How to Recover From Burnout and Rediscover Joy
Have you ever had the feeling that you’re running out of gas? You start to feel overwhelmed, bogged down by your daily tasks and responsibilities, and just overall fatigued in a way that feels like it’s hard to escape. Maybe you have felt this way at work, in school, or just overall in life.
What we’re describing is called burnout, and it is a feeling that many people are starting to identify in themselves for the first time. While it’s bound to happen to all of us, you don’t have to feel this way forever. Today, we’re going to define burnout, identify the common signs, and help you to make a recovery plan.
What is Burnout?
Burnout refers to the impact of repeated exposure to high levels of stress on your brain and body. In recent years, the scientific community has learned a lot about the effects of stress on humans. From elevated blood pressure and poor sleep quality to worsened mood and shortened attention span, stress can change how you feel in a variety of ways.
Burnout is a step beyond regular stress — it’s when you’re overextended in multiple ways, and it’s harder to recover from than your usual daily routine. Burnout can also have different effects on the body. Maybe stress from work causes one bad night’s sleep this week, but burnout can lead to waking up feeling exhausted every day. When your mind and your body have been under this kind of chronic stress for too long, your quality of life starts to suffer.
Signs of Burnout
So how do you know if you’re experiencing burnout? There are a few telltale signs that your stress level is heightened beyond the typical level:
- You struggle to find motivation for even small tasks.
- You feel detached, lonely, or isolated from others (maybe even on purpose).
- Your sleep habits have been out of whack, and you feel tired fairly often.
- You struggle to feel a sense of accomplishment with your work.
- You frequently have physical symptoms like headaches, muscle pain, or find yourself getting sick often (chronic stress can actually weaken your immune system!).
- Your thoughts are often negative, especially about yourself.
- You feel like your plate is not just full, but overflowing.
Burnout looks different for everyone. If one or two of the things on this list resonate with you, take that as a sign to check in with yourself. Remember that you deserve to feel good and take care of yourself, too — not just all the people you love or things on your to-do list.
Recovering from Burnout
If you’re experiencing burnout, making a recovery plan might sound like just one more thing to add to your already full plate. But it doesn’t have to be a lengthy or in-depth process to still be valuable. Sometimes the most important part of taking care of yourself is “boring self-care” — things like hygiene tasks, getting enough sleep, spending time away from screens, and drinking water. Burnout often starts when the demands on your time get prioritized over your basic needs. In the field of clinical psychology, these needs are on a framework called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This theory says that your basic needs for things like air, light, heat, water, food, and shelter must be met before you can improve other needs, such as financial security, improving self-confidence, or relationships with others. Start by tending to your basic needs first to recover from burnout.
Once your basic needs are starting to improve, think about what immediate changes need to happen to lighten your load. Remember: burnout means doing less, not more. This is especially important for overachievers and people-pleasers recovering from burnout. Take a look at your planner or calendar. How are you using your time? Is it aligned with your values? If it is not, what can you take a step back from, and how would that make a difference in your daily life?
This might mean talking to the people in your life and asking them for additional support. It can be really hard to ask for help, especially when you are used to being the rock in your relationships with other people. In the spirit of doing less, not more, think about if anyone in your life could help take things off your plate. Maybe your partner is willing to take on some extra chores around the house, or maybe you don’t have to say yes to every invitation that comes your way this weekend. Sometimes saying no to one thing means saying yes to something else, like your own peace of mind or well-being.
Lastly, as important as it is to set boundaries with your time and in your relationships with others, the most crucial part of recovering from burnout is practicing self-compassion. You’re doing the best that you can with the resources that you have — no one chooses to walk headfirst into burnout. It’s an inevitable part of being human, and in many cases, it happens because you care a lot about the effort you put into your life. As you begin to pare down your priorities and focus on your own well-being, be gentle with yourself in the process. It’s not selfish to care for yourself, it’s necessary for your survival.
How to Create a Routine With Your Planner to Recover From Burnout
Our #PashFam are no strangers to using their planners to better their lives and make their dreams a reality. So why not use your planner to recover from burnout? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Set clear boundaries with your stress by time-blocking in your planner.
Use your planner’s hourly spread to block time for all of your priorities, including time for yourself. Prioritize time for what supports you rather than what drains you. When you know you’re burned out, instead of starting with plugging in all of your scheduled commitments for the week, start with the things you want to do to restore yourself. This could include a walk during your lunch break to get some fresh air, or starting your work day an hour later to grab a drink at your favorite coffee shop.
- Adopt a new morning routine to start your day right.
The first 15 minutes of your day can set the tone for the rest of it. Creating a morning routine could include committing to stay off your phone first thing in the morning, carving out extra time for breakfast at home rather than during your commute, or reading a few pages of a book when you first wake up. Pencil this into your Passion Planner as a visible reminder to put yourself first when you start your day.
- Create a list of what helps you recharge.
Do you have a go-to routine when you need a break? What about a favorite activity when you have a night to yourself? Jot this down in your planner’s Space of Infinite Possibilities as a reference for the next time you’re feeling burned out. You can create a list, a mind map, or any combination your brain can cook up. If you get stuck, download our free Health and Wellness Reflection pdf to get yourself thinking about how burnout affects your body and mind, and create a go-to kit for when you need it.
- Track your daily movement and add encouragement to your planner.
Moving your body every day is a great way to combat the physical and mental signs of burnout. It doesn’t have to be intense exercise for it to be beneficial to your wellbeing. Even a few minutes of stretching has the power to change how you feel. You can track this in your planner by making a list, adding it to your daily time-blocking, or using a tracker format. Our Functional Trackers Sticker Book can help you to set these up — just paste them into your planner and write in your goals for the week. Don’t forget to give yourself encouragement, too! A quote you find inspiring, a cute doodle, or even planning a reward for your effort can help to motivate you.
- Track your sleep and commit to a bedtime.
Burnout and chronic stress can really mess with your sleep schedule. You can use your planner to track your sleep patterns by recording the times you fall asleep and wake up, or even to plan for your ideal bedtime. If you’re feeling tired throughout the day, aim to go to bed an hour earlier than you have been lately. Getting enough sleep looks different for every person, and there’s no shame in an early bedtime.
- Schedule in time to do nothing.
Last but certainly not least, use your Passion Planner to schedule time doing absolutely nothing. Like we’ve been saying all along, burnout means you need to do less, not more! If you take anything away from this article, it’s that you deserve time to yourself. Use your planner to find time every day when you have no expectations of yourself. You don’t have to be productive during this time, or accomplish any of your goals, you just have to be.
Madeline Hodgman is a clinical social worker living in the Midwest with her husband and pets. In her free time, you can find her doing yoga, baking, reading, or exploring the national parks.