As I enter into a new season, leaving behind the first quarter of the year and the chaos that it brings, it’s a good time to evaluate my life rhythms. Are you in this habit? I’ll freely admit it’s not something that comes easily to me but because I know the benefits, I work hard to do it regularly.
One pattern that I often see emerging when I’m over-committed and overworked is that I feel depressed, impatient, and frazzled. It turns out that the main factor contributing to this isn’t that I’m doing too much but that I’m not doing enough of what fulfills me: I’m burned out.
Be The Tree, Not the Machine
If you tend to spend most of your time forward-thinking, taking action, and problem-solving then you aren’t alone. But momentum can only take us so far. When you wind up a toy car for your child and place it on the floor it can drive fast… until it hits a wall. Ouch.
Rather than treating yourself like a simple machine that only requires more batteries, instead consider yourself an oak tree. You can have a powerful and long-lasting impact on the world around you if you’re given life-sustaining elements. For the tree, it’s soil, sun, and water. And perhaps for yourself those elements could also do some good.
An honest look inward
I invite you to consider how you can create more meaningful margin in your life.
Margin, as I define it in this context, is clean mental space around my daily obligations of work, volunteering, and anything that requires I “handle it.” Quiet moments to process my emotions, reflect on my desires and be creative in whatever way brings me joy.
Without margin, we are on a one-way road to burn-out.
Some questions to ask yourself to decide if you are hovering around burn-out and could use more margin in your life:
- Is my to-do list longer at the end of the day than it began?
- Am I turning to food delivery for my family more often than I want, simply because I’m too exhausted to prepare meals?
- When was the last time I felt at ease?
- Am I exercising regularly (at least a few times each week)?
- Am I sleeping enough (do I feel rested upon waking)?
- Do I feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands?
- Am I often procrastinating, having a hard time focusing on accomplishing even simple tasks?
5 ways you can beat burnout
Whether you’re just now identifying your feelings of burnout or if you’ve known this for a while, there are things you can do to immediately turn your situation around. The solution is NOT to push through the exhaustion without changing anything. Here are five strategies for preventing or overcoming burnout that can help you regain your energy, focus, and sense of well-being.
- Relationships (the right ones)
Honest conversations with those we trust can help us bring light into a dark place. If you feel isolated, reach out to a friend who you haven’t spoken to in a while. Feeling hopeless? Be candid about how you’re feeling to someone who’ll help you see things in a more positive way. If you don’t have anyone you feel you can speak to then seek professional help through a therapist or a church pastor.
It’s not always possible to remove the things that cause stress. The dishes will need to be cleaned, the baby refuses to sleep, your boss might be a jerk or your commute is very long. In these cases, it’s mission-critical for a happy life that we intentionally change how we look at these things. The first step is to accept things as they are, not how we want them to be. Then, find something to be grateful for in each scenario. Repeat until you no longer feel angst.
Something I say frequently to my clients is that “self-care is soul care.” Self-care will always make you feel better, not worse. This means that having another glass of wine probably isn’t a good idea since you’ll feel groggy the next day. Binge-watching an entire season on Netflix can feel luxurious but evaluate if what you’re watching lifts you up or gives you anxiety. Creativity is a powerful solution to burnout. Start a fun project, try a painting class, resume a favorite hobby or play the piano. Choose activities that have nothing to do with work or any of your life obligations.
It’s difficult to muster the energy to exercise when you’re feeling burned out. But it’s paradoxically one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal. The good news is that you don’t have to do an hour-long fitness class. Aim for 30 minutes of movement each day. You can even break it up into short bursts of 10-15 minutes of activity. Did you know that a 10-minute walk can improve your mood for two hours? In short: something is better than nothing. Try walking, running, weight training, swimming, martial arts, or even dancing to your favorite upbeat playlist!
What you put in your mouth has a tremendous impact on your energy, mood, quality of sleep, and overall well-being.
– Minimize sugar and refined carbohydrates: these lead to spikes in insulin and crashes in your energy.
– Limit or eliminate caffeine: this seems counter-intuitive when you believe that your ability to function is dependent on your morning cup of coffee but research shows this is actually not true. Caffeine only increases energy when it’s taken infrequently, not daily.
– Limit or eliminate alcohol: modern research shows that more than a serving of alcohol can increase anxiety, interrupt sleep patterns, and decrease productivity.
A break is better than a breakdown
As “Mama” it’s not easy to take some time and consider our own needs but it’s necessary. To make sure you’re equipped and ready when these feelings of burnout creep in, bookmark this post and take a deep breath. Seek margin and you can find it!