Before the pandemic started I found myself working 60+ hours a week, trying to work full time, part time on my passions, and go to school. My schedule was booked wall to wall, and so I started chipping at the wall itself to expand upon what I could. A couple seconds here and there would add up right?
Then I started noticing my mental health dwindling, my body feeling like a burnt out match, and realized that this hyper drive mentality wasn’t going to serve me to my highest good. I recognize that my ambition is larger than my ability, and that’s not because I’m untalented, or do not know how to manage my time, it is because I want to do all of the things. This mentality can feel like you are driving down a road full speed with worn out brake pads.
So, what is burn out anyway? According to Psychology Today, burn out is “a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress. Though it’s most often caused by problems at work, it can also appear in other areas of life, such as parenting, caretaking, or romantic relationships.” So burnout is very versatile and occurs when you habitually overextend yourself.
So, how do you not overextend yourself?
1. Understand how to pace in a way that is comfortable for you. Often we ask ourselves how fast we can run rather how fast we should be running in that moment. Knowing your limits and then allowing yourself to live by them are two very different things. You definitely have the ability to push through even though your mind, body, and spirit may be yelling at you to stop. Coming back to the idea of ambition and ability, we can want to accomplish some amazing things in this life; but sometimes we have to check ourselves. I’m not at all saying that you should dream smaller, because you should dream as big as you want to. You can accomplish anything you put your mind to. The caveat here is that pacing is key, and the expectation of speeding through life in order to learn, accomplish, achieve, comes at a price and can tend to bleed through other aspects of life. Stop rushing all of the time. There are times to run and there are times to rest. The remedy here is listening to yourself, and allowing yourself to slow down when you need.
2. Learn your boundaries. Boundary creation and enforcement is a skill that many of us simply do not learn. You know this very well if you are a people pleaser, or if you are ‘the reliable one’. I want you to know that you can be kind and have healthy boundaries. The self sacrifice thing, is not cute, and while it is good to help others and be there for our fellow humans, it is important to know when it becomes toxic. Setting boundaries can be difficult because there is a certain value in compromising and allowing this to happen. What are you trading off? In some cases we don’t want to get into an altercation, or maybe we feel obligated to do something in particular, or maybe we want to reach a goal faster than we are able. Sometimes, we are going to have to say ‘no’, and that is perfectly healthy. You only have so many hours in the day, you were not made to work for all of them. Be realistic about your time.
3. Stop before exhaustion. Mental exhaustion kicks in when we are chronically stressed, pushing ourselves too hard, or when we undergo emotional upheaval. And, it’s a really doozy when we are experiencing all three at the same time. Burnout comes when we push ourselves past our breaking point, so, we can imagine our boundaries like a cliff face. Are you going to run until you get to the razor’s edge of the cliff face, stopping as your toes touch the edge? Or would it be better if you stop further in advance? Something that has helped me create better eating habits with food is that I stop when I feel 75% full. With that, I can feel satiated and not suffer the effects of feeling way too full. This analogy works well when it comes to, well, work! Of course, I can hear it now, ‘give it 110%’, but here’s the caveat… on *some* days. All of the days 110% is not sustainable, heck, 75% might not be sustainable on certain days. What I know for certain, 110% of effort 100% of the time is going to lead you to burn out.
4. Communication and delegation. Many of us can fall into the pattern of martyring ourselves. We might try to give 110% when it comes to work, play, relationships, etc. Know what you can delegate and how to communicate said delegation. For example, maybe you do a little bit of meal prepping and/or meal planning for the week so you don’t have to come up with recipes on the spot. Maybe your partner can do that thing that you’ve been putting off because your plate is overflowing. Maybe you cancel some of your plans and take the day off entirely. Setting yourself up with a schedule can also be helpful, because it takes off the burden of making so many choices of what you should do in the moment. Organization is key, yet, can be even more challenging when you are speeding around trying to make a change in the world, build a business, finish school, or get better at a skill.
For people who push themselves very hard it can be very challenging to take breaks. If you are going to accomplish what you are going to accomplish, you are going to need to take breaks, to be lazy once in a while, to let some things go. Take a second to catch your breath, because you will dull your capabilities if you don’t allow yourself to rest. You shine much brighter and in full color when you are rested.
6. Balance. Have you ever eaten the same meal over and over again because you liked it so much and then eventually you just got plain sick of it? Striking the balance of how much and how often you do things can help to provide a sense of enjoyment in what ever you do. Even if what you are doing is hard, you can still find that spark of warmth when you enter your space to run your business, make that art, do that workout, etc. For example, when it comes to writing, I write a LOT. What helps me stay fresh is that I like to write about different things that mean something to me. I also like to balance my writing with art and aerial yoga. Bringing all the things that I love together in some sort of harmony. I have things I do that are more active, and I have things that I do that are more passive. It’s nice to have an arrangement of different kinds of things you do.
7. Stop trying to monetize everything. If you are in the US, you live in a highly capitalistic society that pushes exponential growth. We can be called to monetize every moment to maximize the amount of income we can be making. Know that some things should just be special for you, some things do not need to live up to an expectation: it just needs to bring you joy.
8. Rid yourself of expectation and just live life according to you. I think it’s really easy to say ‘be yourself’, it’s much more challenging to actually be yourself and live authentically. When you look at your expectations and your ‘must haves’ ask yourself are these actually obtainable in the time span I’ve allotted? Regardless of the answer, is the pace that I am going at helping or hurting me? Am I doing this because I want to or am I doing this because I feel forced to? What is it that I need to drop in order for me to show up fully in the areas of my life I want to show up for? This may not even mean dropping a particular task, but maybe just the mental framework you have of it. Are you doing something because you want to or are you doing it to meet someone else’s expectation.