‘You rest now. Rest for longer than you are used to resting. Make a stillness around you, a field of peace.
Your best work, the best time of your life will grow out of this peace’ ~ Peter Heller
- Your morning alarm is creating dread and overwhelm in the pit of your belly. You might fantasise about being in an accident, or being struck down by illness; anything to legitimise a few weeks off.
- You have an overwhelming desire to hide from the world. Lying face down has become your favourite and you long to stay there. This may be accompanied by a metric tonne of guilt. Equally, you may find you couldn’t give a toss.
- You can’t do more than one thing at a time. Thinking of all the things you are not doing makes you want to heave into a bucket.
- You may feel epically frustrated that you can’t do what you normally do or keep up the pace you usually keep. Especially if you are used to being active and driven and successful.
- You may find yourself feeling resentful and irritated by Every Other Human. Which leads to you being unreasonably and disproportionately mean to the people you love. And you probably don’t have the energy to muster an apology.
- You are regularly avoiding the constant tumble of thoughts in your mind in some way (shopping, scrolling, rigorous exercise, (bottle of) wine time each evening).
- You start to schedule time in your calendar cry in the loos at work (it is still a source of some pride that I was organised in my meltdown).
- You might stop caring how you look and have absolutely no desire or libido. Or your appearance may become the absolute focus of your attention (lest anyone detect the screaming hot mess underneath).
- You have no energy for the kinds of things that you usually do to take care of yourself. Nothing seems fun or helpful anymore.
- You don’t feel you can ask for help. Because you don’t have the energy to deal with any of this.
There is a way through. Here is your new to do list:
One: recognise that you are burnt out.
Feel the relief from being able to say to yourself: I’m not crazy, and I’m not lazy. I have just utterly depleted all the energy, iron, chi, yin, yang, prana, kundalini and life force in my whole entire being. I am bone weary knackered. Done. Kaput.
It’s ok to stop for a while. And it’s always better to consciously choose to stop, rather than accidently driving up a one-way street and having both legs broken, or getting fired after an ill-timed outburst towards your manager (both true stories).
Two: tell people you are burnt out.
Tell your boss, your family, your people. Do it simply. Unapologetically.
Even Especially if you have a load of stories about failure and shame.
When you are burnt out, one of the first things you lose is your perspective. I promise you that asking for help is the complete opposite of failure.
Three: get a blood test done.
Because you are probably anaemic, and you may also have adrenal fatigue. When you see your Doctor, talk about what’s going on for you (there is a chance you have tipped over into depression).
Get signed off from work for a few days. You need some breathing space.
Four: claim back your time.
Go through your calendar and cut out absolutely everything that is not about directly paying the bills or keeping yourself, and the tiny humans/furry beings alive.
Be ruthless. Call people and tell them simply and unapologetically: ‘I’m sorry, but we need to reschedule/cancel’. Feel the utter freedom of saying no.
Five: do whatever the hell you want to do.
Eat chocolate, chill out, wrap yourself in a blanket and let the furniture hold you for a while. Revel in healing yourself. Go to bed ridiculously early, be as selfish and lazy as possible. I highly recommend switching off from the world early each evening at 6pm.
It’s a very kind habit to cultivate: no screens, no phone calls (does anyone actually call anyone anymore?), no Facebook, no live tweeting Game of Thrones. Absolutely no work. Would you just sit the fuck down?
NB: after a few days, you might start to feel better, more hopeful, even energetic. Do not re-restart your engine. Keep things simple.
This is a time to be fierce about being soft: your need for rest does not need to be justified.
Burn-out is a massive deal, and your body needs your loving support right now.
And seriously, expect all of this to feel a bit shit and weird for a while.
Your loyalty, resilience, tenacity, competence, your solution-focused, action-oriented way of getting lots done – these traits have been amplified to the point of extreme imbalance. When you stop, you are in foreign territory; it’s completely natural to feel disoriented and out of sorts.
The very values, qualities and traits that make you a brilliant human, have contributed to your burn out.
So switching off might even feel worse than burn out (because at least you know who you are when you are stressed). Try to remember this is not forever: it’s not a stop, but a pause.
After you rest, when your energy, perspective and some capacity to deal returns, it’s a good time to think about how you can nudge the pendulum to a place of manageability.
Some questions to ponder:
What do you believe it says about you, if you ask for help, or depend on other people? What would be the impact of reducing by 10%, the standards you set for yourself?