnout. So here are some tips for hopeful inspiration:

  • Unplug for an hour. Switch everything to airplane mode (or better still turn off completely) and free yourself from the constant pings of social media and email.
  • Compose a playlist of your favourite songs.
  • Find a new hobby, or revisit an old one.
  • Take another route to work. Mixing up your routine in small ways creates new neural pathways in the brain to keep it healthy.
  • Do a mini-declutter. Recycle three things from your wardrobe that you don’t love or regularly wear.
  • Have a self-date. Spend an hour alone doing something that nourishes you (reading, a hobby, visiting a museum or gallery, etc.)
  • Buy a coloring book and crayons. Adult coloring is good fun and therapeutic (I love the books of illustrator Johanna Basford).
  • Check your to-do list for something that’s been there for ages, and decide to either get it done or remove it (there might be a good reason for your delay).
  • Start a journal to record your thoughts and experiences.
  • Read some feel-good poetry (Wendy Cope and Mary Oliver are some of my favourites).
  • Revisit your favorite books/films from childhood.
  • Do several one-minute breathing meditations throughout the day.

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