Your exhaustion isn’t your fault

Three steps to rebalance your frantic life.

Imagine using your smartphone for a few hours of scrolling, only when the battery dies you throw the phone at the wall, swearing and smashing it instead of recharging it. That’s absurd, right? Then you wouldn’t have a phone to use.

But ask yourself, are you doing this very thing with your life? Are you running out of battery and cursing yourself for needing a recharge? That is what burnout is like, pushing yourself harder. Never letting up.

I’ve just come out from this frazzled ride, and I want to share three steps that can help.

By the end of 2021, my confidence was at its lowest ebb for decades. I felt like a failure. I couldn’t even bring myself to write a blog post, promote my training, or do anything that required stepping up. When I was cooking dinner, one glass of wine became two, and then comfort eating joined the party. I gained weight. I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. I kept telling myself, “It’s ok, we’re in a pandemic, it’s ok,” but reassurance didn’t help me. A whisper inside me grew louder, “Run, run away now.”

Then, the crunch came as I began to hate my work (that’s a big sign to look for – when your enjoyment turns to drudgery.)

Next, I started to doubt my ability in every area of life. Things I had been good at suddenly seemed like I was failing.

As self-loathing arrived, I worried my loved ones didn’t like me.

While this was happening, I was editing a new book to help adults face change and grow stronger. It sure sucks to hate yourself while editing a book on how not to hate yourself. This book and I were as intimate as lovers, but I wanted to break up with it and toss it in the bin. The book follows the best scientific studies on managing change, so I turned to it for practice (it’s co-authored with Joseph Ciarrochi and Ann Bailey and will be released in July 2022). 

Here are the three steps you too can follow to turn around burnout:

1. Awareness first 

Have work or leisure activities become a struggle, too difficult, or lifeless? Do things you once enjoyed now seem like drudgery? Do you have:

  • critical thoughts
  • irritability
  • anxiety
  • feelings of inadequacy
  • exhaustion
  • sleep difficulties
  • headaches
  • feel numb or apathetic about life
  • low self-care?

If you have a cluster of these, you might be burned out too. We are now living in a time of 24/7 work schedules and great uncertainty. It’s not your fault.

You blame yourself because your mind knows YOU so well (procrastination, disorganisation….. insert your weakness here). Your mind’s job is to solve the problem of why you are struggling.  Weirdly, once we have a self-blame cause, we cling to it.

Pause. Use your awareness to reveal if you are running your life without recharge.

Pause. Use your awareness to see that self-blame and problem-solving only sink you deeper into the burnout trap.

2. Open your view, just like a friend  

Next, if you are in a funk, seek a friend to shine a light on things you cannot see for yourself.

I phoned a friend. As I grumbled about work, hours on Zoom, the pandemic, finances etc., it became even more apparent that I needed to make changes.  Speaking aloud helps us to step out of our spinning thoughts. Ask your friend to listen without offering advice, without problem-solving, just a kind ear.

If a friend is not available, you can do this by yourself too. Reverse your role. Imagine a friend who was feeling as low as you do right now. What would you say to them as they struggled on?  You would be kind, wouldn’t you? Perhaps you’d tell them to give themselves a break?

Speak to yourself from your heart and try to care for yourself as you would another.

3. Now, take small steps using your mind and body

Let go of rigid self-talk – Whenever thoughts like, ‘I can’t, I have to, I must,’ come along, try out some flexible self-talk and see how it can create space in your life. Here’s an example:

Say to yourself, ‘I don’t have time.” And notice how it closes in on your life and makes everything stop.  

Now, flex your thoughts just a bit, ‘I’ll look for a little time.’ Notice how flexible language gives you options.

Restore your body – Give yourself permission to take small actions that care for yourself physically and emotionally. Consider things like exercise, sleep, diet, meditation, relaxation and time with others. A small step, like a 5 min walk or relaxation practice, can be restorative.

I discovered that I needed to get myself off the computer and get moving. Research shows exercise improves mental and physical health, and it’s comparable to antidepressants or therapy. Now, I’m more of a ‘curl up with a book by the fire’ kind of person so I started slowly by making sure I had a daily walk in the park. No excuses.

Ask yourself what small action you might take? Set a reminder, so you do it.

Make space – we can become so busy in this modern life that we forget we are not machines.

I started by making a little free space in my diary – no appointments/no meetings for one part of each week.  Of course, I worried about income and finishing my long list of tasks, but how else would I keep going if I was exhausted?

I even said “no” once or twice; that was hard but empowering!

Use your awareness to consider what is good for you instead of using it to beat up on yourself. Then, set yourself some small actions. Do this even as your mind tells you it isn’t possible. Be consistent. Be kind. 

Space in your day brings restoration, creativity, and vitality.

1. Awareness,
2. Open-hearted vision, and,
3. Small actions with mind and body.

I hope these three steps help you regain vitality too.