When healing from a physical injury, sometimes the muscles are weak and need to be strengthened, but only after your body has been given a chance to heal first. The same is true of recovering from burnout.
Burnout can start so small. You put your needs second once, then twice, and so on. Maybe something happens that causes a major shift in your life. Before you know it, you’re living on what feels like an exhausting and mind-numbing autopilot.
The culture we live in places so much value on productivity, hustling, and visible progress. This is why burnout can sometimes feel like laziness. All of your energy gets spent on recovering from what’s draining you that you don’t have the bandwidth to pursue anything outside the bare minimum. We’ve all been there. It’s the nature of life, and we might find ourselves there again.
Much like heartbreak, the first burnout hurts the worst. That’s why experiencing it, while difficult, can still be a gift. The skills and tools you pick up to equip yourself to push through don’t go away once you heal. You will remember how you pulled yourself up forever, and you’ll always know how strength lies within you, even when you feel your weakest.
While there is a lot of helpful advice on gritting your teeth and bearing things, I find it can be much more effective to take a gentle approach. When you’re so exhausted that simple things feel like a chore, you probably aren’t going to feel a spark to clean your whole house, go for an intense workout, and then catch up with a friend. Feeling like you’re unable to do those things can make you feel even worse, too.
A good place to start is to accept that you’re tired. If you’ve ever tried to power through a headache, you know how the pain can intensify. It’s because you’re experiencing two types of pain at once – the actual pain and the resistance to your pain. If you take a moment and stop resisting, you’ll find that the pain subsides – at least a little bit – pretty quickly. Give yourself the same grace and just let yourself be burnt out. It’s not for forever, and accepting your current state isn’t the same thing as giving up.
Once you’ve stopped resisting, you might find yourself in a more open frame of mind to try to feel better. This is where taking inventory of your passive consumptions can be helpful. When I say consumption, I don’t mean what you’re eating. I mean the passive things you do without even thinking about them. What music you listen to, what shows you watch, what you’re reading, even who you communicate with on a daily basis. As you know from feeling a lack of energy, your energy is very precious.
You don’t need to approach this with a judgmental mindset, but rather one of curiosity. What do you feel after watching your favorite show or drinking your favorite beverage? Are these even your favorites anymore or just what you’ve adopted into your autopilot lifestyle? You can’t properly assess without being a little bit curious. Judgement stems from resistance, so remain gentle and know that if you decide you don’t like something anymore that surprises you, it’s okay. It just means you’ve grown. You’ve just created space for something new that you could end up loving.
I always hate hearing it when I feel low, but time really does help. Knowing that you are heading in the right direction should provide some immediate relief as well, especially when coupled with accepting where you are. Life is not always easy, and there’s nothing wrong with struggling. It helps us unearth more of who we are and makes us stronger for where we are going.
Once some time has passed and you’re really feeling better, then you can assess the bigger things in your life that might be burning you out. You’ve already developed a solid foundation and gotten more confident in filtering out what you do and don’t want to spend your energy on. This is when you can take a look at your living situation, your relationships, your job, or whatever else.
Big change is possible, it’s just not always immediate, and the journey there can be so rewarding. You are not a lazy person, you’ve just been trying to shoulder too much. Accept that, set some of it down, and start stepping into a stronger, gentler, and wiser version of yourself.
Don’t think about burning out as an end, but rather, a new place to begin.