Burnout survivor starting a business again
The fear, the awareness, and the combination of powerful tools that I use to quickly recover when I am on the brink of burnout
It’s 8am on a Monday morning. I’ve recently made the spontaneous decision to sign up for a 2 week “Launch It Girl” program that helps me build and launch my website, and the program starts today! I have my freshly brewed cup of steaming coffee next to me, I gently push my glasses closer to my face with my middle finger, and I’m feeling incredibly motivated, energized, creative and excited. This should be fun!!
The candle that burns twice as bright…
The same routine repeats for the next 10 days. All the while, I’m juggling my actual full time job, I am 9 months in to my part time health coaching course which has recently become a lot more draining as we have to find actual clients for our practicum, there’s a few family stressors, household chores like cooking all of my meals take up a lot of time, and I’m doing it all during a pandemic.
As I’m in this creative website-building-business-development mode, I notice there’s this really intense passionate and “inspired” energy I’m feeling ALL THE TIME. Do you know the feeling? There are ideas constantly bubbling around my brain taking mental resources. Any podcast I listened to — whether it be Brené Brown, Armchair Expert, How to Save a Planet, or Food Heaven — I found myself frantically taking down notes, wanting to capture their thoughtful insights on topics I care about, that I could potentially write about and elaborate on myself.
Even during meditations, I find myself wanting to take notes. Pause the meditation. Rewind. Take notes. Play. Repeat. I eventually realize I’m not really meditating at all. It’s like I don’t want to skip a beat and I’m worried about not capturing all of this good information coming my way.
As ideas about journaling prompts pop into my mind during a leisurely walk, I take out my phone, flip open the notes app and write the juicy journal prompt along with,
“I’m even writing down all of these ideas while on a walk because everything inspires me right now. I’ve never been so inspired but I’ve never been so scared of burnout.”
I became really worried about dabbling into burnout when I realized I wasn’t being mindful at all on my walk. I wasn’t looking at people’s faces, I wasn’t observing my surroundings. I was totally in my head. The fact that I couldn’t calm my brain down on a walk that was meant to be just a walk gave me pause. I was no longer able to separate myself from my work. These are some of my signs/symptoms of being out of balance, and inching closer to burnout. In this out-of-balance mode of existing, I can picture that if I took a brain scan, several areas of my brain would be chronically lit up like fireworks, without any rest moments. I feel like Bradley Cooper in Limitless, only, I know I have limits.
Some of the other warning signs that something was off for me were: heightened anxiety, wayyy less focus (even when watching tv shows), withdrawing a bit from friends and family and not feeling as social, and not feeling light and full of positivity. My burnout thermostat, which is constantly monitoring how I’m feeling, was sending me loud signals.
I found it so odd… during the last 9 months, as crazy as they’ve been (ahem... pandemic), I have been feeling extremely motivated and excited about the new health coaching path I’m on. So why, oh why, is burnout creeping in?
How did I get here again? Humans easily forget.
As my energy starts to wean out throughout the 10 day branding/website building sprint, and I start to feel this familiar uneasy sensation, I think to myself, “How did this happen? Have I just fallen into an old pattern?” That pattern I’m talking about is the pattern of taking on too much in moments where I feel extreme excitement and like I have boundless energy.
I love the graphic above, because it helps me visualize why burnout follows extreme motivation and excitement for me. I take on too much, and then I get into imbalance.
I have experienced this before with anxiety. When I’m in the despair, I will do anything to get myself out. I’m super motivated to read books on it, and incorporate lifestyle practices. And then time goes by and I recover. When I’m good/recovered, I’m SO good. So I kind of throw caution to the wind and drop all of the practices and tools that helped me get through the tough period. Humans easily forget.
From fear to empowerment to action
As I continue to feel a lot of worry and fear about being on the brink of burnout again, I suddenly have a realization: Just because I have recovered from burnout once, does not mean that it can’t happen again.
My next realization is a tougher one: My reality is that going forward, I might always need to be mindful of my tendency towards burnout.
Ooh does this make my feel all sorts of resistance.
I eventually realize, life is going to be full of stressful times when my mind and body feel more worn out, but because I have become aware of the signs of burnout, I am in the position where I can implement all of the tools, when I need to, so that I don’t reach a state of chronic burnout. Even though I may dabble into feeling like I’m burning out here and there, I have learned the tools that work for me, to prevent it from happening again.
As I start to feel more empowered, I start to move from resistance to action. Over the next few weeks after launching my website, I really take charge of my life. Lots of self care through rest, calming rituals/practices, unplugging, and making sure I’m nourishing myself with good food. Below, I want to share the combination of powerful tools that I use to quickly recover when I am on the brink of burnout.
Practices I’ve incorporated and skills I’ve cultivated to buffer against burnout
These are some of the methods I have used to not only heal my chronic burnout but also tools I implement whenever I am in fear and I want to prevent burnout from happening again. Knowing that I always have these to lean on feels protective… like I know that that I can bring myself back out of it, as long as I really take things seriously. We all need different types of support, so I encourage you to also think about what works for you.
One of the core practices I’ve alluded to earlier in this article is monitoring myself and being in tune with what is happening in my body and my mind, through an application of mindfulness. I use mindfulness to become curious about what is going on with my feelings, emotions, and needs. I can go through a practice of observing what I am experiencing, asking myself what I am feeling and labelling my feelings like “anxiety, overwhelm, scared, etc”, and then asking myself, what am I needing right now?
It is difficult to sit with and get curious about negative emotions (instead of just pushing them away) but I believe that this awareness is what helps me switch my self care practices into high gear when needed.
2. Being intentional
Remember that walk when I was consumed with thoughts? I now try to bring intention to activities, especially ones that are my calming go-to’s.
This means if I go for a walk, I set the intention of it being a relaxing walk, and maybe even a mindful walk. If so, I don’t listen to any podcasts. This doesn’t mean I forbid myself from going on more creative walks — walks can be an immensely good source of creativity and inspiration, especially when you let your mind have space to think freely. But I think bringing intentionality to my grounding practices like walking, meditation, and yoga has been helpful to ensure that I’m not always in planning/thinking/analyzing/creating monkey mind.
3. TV Shows
Finding a TV show I can totally lose myself in became a priority for me when I was really feeling on the edges of burnout. TV is a funny one for me. When I was living my life a thousand miles a minute back in 2015–2017, I never watched TV. I felt bummed about being shunned from the cultural conversation around TV shows. A friend actually respected that I didn’t watch any TV, as if I really had my priorities in order, unlike all the others who spent so much time watching TV. I, on the other hand, felt like something was off. That something was that I had zero leisure time for things like TV. As much as I think it’s important to sit with your emotions, sometimes you need an escape.
Instead of reading more about health topics — things that I might be tempted to take notes on — I picked up my Hunger Games book, with an intention of allowing myself to get lost in a fictional story that has zero to do with anything I’m working on. It’s like this is my way of actively setting a boundary for myself from my mind always being in “work and create mode”.
5. Making sure I’m not working around the clock
A few evenings a week I have commitments such as live health coaching course sessions to attend, peer practice sessions, but by and large, I try to stop all forms of working by 6pm and switch to dinner and spending time with my partner mode. We eat, we watch TV, we enjoy each other’s company, and my laptop (what I primarily use to do work) is nowhere in sight.
6. Walks & Treats
This can be a bit of an expensive habit, so beware! I’ve gotten into the habit of looking up coffee shops/cafes, and making a little walking adventure out of going there. This is something I would do when I would visit NYC and I would just feel so full of wonder. New routes mean new connections in my brain. It means more paying attention to my surroundings and getting out of my monkey mind. And the little reward at the end of getting something yummy (for me, its normally a soothing herbal tea with some honey) at the end of my walk, and to walk back home with in hand, just makes the little trip extra special!
7. Days off when needed
A few weeks ago, while I was feeling on the brink of burnout, I took a day off. I just wanted to walk around, do calming activities, and do things around the house. I felt guilty about not working because I have taken a fair bit of time off for many reasons, but then I had a big insightful realization: What is more important? Working for a day, or my health?
And that was it. I eased into my day off, without any guilt in site, and realized the power of this manta. When I am not feeling well, (almost) everything can wait for my recovery.
8. Weekends TOTALLY off
Before the word “boundaries” became so ubiquitous, and before I knew the word in the context that it’s now used in, I was actually creating them. As a co-founder of a tech startup, I realized it can be reaaally easy to get sucked into working around the clock. ESPECIALLY when I’m feeling really motivated.
After burning out in 2017, I started resenting the hustle and grind culture. I realized how toxic and unhealthy it was. And I decided I wouldn’t work on weekends anymore. For a while I felt guilty, seeing my colleagues working a lot more than I was… pulling 12 hour days, all nighters, working all weekend, etc. Do I not share the same work ethic? Am I not a good fit for this culture, I would ask for myself? But I have finally come around to realize that we all have different boundaries around work and non-work time, and I really respect that I enforced the boundaries I needed!
I just think it’s so damn important to be able to detach from your work.
9. Meditation & Journalling
Admittedly, as I write this, my meditation habit has gone on the back burner. Isn’t that just the funniest thing about habits. I started formally meditating in May 2020 when the ADAPT health coach training program commenced, and it was actually part of our homework to meditate every day. A wonderful faculty member, Forest Fein, would walk us through these wonderfully calming meditations, and I looked forward to my morning meditations! I now have the 10% Happier app for new, fresh guided meditations and highly recommend guided meditations especially if you are new to meditation.
Journalling has always been a go-to for me when I’m feeling extra emotional and like my thoughts feel frantic. Free flowing writing in the form of journalling helps my stream of consciousness so I can think something through and consolidate all of my thoughts more clearly.
10. Exercise and Yoga
Thanks to obé fitness and their amazing instructors, I have recently become obsessed with “yoga sculpt” classes. As a lifelong soccer player, cardio has never been an issue for me. Strength, however, is my weakness :) Combine it with yoga — another newer addition to my fitness repertoire — into a “yoga sculpt” class and you have a happy woman out of me. I have spontaneously gotten into the habit of doing about 2–3 workout classes at home per week, and I really, REALLY enjoy the burn! Exercise — specifically the type of exercise that makes my muscles burn — has become the single more effective way for me to instantly get out of my head.
I saved the best for last. Whenever I am going through a health challenge, I ALWAYS turn to healthier eating. For one thing, having control over the food I put into my body is a really empowering feeling, especially in times when my mental health and nervous system feel a bit out of whack. This means turning to more gut friendly, anti-inflammatory foods (basically just eating mostly whole, nutrient rich foods).
What’s in YOUR toolkit?
As we grow, new challenges appear. Life is never going to stop throwing us stress and we will inevitably go through phases where our bodies and minds are going to feel tired and on the brink of burnout. These are the critical times when it’s so important to have the right toolkit to make sure you are giving yourself the nourishment and self care you need. What I’m taking about is a toolkit that is uniquely yours, that you get to keep for yourself. One that honours your body’s need to rest and relaxation, and brings you back to you.
I hope this article has helped you develop a deeper knowing that you can prevent burnout from happening again.
P.S. For some of you, your own internal motivation to make changes will be enough. For many, however, getting some outside help and support is critical. This is where health coaching comes in. As a health coach, I help people to stop unhealthy habits and build healthy ones. I am basically a “behavior change ninja!” If you’re interested in exploring this as an option for additional support, I offer sessions via phone or video. Send me an email to book a free 25 minute discovery call at firstname.lastname@example.org :-)