“It’s okay if you fall apart sometimes. Tacos fall apart, and we still love them.” ~Unknown
Do you often find yourself saying, “I just have to get through this week…” and then that turns into every week? I know I do.
Between work responsibilities, chores, and spending time with family and friends the calendar can start to fill up quickly. Unfortunately, there was a time in my life where I let those activities push self-care off my to-do list, leaving me constantly feeling exhausted and burned out.
Before this experience, I always thought burnout was predominantly mental, not necessarily physical. But then I experienced a major wake up call.
Recognizing the Signs of Burnout
A couple of years ago, I was working long hours and filling my hours after work with hobbies, chores, and time with my significant other. This constant activity started to take a physical toll on my body.
I felt tired all the time.
I had gained ten pounds in a short amount of time. I was experiencing constant joint pain and headaches several times a week. Sometimes I would even get chest pain and a fever.
Naturally, these physical symptoms were alarming, so I went to see my doctor. She thought I may have some kind of serious issue, so she sent me to get some bloodwork.
As I waited for the results, I felt nervous. The prospect of facing a serious health issue in the midst of all of the other overwhelm I was experiencing felt like more than I could handle.
When I got the email notifying me that my test results had come in, I took a deep breath and opened it.
Everything was all clear. At first, I felt confused. How could nothing be wrong when I felt so sick?
My diagnosis? Stress and burnout.
After talking it over with my doctor, we determined that my lack of time to relax was causing me to feel so burned out that I was feeling physical symptoms in addition to the mental symptoms. I felt a little stunned. Could stress really cause me to feel that physically sick?
Overcoming Burnout and Finding Relief Through Self-Care
I knew then that I needed to change my lifestyle.
Previously, I often turned to unhealthy ways of coping with stress like treating myself to fast food for dinner… every night.
I would also have trouble falling asleep because it was difficult to turn my mind off at the end of the day. I wasn’t getting enough sleep and compensating with caffeine throughout the day instead of improving my sleep habits.
As I started investing more time on self-care, I started to feel more like myself again. I was feeling rested, and those physical symptoms of burnout started to go away.
If you’re also feeling burned out…
Take items off your to-do list.
Because burnout often stems from feeling overwhelmed by our schedule and how much we need to get done, I started by taking non-essential tasks off my to-do list and leaning on my support system. For example, asking my significant other to take care of dinner.
Downsizing my to-do list allowed me to set a more realistic schedule for myself, so I was able to lower my expectations on how much I should accomplish every day.
I learned to forgive myself for not completing everything on my to-do list. When feeling burned out, it’s important for us to be gentle with ourselves if the quality and quantity of what we accomplish isn’t up to our usual standards.
It can be difficult to say no to people at first, but the more we do it the more comfortable we start to feel with letting others know we don’t have the bandwidth to support them right now.
It’s also important to be realistic about time frames and what needs to be accomplished every day. When creating a to-do list and schedule, also estimate how long it will take to complete each task to avoid agreeing to too much.
Take time to rest and relax.
When feeling burned out, it is so important to give ourselves space to rest and recover.
If we are feeling sick or experiencing physical pain from burnout, we need to take time and care to treat these ailments.
It’s also important to mentally rest and recover. It can be easy to fall into a habit of coming home from work and watching Netflix on the couch all night. I used to drown out the stressful thoughts of everything I needed to get done by distracting my mind with TV shows and social media.
Now, instead of binge-watching shows or scrolling, I make sure to spend some quiet time relaxing.
Sleep is also really important in preventing burnout and exhaustion. If we find ourselves cutting back on sleep to make room for items on our to-do list, that tells us that we might be biting off a little more than we can chew.
Find the right self-care activities.
Self-care activities help us mentally decompress from the stressful impact of our daily schedule. Self-care isn’t just about relaxing, it’s about caring for yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally so you feel energized and strong enough to handle whatever the next day throws at you.
Physical self-care ideas:
- Do some yoga to stretch your muscles, reduce body aches, and help you get a better night’s sleep.
- Get a massage to ease muscle tension and relax your body.
- Hydrate to increase your energy and flush out toxins.
- Eat a healthy meal to aid your digestion and boost your immunity.
- Schedule a check-up with your doctor to stay on top of potential health issues.
Mental self-care ideas:
- Read a book to get lost in a story and give your mind a break from worries.
- Take a mental health day to reconnect with yourself.
- Unplug from technology for a while to find peace and stillness in the present.
- Do a craft to boost your mood and get into a state of flow (research has shown crafting is a natural antidepressant!)
- Listen to a podcast for inspiration, education, entertainment, or all three.
Emotional self-care ideas:
- Journal to identify and process your emotions.
- Meditate to create space between your thoughts, emotions, and reactions.
- Talk to a therapist to work through feelings you find difficult to address on your own.
- Make a list of five things you are grateful for to boost your hope and optimism.
- Set healthy boundaries for yourself to ensure you’re not taking on other people’s feelings.
The key is finding self-care activities that are enjoyable and leave us feeling recharged and refreshed. That means getting clear on what works for you, knowing that may change on a day-to-day basis.
Don’t choose activities that might be mentally or physically draining when you’re already feeling burned out. Today you might feel like running, tomorrow you might feel like walking, the next day you might feel like napping. Ask yourself what you need right now, then honor what you find, without judgment.
There Is Hope
We all feel burned out at times, because we all go through phases when life gets busier than usual. Just know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel if you release your high expectations of yourself, set boundaries around your time, and give yourself permission to put your well-being at the top of your priority list.