Ironically, I volunteered to write this article on preventing burnout with self-care while working at home on a week where I felt near to, if not completely burned out.

It just seemed easier to take on another project than to try and convince someone else on the team to volunteer. Thankfully, at the time of writing, I’m feeling like I’m back to my normal energy level and disposition! My goal is to share my experience so that it may help you be patient with yourself if you’re going through something similar, and for anyone who leads or manages others, I will try to identify what type of support helped the most.

Reaching a place where you feel like you’d rather stay in bed than face your responsibilities is not a great place to be… but I took it as an opportunity to do some self-reflection. Before I start sharing my insights, I want to acknowledge that my relationship with work may differ from yours. I enjoy my job, love the people I work with, but I don’t always identify with what I do. In fact, I’m actively reminding myself that I am more than what I accomplish or my current position title, and I strive to be balanced with how I spend my time between work, the people I love, and doing things that I love to do. I share this because I feel like a minority when I interact with people who are career-driven or focused, and I don’t know which camp you’re in. If you often think about achieving more work-life balance, are you willing to change jobs for it?

I took a significant pay cut to have flexibility, and this goes against the expectation (norm?) to seek out the highest paying job I could find when I left the military. And I’m not saying this is the right philosophy for everyone, but now that you understand how I think about it, maybe you will become more aware of your own relationship to work. This relationship shapes how we view ourselves, and “grade” our productivity. We’ve been conditioned to measure and rate our performance, so I’m calling that out now because self-awareness is crucial for identifying whether you are potentially experiencing burnout or getting close. 

The only person responsible for your wellness is you. But it is difficult to admit to ourselves and by extension, the people expecting us to show up for them, that we may be getting burnt out. We tend to associate this feeling with not “being able to hang” or manage everything on our plates. And the fear of being perceived as incapable or worse, not good enough, is a major barrier to dealing with what could be causing the burnout. Fear aversion certainly prevents us from making meaningful changes to our day to day that could help us avoid burnout. 

This is especially relevant considering the current climate we are in, and the new stressors we face. The pandemic of COVID-19 has exacerbated imbalances on so many levels, and I have felt my own balance get tested. If there was ever a time to learn about and practice self-care, it’s now!

So, I googled “am I burned out” and I found this helpful article that outlines the signs and symptoms of burnout. Experiencing burnout is akin to having a chronic issue that gets worse over time. It is the result of being really stressed for a prolonged period of time. Since burnout happens gradually, it can be a while before we notice the changes, but it will most likely impact your energy level, personality, relationships, and your physical health because when we are stressed, our brains flood our bodies with stress hormones and they weaken your immune system.

There were a few things that helped me go from burnout to self-care:

  • Be honest. I was honest with myself and the people who were depending on me, and shared how I was feeling – not so they would feel bad for me, but so they would have awareness as to why I wasn’t as “on it” as I usually am. I made some mistakes, but thankfully my teammates are understanding and supportive, so I didn’t get crushed by the pressure and I could focus on not making repeat mistakes.
  • Ask for help. I reached out to a peer who I don’t typically work with to help me organize part of my workflow and identify any inefficiencies because I felt like it was causing a lot of the stress and disorganization that was causing my anxiety. He brought fresh eyes to the problem I was trying to solve, but more importantly, he empathized with how I was feeling. He had been there just a few months earlier, and after he shared that with me, we got back to problem-solving. It was reassuring to know he wasn’t judging me, and I felt more confident that I could tackle this problem.
  • Relax. This is where self-care comes in. Figure out what activities help you feel good about yourself, and actually deal with your stress (don’t just ignore it by binging the latest show on Netflix). Do something creative, try something new, turn your phone off for 30 minutes and read a book! There are so many free and simple activities we can engage in to help our minds and bodies relax, but we often neglect time with ourselves. This is crucial to developing resilience, which is the key to preventing burnout.

If you feel like you could be experiencing burnout, it might be time to stop and look at how you’re spending your time. Are you investing in yourself?