Most of us are living in a culture or within a power structure that makes avoiding burnout impossible. Here’s how you can leave it behind and find yourself again.
BY: LIZ BRINKMAN, RD
Burnout is a trending topic right now.
I suppose it has always been a thing since the beginning of the industrial revolution, anyway. Once folks had electricity to power light bulbs, the option for the endless workday presented itself.
In my line of work, there’s a special kind of burnout that has to do with eating. Can I just say that so many people (including me) are burned out on meal planning, grocery shopping, and food prep by now!
Let me start out with this reminder: We don’t choose burnout.
No one orders a side of burnout or impulse buys “2 burnouts for the price of one!” Most of us don’t even see burnout coming until it’s a thin film that coats our outside and a shadowy heaviness within.
We may get caught up in trying to find out “Who’s to blame?!” Placing blame feels skillful but is rarely useful. It’s the thing we do when we don’t know what to do.
Burnout may not be avoidable, but need not be judged. With practice, burnout can be caught early and its negative effects minimized. It may even be a useful teaching tool.
But first, you have to be aware of when you’re in burnout mode. How do you know for sure?
Here are a few things that may tip you off:
- You can no longer tolerate little things. The chewing sounds from your family members at mealtime (even from the cute toothless one) put you on edge.
- The sound of the bathroom fan being left “on” ignites feelings of outrage and exasperation.
- No joy. Your creative and playful side can only roll her eyes at your favorite hobby or game.
- Your body speaks up with physical signs. The trusty GI tract that has always worked like clockwork has screeched to a halt and a headache lingers in the background of your eyeballs.
- You can’t find the motivation to even binge-watch the next season of your favorite show.
- You are unable to concentrate on the story your son wrote. Granted, there are so many “and then he” and not a single punctuation mark, but, come on, cute stories naming ALL the Pokemon characters never felt this torturous.
Everyone’s burnout may look and feel different, but you get the picture.
So what can you do?
There are 3 steps to this process:
- Call it out.
- Accept it.
- Care and repair.
The first two are simple, yet not always the easiest. But they are necessary in order to name burnout for what it is and acknowledge it.
Now that you have my attention, what are you asking of me?
Step 3 can vary depending on your preference or comfort level in taking action. Here are 9 simple ideas to jumpstart the process.
1. Slow down and rest.
Let all the unnecessary obligations fall away. Let some of the necessary obligations fall away, too. They probably belong in the unnecessary category anyway.
2. Stand up and stretch.
Notice any tension your body is holding and go to that place to see if you can let just a bit (or all) of it go.
3. Re-evaluate your standards.
Take your standards and bring them as far down as you possibly can. Then, give them to your best friend (or one of your children) and they will take your adorable standards down a few more notches.
4. Laugh or cry.
Laugh at a random tv show, comic strip, or cute animal videos. Or cry at a sad song or a good story.
5. Step outside.
Breathe in the fresh air, look up at the sky, and scan the horizon. These behaviors structure safety and bring you out of fight-or-flight-or-freeze mode.
6. Connect with a friend (or even the grocery check-out worker).
Remember, you are not alone in this world, and sparking up a conversation may just be the reminder you need.
7. Simplify meals.
Work smarter, not harder, when it comes to feeding yourself and your family. Order take out. Heat up a frozen meal. Open a can of soup. Pour a bowl of cereal. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
8. Set boundaries.
This can be hard for people-pleasers, but practicing the art of saying no is a gamechanger.
9. Turn to a higher power.
Try a prayer. Nothing too fancy, and nothing too quiet either. A prayer in a burnout situation looks like calling out, “Help me! I can’t do this alone!” And although it may appear to your human eyes that only your dog takes note, coming to you, laying beside you, bearing witness, there is power in believing in a Greater Love, a Holy Mystery at work in this world that takes note as well.
Even though you may not “see” any immediate effects, asking for help to something beyond yourself is a way of admitting that you are not the center of the universe.
In fact, it is comforting and liberating.
The bigger truth here is that the structures upon which our work expectations are built often set us up to work longer and harder at the expense of their mental and physical health.
The fuller story here is that the aspirational strivings to be superhuman set us up to be preoccupied with the pursuit of perfection.
These all end in suffering and burnout.
With that said, what’s often glimpsed from the other side of suffering is a bigger picture of how the world works, and all the broken areas of the system that affect us.
And once we recover from our burnout, let’s start to think about ways to dismantle the system while preserving ourselves. Together.
Adapted from the original post.
HEADER IMAGE: ANTHONY TRAN
Liz Brinkman, RD is a private practice dietitian who runs a Phoenix-based nutrition practice, through which she sees clients both locally and virtually. Specializing in Intuitive Eating and eating disorder recovery, Liz’s mission is to empower women to find healing and hope as they navigate the chaos of diet culture, and reconnect with the answers they already have within. When she’s not working, you can find Liz at her dining room table surrounded by family, neighbors and friends. Whether playing Uno, helping with homework, or sharing a meal, her hope is that people push back from the table feeling more restored, anchored, and accepted than when they sat down. Learn more and connect with Liz at Liz Brinkman Nutrition.