Why Burnout Happens and How to Prevent it

Have you ever felt just so so physically, mentally, emotionally exhausted and like you’ve lost all sense of purpose in your life? Where life feels overwhelming and like it has no meaning anymore? Maybe there’s seemingly nothing wrong in life and yet daily life feels like such a struggle. Should it really be this hard to get out of bed in the morning?

I’ve been there.

When even seemingly tiny tasks feel totally overwhelming and that I can’t summon up the motivation to get them done. It’s much easier to sit thinking about them than to just do them.

When having a shower feels like a marathon. So I just put it off a bit longer…

When I procrastinate from unloading the dishwasher for an hour when really it could have been over in 5 minutes.

It just doesn’t make sense.

Lots of us are living in a state of survival and coping rather than thriving or living. We are doing too much, and because everyone else is over-committed and doing it too then it seems like it’s normal. We start to wonder if there is something wrong with us because everyone else seems to be managing OK. But we’re just so so exhausted and should life really feel this hard? Or this mundane?

We worry that if we get off the hamster wheel then life might fall apart. If we drop one of the balls then we might drop all of them. If we stop then what if we can’t hold it all together anymore? What if the facade crumbles? What would we be left with? What would people think of us? What if life does totally fall apart?

Maybe we keep going until we get burnt out, which temporarily forces us to stop. That is, until we recoup a bit and then we do it all over again… and again.

So how do you build a life you don’t need to take time out from? How can you stop getting ill when you stop? How can you break out of the cycle of burnout?

The reality is that life needs a bit of tweaking to find a better balance. If nothing changes then burnout will keep happening. Life needs a bit of an overhaul to make it work for you and your needs.

About a year ago I came across Marie Asberg’s exhaustion funnel, which sums up how burnout happens. Basically, when life is going well for us, we naturally do the things that make us feel good and we look after ourselves. We make life work for us, find time to see our friends and make space in our lives to do hobbies and things that we enjoy.

 

Exhaustion Funnel Marie Asberg

Marie Asberg’s Exhaustion Funnel

 

As life gets busier or a life event happens, stress creeps in, then we drop something that seems non-essential. We still find time for work, chores and some rest, but we squeeze out some of the things we enjoy to make time for the things that need doing. We don’t think it matters because it is just for today or this week. We start to feel fatigue and our sleep is affected so we’re now tired but we’re ploughing on through.

It’s just for a time we tell ourselves.

Life continues and we’re now feeling tired as well as busy so we start to squeeze out some more non-essential things like rest. We still do the work and chores because they feel non-negotiable. We don’t want to let others down. We might start to feel irritable and maybe start to feel some physical symptoms. Our body is telling us that life is out of balance and we need to stop. But we don’t have time for that at the moment and don’t have much energy left. And besides, this is all just for a time.

Just for another few weeks. Or until that deadline is over. Or the assignment is handed in. Or until the holiday we’ve planned.

The chores start to get put off now as well. We’re managing work because we don’t have a choice about that. But we’re just so so exhausted. Work is taking up all the energy left now. Life feels joyless and meaningless because work is all that’s left. And those bills aren’t going to pay themselves. Exhaustion and work are your life now.

All the fun and friends and things that you enjoy and give you meaning aren’t part of your life because there’s no energy for them. And you’re too tired to enjoy them anyway. It’s all so out of balance that it feels impossible to get back to how it used to be. You’ve slipped down the funnel and now you’re at the bottom you’re not sure how you get back up again.

Does this feel familiar?

There’s no shame in getting burnt out or realising you’re at the bottom of the funnel and don’t know how to climb back up again.

If life is feeling out of balance and like you’re stressed, exhausted or on the brink of burnout, then don’t beat yourself up about it. The way out of the funnel is taking care of yourself. Listening to what you need and making time for the things you enjoy. It feels counterintuitive but we achieve more when we rest more.

If this feels like it’s speaking to you and you would like some help finding balance again and working out how to build a life where you don’t find yourself in burnout cycles, then I’d love to work with you. I can help you to find ways to make life work for you.

Self Care When You Have Nothing Left

“The time you enjoy wasting isn’t wasted time” Bertrand Russell.

When life is at its hardest, for whatever reason, sometimes the very things that can help us feel better can feel like such massive hurdles to accomplish. I might know that spending time with others really helps me feel like I’ve had a good day, but the times when I need that most are the times when it is much easier to isolate myself and to not get in contact with anyone.

Sometimes self care is about reaching out to others when I’d rather hibernate. Maybe it’s choosing to relax and be late instead of being on time and totally stressed out. Or taking the time to have a shower and start my day as I’d like to. Motivating myself to go for a run, knowing that I’ll feel good afterwards, even if I don’t want to do it right now. Sometimes we only have the energy to focus on tiny steps forward and anything else feels too much and too overwhelming. Sometimes these little decisions can feel big, but they make us feel like we matter and that we’re taking care of ourselves. Like we have a purpose and are heading towards something better. So why does doing things for ourselves feel selfish? Or like it is time wasted that could be better spent.

If your car is running out of petrol or your phone is running out of battery, you know what to do. We usually don’t wait for them to totally run out before we buy petrol, or we plug the phone in to charge. Also, a car uses more fuel when it is heavily laden and a phone uses battery more quickly when lots of apps are running.

The energy we have is the same, even when it doesn’t feel quite as simple. If we don’t look after ourselves, we burn out. Self care is really about living and building a life we don’t need time out from. As we look after ourselves we connect with our authentic self and can experience a sense of peace and calm.

When life isn’t hard, these things barely need a consideration, but when life is hard sometimes we overlook our needs and it feels impossible to do the very things that help us. Maybe the needs of those who depend on us take up what feels like all of our energy and we feel like we have nothing left for ourselves. Sometimes self care is about adjusting expectations about what can be achieved in a day or putting things off for another day. At a time in my life when I was experiencing severe sleep deprivation, my expectations of what I could achieve had to be drastically culled.

Sleep is so fundamental to our wellbeing – to our health, our happiness and quite simply, our functioning. I would advise that you don’t google ‘can I die of sleep deprivation?’ because it is pretty depressing reading that lack of sleep can cause quite a lot of things that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. There’s a good reason that it is used as a form of torture. And so many articles that I read when I was in the haze of sleep deprivation talked about it as if it was a choice and that it is just a case of not working too hard, needing to spend a bit more time relaxing and going to bed earlier to prioritise sleep a bit more. If only…

But what about if you have insomnia? Chronic pain? Young children? You are racked with grief? Or in my case, I had a son with such severe sleep apnoea that my husband and I took it in turns to hold him in a position where he could breathe. All night long some nights. When there isn’t enough sleep available to function on, and there hasn’t been for years, then no amount of bubble baths or relaxing before bed can help. Life becomes about pure survival, and all the things that supposedly help feel trite. It feels impossible to find time for yourself, and you don’t have the energy to make the effort anyway.  It feels as though no one understands how hard life is and how overwhelming simple tasks like unloading the dishwasher or cooking a meal can feel. Things that you normally enjoy feel like a whole lot of effort.

Self care is a choice, but is one that feels monumentally hard at the times we need it the most. But there’s no point waiting for the future or for when things change to get the life you want. Whether or not life is hard currently, how can you give yourself a break today? What you might feel like you need is 2 weeks in the Maldives but if you had an hour to yourself today and could do whatever you want to (no work or chores allowed), then what would you choose?

If you don’t have an hour, how could you get some of that in 5 minutes that you know you’d appreciate? What can you start today that your future self will thank you for? How can you make little steps towards living the life you would love to be living even if life feels hard at the moment?

Because time you enjoy wasting, isn’t wasted time.