Burnout has become a buzzword—it’s shorthand for exhausted, numb, overworked, under-resourced, and unable to continue in any kind of sustainable pace. But burnout has real consequences.
Left unaddressed, it can create real consequences for our health (mental and physical). But burnout isn’t inevitable. And if we find ourselves there, it’s not hopeless.
Here are three simple steps you can take to start easing the impact of burnout:
1. Activate loving awareness—and get a sense of the landscape of your burnout.
The first step to releasing burnout is to pay kind attention to yourself and what you’re experiencing. Take a moment to see and appreciate everything you already do. Burnout often arises when we know (intellectually) that we’re holding a lot, but we (emotionally) feel like it’s not enough.
With as much compassion as you can, take note of what your burnout feels like. Notice how it’s showing up and what its impact is. It might take hold in your physical body, in your thoughts, in your emotions. Notice where and how it’s showing up.
Next, notice when it shows up. If there are particular moments, triggers, or circumstances where your burnout rears its ugly head, notice that. Mostly, try to notice with as much affection for yourself as possible—and without any judgment.
2. Take stock of what you need—and what you’re currently calling into your life.
Repeat after me: you are allowed to want and need things. Often, burnout arises because we are trying to do too much for others, while denying our own needs. We are most susceptible to burnout when we are under-resourced, so take some time to think about what parts of you are undernourished.
Spend some time thinking about what’s missing right now. Yes, the feeling of burnout is often one of “too much,” but notice what is lacking, too. In order to heal your burnout, consider what needs you have been denying—and what longings are going unmet.
While it might seem antithetical to want to add more to our plate when we’re burned out, taking the time and energy to give ourselves what we need is an essential piece of healing from burnout. In the process, we cultivate the courage to imagine a life beyond burnout. When we resource ourselves deeply, we have a greater capacity for change and healing.
3. Start crossing things off the list—and reevaluate your relationship to work.
So much of healing burnout isn’t about doing; it’s about undoing. Consider everything that’s on your plate right now (if it helps, write down every single commitment in your life right now). I’m guessing, if you’re anything like me, it’s a lot.
With that list in hand, think about what you’d like to spend less time doing. Notice which of the things on your list drains your energy most—and which ones you find yourself dreading.
You’re not necessarily going to be able to cross everything off your list. You may not be able to opt out of something just because it doesn’t totally light you up or it doesn’t serve you personally. That’s not realistically how life works.
And, there may be things on your list that you’re ready to let go. There may be things you’ve been hanging onto because you feel you “should.” Start noting what you want to stop: what are the beliefs, patterns, habits, or ways of spending your time that you’re ready to let go?
Look, I’m the first to admit that healing through burnout isn’t always simple or easy. But it’s possible, if we meet ourselves with great care. Once we do that, we can see what we want more of and less of—and slowly, we can bring ourselves back into balance.
Christy Tending is an activist, educator, and writer. She teaches online courses about sustainable self-care to students all over the world, and hosts the podcast Tending Your Life. She lives on occupied Ohlone territory (Oakland, CA) with her family. You can learn more about her work at www.christytending.com.
Image courtesy of Anna Tarazevich.