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.

The Self Care Project Book Review

Why Self-Care?

My own awareness of self-care started during my counsellor training. I had some counselling, during which my Counsellor asked me about what my needs were. I couldn’t answer her question, because I had no idea. Thus started my own journey of working that out and exploring how to look after myself and meet my needs. Due to some experiences during adolescence I had learnt to protect myself by pretending I didn’t have needs. If I didn’t have needs then I wouldn’t need to experience the pain of noticing that they weren’t being met. Fast forward ten years and I’m a big advocate of self-care. I’m still learning and still could be better at it, but I’m aware of the impact it has. I’ve seen it in my own life, in those around me and in countless clients I’ve worked with.

The Book


I had seen positive reviews about The Self Care Project, so was keen to read it. I’m so glad I did. From the outset author Jayne Hardy writes about nine ways she’s sucked at self-care, and the impact it has had on her life. She writes with engaging honesty about her own experiences in an accessible and conversational style. I felt empathy towards her, felt connected to her and it connected me with the parts of myself I’ve neglected.

I wanted to keep reading. And I wanted to do the things she was talking about. I even put it down and stopped reading it for two weeks because I didn’t want to finish it and wanted it to last a bit longer.

I found myself booking yoga classes because I’d been meaning to for ages but hadn’t wanted to spend that much money. I decided that I’m worth it and when I started, I remembered how much I enjoy it. I bought myself some new underwear to replace the ones I had with holes in. I tried paddle boarding because I like fun and adventure and hadn’t tried anything new for a while. Self-care can mean so many different things.


The Self Care Project breaks self-care down into manageable chunks and expresses it in a clear and understandable way. I love the concept of micro steps to trick our mind into letting us make changes. It is practical, but it is more than that. It looks at why we might not be very good at self-care, why it is important, alarms we don’t notice, barriers to self-care, burnout, emergency self-care and every day self-care. It meets you where you are and encourages you to take little steps forward. It is surprisingly thorough and offers worksheets to reflect upon what you’ve read about.

‘We are enough. As we are. It’s the truest of all truths. We don’t need to be fixed – we’re not broken. Lost, unsure, confused, hiding away, recovering, struggling, hurting, damaged, scarred, messy and scared, perhaps, but not broken’ page 72.

I really like how vulnerable and real the author is and the honest stories and examples she shares. The Blurt Foundation (who the author is Founder and CEO of) is aimed at people with depression so the book is mindful of people lacking energy and motivation, but the content is relevant for everyone.  It inspires you to get more in touch with who you are. It is about making self-care work for you in your own life and making it your own.

My only criticism is that I don’t want to write in my book and I don’t want to bend the spine trying to scan pages to print the worksheets out. Downloadable printouts would be good!

* Update – there are downloadable printouts 🙂 *


I’ve already bought three copies of this book and will probably buy more. I’ve recommended it to colleagues, students I teach, and I’ll probably buy it for some of my clients too. I think it is a brilliant book and I’m full of admiration for the work Jayne Hardy and the Blurt Foundation are doing.

If you want to find out more check out http://www.blurtitout.org

‘We’re looking for those micro pockets of time where we check in with ourselves, ponder how we’re feeling, consider our energy levels, and act accordingly. Self-care is as much about the ‘being’ as the ‘doing’. When we have the space to be, we can see more clearly what we might need to do to feel better’ page 117.

Start Where You Are, Don’t Wait Until You’re Ready

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can – Arthur Ashe

I’m about to start co-leading a group as part of a project to get young girls to be more active and to live healthier lives, both physically and mentally. It has got me thinking about my own journey of getting started with being more physically active after having my kids. I enjoy running but procrastinated for ages about starting to run for a number of reasons. I had a one year old who didn’t sleep a lot, I was worried I would be slow, I didn’t like the idea of having to get through the hard bit where it is challenging to run and breathe for a while until I was fit enough to do both. I was struggling to motivate myself to get started. I kept thinking things like what it would be like to finish a 10k and tell people how long it had taken me to complete it. I was getting way ahead of myself on that one. I could probably only run a few hundred metres at the time and was imagining how my running might be in the future and what other people might think about it. How I might compare to others. When we compare ourselves to others it can make us feel stuck and can hold us back from living our lives. It stopped me from starting.

Starting something new can feel so hard because we want to be able to do it already; we want to be established and can find it hard to have to learn from scratch or practise for long enough until we can get going.

I knew that starting running would be hard because I was inactive and unfit. It would take a while to build up enough fitness to be able to breathe well enough to keep going. But somewhere deep down I knew that once I got past that stage that I’d enjoy it, that it would be good for me, and that once I’d done a run I would feel good. And once I did start I wished I’d started earlier.

I realised that no one was judging how I look when I run, or how fast I run. Most people are focused on beating their own pb’s (personal best times) and are pretty supportive of other runners. It’s about being better than you used to be rather than being better than others (unless you are a competitive runner). And it turns out that I’m not the slowest runner when I do a race. But I’m filled with admiration for those who are. Because they’re doing it. For themselves. And they don’t let what others think stop them from starting.

I read a few years ago that Mo Farah had greeted finishers at the end of the London Marathon who had been running for over 7 hours to finish. He congratulated them. One of them questioned why he was doing it and he replied that he had run for a couple of hours to finish and that it was amazing how they had kept going and going. He saw their perseverance and how hard they had worked to have been able to run for such a length of time. Often when we compare ourselves to others we are comparing what they are with what we aren’t. What they have with what we haven’t. And it makes us forget who we are. What we uniquely have to offer. People like Mo Farah are amazing. But not being able to run as fast as he can doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t run. The people who ran for 7 hours showed more stamina and endurance than Mo Farah did.

I’m not suggesting that you should start running, but what is there in your life where looking at others makes you feel stuck? Or makes you feel inadequate and forget what you’ve got to offer? What would you be starting or doing if it didn’t matter what other people think or what other people are doing? Start where you are.

It’s a terrible thing in life to wait until you’re ready – Hugh Laurie

Why Self-Compassion Matters

“We are what we believe we are” – CS Lewis

The concept of self compassion at its simplest is being a good friend to yourself. We often (but not always) know what we would say to a friend if they were having a rubbish time or feeling negative about themselves, but are often much more critical of ourselves than we are towards others. We don’t always say to ourselves things like “you tried your best” or “I’m sorry you’re having a hard time”. We often aren’t as friendly and warm when we talk to ourselves as we would be when talking to friends or others.

Self-esteem (feeling good about ourselves) requires feeling above average and this involves comparing ourselves to others. We start putting others down to feel better about ourselves and this can lead to us feeling judgemental towards others. We need to feel superior to feel OK, and to do this we blow others candles out in trying to shine brighter ourselves. It means that we struggle to feel happy for others when they succeed. And what sucks about self-esteem is that when you fail something, it abandons you and you’re left feeling rubbish about yourself – I’ve failed because I’m a failure.

According to Kristin Neff who has spent her career researching self compassion, you need 3 components to self compassion so that it doesn’t become self pity. These are

  1. Self kindness – treating ourselves with the kindness and warmth we would show to a friend
  2. Common humanity – the understanding that life is hard and that others are also going through hard things
  3. Mindfulness – an understanding of what we are feeling and experiencing

Common humanity is important because if we think it is only us experiencing hard times then we feel sorry for ourselves and experience self-pity. It needs mindfulness because we need to understand what we are thinking and feeling and to be able to sit with how we feel, feel the pain and have compassion towards ourselves. We have to be able to turn towards our feelings, and this involves knowing what we’re actually feeling.

What I love about self compassion is that you still get the benefits of having a high self-esteem, but it doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing or what anyone else thinks of you. You don’t need to be better than anyone else. You can fail. Life can be hard or you can mess things up. It’s part of life that we all go through hard times and that we all will mess up. But self compassion allows us to say to ourselves “it’s OK”, “I understand”, “everyone feels like this sometimes”, “you’re not a failure because you’ve failed an exam”, “of course you feel like this, it’s so understandable”, “you’re doing the best you can”.

If we can allow ourselves to fail and to mess up, but then be gentle and kind to ourselves about it, we can learn and we can grow. We don’t become paralysed with fear of failure or fear of rejection. When a baby learns to walk we expect it to take a while and for them to fall over hundreds of times. We don’t pick them up and tell them not to bother anymore. And so is life. If we can be kind enough to ourselves that falling down is inevitable and trying again is the way forward then failure stops paralysing us. Self compassion isn’t about striving towards a perfect version of yourself, but about accepting yourself as you are.

How much is your inner critic really interested in your wellbeing? Where does the critical inner voice even come from? Whose voice is it? Maybe someone who judged you harshly when you were younger? A critical parent or teacher? Because if we’re honest, if we had a friend who was highly critical of us and kept saying mean things to us then the wisest thing would be to steer clear of them. And yet we so often allow ourselves to say such things and become so used to it that we don’t even notice how critical we can be to ourselves.

Compassion is about kindness, acceptance and non-judgement. How can you offer these things to yourself? Be kind to yourself because you’re doing the best you can.

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion” – Dalai Lama


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.