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The Two Things that Led Me to Chronic Burnout

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

Are you guilty of applying band aids when what you really need is a cast? I know that’s a strange analogy but hang with me for a sec while I try to make sense of it.

But what I’m really asking is if you’ve ever felt on the verge of physical and mental exhaustion, ignored the red flags, and:

  • Continued life and business as usual

  • Continued to overwork

  • Continued to overcommit at work and at home

  • Continued to say yes to all things

I am totally guilty, and I know many of us are.

I don’t know if this is an eldest daughter thing, a catholic thing, a people pleaser thing or a combination thereof but my personal pattern during most of my professional career used be to ignore the signs, feel ill, and continue right through because I didn’t have any “real” signs of sickness – you know like a fever or a broken bone or other visible symptoms.

What I would feel instead was acute stomach pain, headaches, severe fatigue, detachment, and other things that I would justify as a little stress – nothing a good tea and some ibuprofen couldn’t fix. Those were my band aids.

But when you’re stretched so thin that you’re sprained; at that point, what you need to heal is a cast not a bandaid. What does a cast mean in this context? Rest. Time off. Stillness physically and mentally

I had such trouble enjoying free time. All I felt was guilt and was completely incapable of taking a proper vacation.

And then what would inevitably happen? The stress would become debilitating forcing me to take the time off I was avoiding. The sad part? What was supposed to be vacation was me avoiding people and sleeping to recover. The time off was the “cast” until I healed enough to head right back to work.

Taking a day off for me used to be unthinkable! I took pride that in over a decade I could count the sick days I took with one hand. And if I told you all the weeks of vacation, I lost over the years... I don’t think you’d believe me. Or you’d feel really sorry for me.

The worst part? I thought that was something to be proud of! I was tough, hard-working and loved what I did. I never recognized when I was approaching burnout or, even worse, when I was way past running on empty.

That was definitely not the role model I wanted to be to those around me at work and at home. I slept away many significant moments in my kids’ lives.

So, I started to research and anything and everything I could to learn why I was in this constant cycle of chronic burnout and how I could recover and prevent it for good.

Over time, I started to recognize patterns and gain the self-awareness to discover the main two things that were contributing to my chronic burnout cycle:

Lack of self-care and lack of boundaries.

It took a while but once I made the decision to make self-care a non-negotiable part of my day, things shifted in a big way. Boundaries setting naturally came as a byproduct of my redesigned lifestyle. I started with baby steps, but my routine evolved slowly but surely into what it is today.

Here is how I start and end each day to protect myself from ever falling into an overworking, chronic burnout cycle:

  • I start my day with personal development. This could include reading, listening to audiobooks or podcasts, or doing a LinkedIn Learning course.

  • I Exercise. I don’t have to tell you what those endorphins do for you, your mood, your energy, your work productivity, your mental clarity, and your confidence the rest of the day.

  • I pay attention to my nutrition. I’m not a fan meal prepping but I do follow a nutrition plan that I prepare for every Sunday so it’s easy to stick to all week and there’s no room for guessing.

  • I have a set bedtime. At 9pm, my phone turns to sleep mode and reminds me that bedtime is 10pm. The consistency of going to bed and waking up at the same time every day helps set you up for better sleep quality.

I’m definitely still a work in progress but, these days, I’m much better at recognizing when I’m on the verge of burnout before ever needing that “cast.” I want my vacations to be intentional and enjoyable with friends and family. I want time off to help me recharge in a healthy way not to force me to not move.

If you relate, I have two questions for you: have you learned to recognize the signs and, if so, what are your strategies for avoiding burnout?

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