For me, 2020 ended with a two-week holiday break that I thought would reinvigorate my tired spirit. I was happy to have two weeks free from checking emails, meeting deadlines and hour-long Zoom sessions. I spent time with loved ones at home and online, ate good food and Netflix-and-chilled.
But at the turn of the new year, I still felt incredibly exhausted. My migraines were stronger than ever and I didn’t feel well rested even after a good night’s sleep. How could this be? At the start of the pandemic, I began a dance program and my plant-based eating was still intact. However, I knew that I had been overburdened with responsibilities.
I had taken on too many freelance assignments all while juggling homeschooling a little one and not having enough in-person community to lean on. I didn’t realize it, but I had also been sucked into “productivity culture.” Even when I wasn’t working or caregiving, I felt the need to learn new skills or take on projects to fill in any empty spots on the calendar. No wonder I was feeling the burn.
After receiving a good bill of health from my physician, my therapist suggested that I was likely suffering from burnout.
But what is burnout? As Mayo Clinic confirms, “Job burnout is a special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.” It’s not a medical diagnosis, Mayo Clinic notes, but it can affect your health.
I had to admit that I had burnout before I could remedy the situation. After I recognized it, I worked with my therapist to survey the major areas of my life that were causing burnout. For me, it was a lack of work-life balance, not having enough alone time and a lack of sleep.
Here are five ways that I am working to avoid burnout now that I have learned to recognize it.
- Stop overextending. Because I am a self-proclaimed people pleaser, I’ve always had a difficult time setting boundaries. Now, I’m learning that one of the best ways to free myself from burnout is to just say no. (It’s a complete sentence, you know.) This goes for work, relationships and caregiving. If I feel overextended, I am not going to take on anything extra.
- Unplug. I pride myself on being highly accessible, but it causes burnout. I’ve decided for 2021 and beyond that I am unplugging from all technology after 6 p.m. No checking or responding to emails, no projects, no social media. The evenings are my time to unwind and relax. This has been difficult to maintain, as I often find myself peeking. But a self-reward system has been working well to help me keep myself in check. I review phone activity at the end of the week, and if it has not increased beyond my targeted goal, I treat myself to a small reward such as a new book, a crystal to add to my collection or a sweet treat.
- Get enough sleep. I now understand that while sacrificing sleep might help me to get more things done, lack of sleep jeopardizes my overall well-being. I now shoot for eight hours per night. And I am happy to report that I have maintained this goal. I am naturally an early riser, but I am tucked in before 9 p.m. every night. Lavender oil on my pillow, guided sleep meditations and calming-sounds playlists have helped.
- Reevaluate priorities. I now ask myself, “Is doing this activity or work necessary?” I love my planner, but I’m not necessarily stuck to a strict to-do list. I’m also more realistic in setting daily expectations. For the three core areas of life, I now cap it at three items per day. And if I’ve accomplished all of my tasks? Instead of adding more, I incorporate activities that bring me joy. Midday dance session, anyone?
- Reconnect. This can refer to safely engaging with community, nature or things that bring joy. For me, I do this by taking a daily morning walk before doing anything else. I feel more invigorated taking care of me before anyone else. I’m feeling less exhausted already.