How to start recovering from (near) burnout
Based in Eindhoven, Sagitta Peters MSc is a career and burnout coach for highly educated professionals. She offers support in personal growth and development, career changes and burnout recovery and prevention.
A bit of stress helps us through life. It makes us more alert and gives us the extra energy needed to meet a deadline. However, when facing stress becomes part of our daily life, it’s another story.
Continual stress causes physical and mental symptoms and might result in burnout: you’ve been pushing yourself too hard for too long. You don’t recognise yourself anymore and wonder what you can do to become "you" again? This article will give you guidance on how to start recovering from (near) burnout.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion, caused by a long period of severe stress. Driven by an ideal, you’ve put your own needs last and you feel miserable, isolated and have difficulties facing what has happened.
Both work and private life can contribute: from high workloads to conflicts at work, and from changing family situations to moving (abroad). By continuously neglecting your boundaries, your energy tank has slowly run low, until it has become completely empty. On top of that, you probably have other symptoms, like stomach issues or headaches, problems with concentrating, anxiety or emotional instability.
If you recognise yourself in (part of) the above, please talk to your partner or a friend, your GP or another caregiver. It is important to get professional help, as it is one of the best ways to recover and learn new coping methods.
Recovering from burnout
How difficult, and perhaps at this point, even impossible, it may sound, accepting the situation is the first step to recovery. Allow yourself to rest, talk to people you trust and ask for professional help. In addition, you can start refilling your energy tank and learning about your alarm system.
Refill your energy tank
Although every person is different, some activities are important for everyone to do to replenish their energy tank. Thirty minutes of light, daily outdoor exercise relieves stress and releases happy hormones. A walk is perfect, as is gardening, cycling etc.
In addition, do one activity every day that makes you truly happy. Drink a cup of hot and tasteful tea from your favourite mug, read a magazine, take a long bath, dance, do some yoga, or take up an old hobby... Make a list with at least ten of these activities, so when you’re really tired, you can just pick one.
Also, it’s wise to dose your energy and not immediately spend what you’ve gained. Crowded places, decision-making and loud noises might trouble you: try to avoid them. For example, go grocery shopping during quiet hours, with a shopping list you've made at home.
Introduce healthy habits
Proper self-care should be non-negotiable. If you practice it from the start of your recovery, it is easier to keep this habit whilst being back at work. Go for healthy foods, not too much coffee and alcohol, and go to bed and wake up at regular times.
You may have stopped taking breaks months or maybe years ago. From now on, you will stop when you’re getting tired and you will take a break, instead of waiting until after you’ve finished a task. Also, take the proper time to have lunch.
A crucial part of self-care is thinking nicely about yourself. You’re as valuable as everyone else! Become aware of the thoughts that make you be so hard on yourself.
Your alarm system
Both positive and negative emotions, like physical responses, are signals that your system uses to tell you something. In the past months (or years), you’ve probably noticed some of these little alarms, which have warned you about crossing your boundaries, or unpleasant situations. Like in a factory, these little alarms will become louder and louder, till the factory closes itself down.
Gaining more consciousness about your system, which means recognising signals (sadness, anger, headache, dizziness) and acting accordingly, is something that will benefit you for the rest of your life.
The next step
Only if you feel ready for it (maybe after weeks or months, even), you can start reflecting more explicitly on the process of getting burnt-out. Questions that may guide you are:
- When and why did you let someone else’s happiness and health prevail over your own?
- Which limiting self-beliefs played a part in this process? Perfectionism (and the fear of doing things wrong), having your inner critic always switched on, and feeling responsible for the world are often mentioned.
- And what was your organisation’s share in it?
When your partner has burnout
If it’s your partner who is suffering from burnout, you can support recovery in different ways. Patience and acceptance of the situation as it is are key. You already contribute a lot by simply listening, helping in dosing energy and taking rest, and respecting your partner’s boundaries. Open questions facilitate your partner to reflect and think about their needs.
At the same time, it is good to do some small activities together, like going for a walk in the park or getting some ice-cream. And don’t forget to take good care of yourself, only then can you help your loved one!
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Sagitta Peters Career and burnout coaching. She is happy to help you.