Optimize Your LifeEpisode #14: Are You Aware of What Led You to Burn Out?
Hello and welcome to the podcast. I am super excited to be here with you today and that is because I get to talk about one of my favorite topics: burnout. And specifically what are the things that I’ve noticed that gets in the way of people really living their life the way they want to is that they often don’t really see what’s happening as it’s happening. We’ve all become really familiar with stress and what that feels like. We talk about it. Wel use the name for it, but with burnout often people don’t recognize that they’ve experienced it until after the fact. Typically what I find is people will switch careers or change jobs and about 2 years later they reflect back on their previous position and then it dawns on them and they say, “I think that was what was going on for me. I was burning out.” Well I don’t want that to happen to you, so today what I’d love to really focus in on is what are the things that you need to look out for in order to identify burnout as it is happening in order for you to then put a stop to it. So you’re going to be like a little detective looking for signs and then implementing different strategies in order to stop burnout in its tracks.
Alright, so coming back to the topic of stress: Burnout is essentially chronic stress that has accumulated over time. Now we all know what stress looks and feels like but when we really dig down I want you to think about stress in this new way. Stress really is about perception and we know this because often you can be in a situation alongside other people, so you’re all experiencing the same thing but you all have a different way of coping with it and a different way of thinking about it. And so what it really boils down to is your own thought process, your mindset. So there’s a whole psychology that leads to stress and it’s when we see the circumstances that we’re in as being something that we can’t really cope with then we become stressed out about it. And we can all really deal with acute stress but when stress becomes chronic overtime, that’s when we start to break down. It starts to feel insurmountable and we become overwhelmed.
So this is what I want you to be able to do instead is to be able to identify what is causing you to feel stressed out, to stop putting all of your eggs in one basket of thinking that you need to change your circumstances, and to be able to really take charge of the situation — and by that I mean your mind.
So let’s dig in a little bit more. So we said that stress is something of a perception problem. We typically identify certain situations to be outside of our control and therefore overwhelming, stressful, scary, whatever the adjective is that you want to use. But really it comes down to “can I cope with this?” And if you have any sort of doubts in yourself, if you feel like you don’t have the resources — like you don’t have the time, you don’t have the energy, then you’re going to feel stressed out about it. You could be in that same exact situation at a different time where you have more resources and then you wouldn’t feel stressed out, but in this current moment you are feeling stressed out because you don’t have what it takes to meet the demands. So that is what causes stress.
And so there are certain things that you can do to help yourself feel less stressed out. The first thing is to really just manage the thoughts that you have. So maybe it’s just changing your language. Instead of thinking about the situation as something that is too much for you, that is overwhelming, that you can’t handle, maybe you can say to yourself “This is challenging, but I know that I can take this on” or “I can see that with a little bit of help and support I can tackle this.” This puts you in a different frame of mind to really go after what it is that you need in order to really manage the situation well, whether it means that you need more resources and then how do you carve out more time, or maybe it means that you need more energy and maybe it’s instead of working at it at 11 o’clock at night maybe I’ll work on it at 8 a.m. when I have more energy. Or it could be that I need some external assistance — like maybe if I had some support from my colleagues, from my manager, from my family, from my friends then I would be able to tackle this on. Maybe I need to hire a coach and that’s going to help me with the skills that I still need to learn. Or maybe I need to take an online course and then I’ll develop myself enough to be able to cope with this current situation, especially if it’s one that is long term.
Right? Because we want to think about life in terms of growth. If you are currently feeling overwhelmed and very challenged it might be that you just need to grow into that situation. And so ask yourself, “What is it that I need to tackle this with grace?”
Another thing that can help with stressful situations to avoid burnout is to be able to create some balance in your life. Now again, balance is often misconstrued and I want to get really clear on what I mean by this. Too often we focus externally on all the things that we want to be different in the world and all the things that we might be able to purchase that can give us a shortcut to the results that we want to create and we overlook and neglect our own inner landscape. That is to say that we’re not putting as much time and effort into doing the inner work that is going to help us create not just temporary results but long-standing results. And the reason that we do this is because we want that shortcut. We don’t want to put in the effort. We’re already feeling overwhelmed and I get that. That’s why part of what I teach is to create micro-habits, little things that you can do every single day that are going to allow you to see a lot of rewards for very little effort.
Sometimes what happens if people have this notion that things have to be hard, that it can’t be that easy. And so we throw ourselves into these big challenges and we over-exert ourselves or we avoid them completely because they feel overwhelming just thinking about them. And what I want to invite you to do is find that middle ground where you can understand that things are worth putting effort into but we need to work smarter not harder and that means that we have to really focus our mind. When you are really focused, you can get more done in less time and that’s going to allow you to have that extra free time to engage in self-care or spend with your friends and family. It’s when we aren’t working smarter, we’re just focusing in on putting in more hours and not taking our breaks and not going on vacation that we burn out because there isn’t balance in our life. We aren’t really taking care of ourselves. We’re focusing too much on results, on outcomes, and external goals but we need to be able to also take care of ourselves.
So an analogy that you’ve probably heard of but I think works really well here is your car. Now you might want to go on a long road trip and really have that car take you from place to place. But you know, and it’s kind of a given, that in order for your car to keep up with the demands that you’re putting on it, you’re going to need to fill up the gas tank. It doesn’t run forever without refueling and I think that is the same about you and that’s how you need to start to think about yourself. You can get a lot out of yourself. You are capable of a lot but you need to incorporate regular refueling breaks. What does that actually mean? It’s going to vary for each individual but you have to listen to your body. That’s essentially what it comes down to. When we focus too much on the results that we want to create, we’re focusing externally and that can’t work without also focusing on “what do what do I need in order to create that? Do I need more shut-eye? Do I need a meditation break? Do I need to stretch my body? Do I need to hang out with my family and have some fun and play?” There could be so many things that you do and that’s why it’s not a prescription. It’s not about “just do 30 minutes of exercise everyday and you’ll feel great and you’ll be in total balance” because it’s not true. We have a lot of different needs and those needs are physical and mental and emotional and so what we need to do in order to create balance in our life is to address each and every one of those needs and that’s going to take some planning and preparation rather than being really sporadic and having things just happen impulsively where your attention gets diverted and you’re not committing to a schedule and you’re not committing to a regular break or taking time out and turning work off.
One of the things that we’ve actually seen happen during COVID when lots of people started to work from home is that they lack boundaries in terms of when to turn work off. And so the thing that we thought was going to be so fabulous prior to COVID, which is working from home — it was everybody’s dream, has now turned into a bit of a nightmare when people don’t know how to turn work off. And so you need to have these in place and one of the things that really helps with that is being really clear on what you want, when you’re going to do it, and then sticking with your plan.
So these are just some of the strategies are going to be really helpful to avoid having that stress become chronic, build up into burnout.
Now if you’ve already burned out, then we need to talk about what happened and what you can do to recover. So think back to how you were managing your time, your energy, your mindset. Were you working too many hours and not spending enough time on things outside of work? Essentially where you neglecting yourself? I see that everyday. Maybe it’s that you don’t believe that you are important enough to focus on and so you are focusing on people-pleasing and helping everybody else with the idea that they will appreciate you and then you’ll feel a sense of worth. And that again is a temporary solution because as soon as they’ve appreciated you, you’re just back to square one where you have to start all over again and please somebody else once again.
Perhaps you are somebody who puts your kids first and your partner first and it’s not even work, it’s just other people’s needs. And it’s not that other people aren’t important and that you have to make this complete 180 shift where you’re no longer focusing on them and you’re only focusing on yourself. This isn’t about going from being 100% focusing on others to being 100% focused on yourself. This is really about finding that place in the middle — that balanced place where you can do both. So that might mean that you do a little bit less for others so that you can do more for yourself. But here’s the thing — when you are taking care of your needs, you will more likely have the energy, the stamina, the willingness and the capacity to take care of others. And I know because I’ve been in the helping profession for two decades and I can tell you that if I burn out then I can’t really be there to support my clients. And if I burn out, I can’t really be there to support my children or my husband, and I can’t be a good friend to my colleagues, or my social network because I’m going to be irritable, I’ll be exhausted, I might really feel overwhelmed, and I might just want to isolate or to avoid things and that’s essentially what we see a lot with burnout, is people become overwhelmed. They start to slow down, not because they want to but because their body is just shutting down. Their mind is shutting down. They just don’t have the capacity to do what they used to do anymore. When your body starts to shut down and your mind starts to shut down it is a sign for you to slow down, to take a look at what it is that you’re doing and to recognize that it’s not working, that you need another way that is more conducive to everyday living. And that’s essentially what we’re trying to create here.
It’s kind of like when you go on a diet. You don’t really want to go from eating all the things to starving yourself because that’s not sustainable. The real diet, the one that works the best is where you’re learning how to create good habits that are sustainable so that it’s not about a period where you’re just going to lose the weight and then get back to what you were doing before. It’s about changing to a way of living, a way of eating, that’s going to produce sustainable results.
So imagine if you can do that where you start sit eat in moderation and the things that you eat actually fuel your body instead of deplete or fill it with garbage, everything starts to change because you have more energy and you feel lighter and you might even lose weight and that’s going to help you be just a lot healthier and more fit.
The same is true with everything, not just with diets. The way that you live your life is so incredibly important and I really want you to take this home to really reflect on it and to consider “what are the changes that I need to make in my life given the fact that I am feeling the way that I am right now?” So you can reflect on what has led you to burn out and what you need to do different moving forward and just commit to making one small change for the next few weeks and see how that feels…just staying committed to one small change and seeing if that can create a little boost of energy, a little bit more satisfaction, a little bit better mood for you. Something, some sort of a change that is going to last if you keep up with this one change in your life. And if you can see results with that, I hope that you can come back to this episode, re-listen to it and then find your next thing that you’re committed to that you’re going to change in order to recover from your burnout.
And if you would like some additional resources on burnout and on your mindset in general, I’ve created a Mindset Mastery Starter Kit which you can find on my website at www.drsharongrossman.com
In the meantime, I really hope that this episode has brought out some of the topics that are associated with burnout that you can reflect on, and that if anything that I said today was helpful, I sure hope that you can come and review the episode because it’s going to help other people understand that it was helpful and can be helpful to them as well. So I encourage you to review it, subscribe in your favorite podcast app, and I’ll see you next week.