Of course, the number one recommendation for burn out is to take time out. However, a lot of us just don’t have that luxury. Our world keeps demanding us to perform, whether it is parental duties, our job, relationships or a combination of all three.
So how do we find balance in the midst of burn out when we simply cannot afford to take leave from life’s demands or our pressing to-do list?
The first thing to take into account is that what we are experiencing is completely normal. We are not broken. We are not inadequate, and we have not lost our way.
There are around 55 million people above the age of 16 in the UK, and as many of 12 million of us admit to experiencing burn out.
How we engage with self-talk at this point is important. There is no solace to be found in beating ourselves up. No. At this point, the best thing we can do is be kind and gentle with ourselves and our expectations. The cure for burn out has never been to keep pushing forward. Try as we might, once we have reached the precipice of burn out, there are no quick fixes that we can apply to remedy our weary bodies and mind.
Understanding and making peace with that will relieve us of the initial battle that many of us face. The battle to keep going regardless of how tired we have become.
Remember, our bodies and minds have served us well throughout the years, and just like anything else, they need care, nourishment and encouragement.
Over the years, I have often found it helpful to remove myself from my body and mind. Instead, to try and treat myself as I would a loved one, with concern and kindness.
2. Prioritise. There is no victory to be found in being a martyr.
The next step to soothing our way through burn out is to prioritise. Although we may not be in a position to take a few days off work or away from the kids, we can start to limit the amount of burden, work and responsibilities we take on. There is no victory to be found in being a martyr.
Make a list of what you feel you need to accomplish and pull out the tasks and responsibilities that simply must be done. This could be something as simple as going to work or something as detailed as the actual tasks that you feel must be delivered at work.
It can be hard to really get down to the nitty-gritty here and identify what can wait and what can’t. A trick to help with this is to ask yourself what the consequences of leaving the task until later will be. Try and be as honest and black and white as possible. We are looking for real consequences here – not just potentially feeling guilty or letting someone down. A real consequence, as an example, would be missing a milestone or deadline that would reflect poorly on you, perhaps causing you to miss out on a promotion. Another example may be getting a ticket because you haven’t renewed your parking pass in time.
As you start to work through your list, you may find that you already have started to cut away at the overwhelming demands you have. It may be, that you now have a reasonable and manageable workload that will also allow for you to pursue activities and hobbies that will help you to unwind.
For some of us, however, we may still have far too much to tackle.
At this point, we need to really start to list out the real consequences to a delay in action.
The reason we are looking for such tangible consequences here is that it should soon become apparent to you, what consequences you are happy to accept. For some of us, getting a £20 ticket because our parking pass wasn’t renewed in time is worth the extra hour of sleep or ability to unwind with a good book.
Nobody said that making time for ourselves was ever easy and often there is a trade-off when we do. Identifying, understanding and coming to terms with those trade-offs is a helpful way to realise what is really important to us and what we are willing to sacrifice for our own wellbeing.
And be honest with yourself. Don’t try and trick yourself into thinking you can manage more than is realistically possible. On top of that, if we keep expecting ourselves to function as normal when we are in burn out, we will only cause more frustration for ourselves and ultimately lengthen the time it will take to get back to feeling normal again.
We all want to get back to feeling motivated and engaged again as quickly as possible but it will take even longer to bounce back if we do not allow ourselves time to recuperate and heal.
4. Take breaks.
Another way to help you find some balance when you are experiencing burn out is to take breaks. It’s easier said than done, I know… but taking breaks, even very small ones, can help you to recentre your mind. Dozens of research papers have been published about our attention spans and the capacity to concentrate and be productive.
Science has proven that our brain can last for 90 minutes at optimal levels before losing steam, after which it needs a roughly 20 minute break. This pattern of 90 minutes on, 20 minutes off is based on something called the “Basic Rest-Activity Cycle,” which exists both during sleep and outside of sleep.
Tackling things in smaller chunks will help you to deal with stress and overwhelm but it will also allow you to prep your brain and body for the next task at hand, giving you the opportunity to creatively problem solve in your mind before you jump into action.
Above all, find time to focus on things that ignites your passion and brings you joy. When we experience happiness and passion, it can actually help to increase our energy and motivation. Just like exercise can help to increase your energy, finding time for you and your passion can also recharge and reinvigorate your body and mind.
And remember, you are doing the best you can and that is always enough.