How do you know if you’re burnt out?
The symptoms are clear, but we’re not always aware of them before we’ve suffered for a while. Burnout is the result of chronic stress around an external circumstance or a persistent belief. It’s a messy cocktail of exhaustion (physical and mental) and numbness that leaves you feeling cynical, bitter while deep down experiencing a deep sense of ineffectiveness or lack of accomplishment. Because burnout can often feel so overwhelming, we tend to buffer by detaching from life. Over time, this can lead to more serious mental issues, so catching it early is really helpful.
What Causes Burnout?
It’s caused by pushing too hard, typically in work situations, but it can also be personal – especially if you’re serving others 24/7 and generally not taking care of your own needs (<-hello moms, I’m talking to you).
Personally I think burnout is derived from a lack of choice or control (real or perceived) in our lives. Work can be stressful for anyone, but if we have autonomy to take the gas off the petal when we need to, it doesn’t have to crush us. Same thing goes in our personal life. Sometimes we just need to call a timeout or take a mental health day to get our head is screwed on again. But if you don’t feel like you have the power or autonomy to do that, you’re going to run into a brick wall because you see no alternative.
A feeling of lack of control can also come in the form of efforting towards a goal where you just never see results. Whether that’s working hard on a business that never grows or being so diligent with a diet, but never seeing the scale budge. When we feel like we’re failing and nothing we do makes a difference, that learned helplessness will eventually lead to burnout.
How Choice and Control Prevents Burnout
It’s clear that the more choice and control you have over your life, the less likely you are to run into the proverbial brick wall. The interesting thing, is that very often we have more control over our choices than we think we do, but because of mental conditioning, we can’t access it. It’s just like the baby elephant that thinks it’s tethered to a stake in the ground – it’s perception and not reality that keeps us from making different choices.
So, if choice and control is the antidote to burnout, but we don’t feel like we have it, what can we do?
How to Prevent Burnout when you don’t have control?
A perceived lack of control is often based on a false awareness or reactive belief because we’re not consciously choosing our reactions and decisions in the moment. We’re so conditioned to live on autopilot where our choices are not in our line-of-sight.
Do you ever wonder why yogis and mediators are so happy and at peace? It’s not because they have different circumstances than the rest of us. It’s because they live in the moment and meet circumstances as they arise. Then rather than being reactive, they pause to see all the choices they have in the moment. This might look like choosing not to binge eat when feeling lonely, or choosing not to buy yet another pair of shoes when what we really need is a hug and a good night’s sleep.
What’s the Most Effective Way to Slow Down?
There’s a TON of good reasons for maintaining a meditation practice, but this is by far my biggest “why” factor. I feel so much more aware of my choices and actions since starting a consistent meditation practice. I see it in subtle little moments of awareness where I have the space to ask myself “do I really need this right now?” or “is there a better way to feel about this situation?”. When I do this, I feel more empowered and less helpless, even when I don’t have a ton of control or choices.
Meditation & Preventing Burnout
Meditation is a powerful happiness tool and it’s 100% free.
Now, certainly there are a lot of other ways to improve your sense of control and choice in your life. Money, time, support and resources are all wonderful things that can add to your sense of peace and happiness. However, they can also lead to more complexity, drama and expectation, so they will not necessarily save you from yourself! Developing awareness and staying present to make conscious choices is the only way to truly manage yourself and avoid driving yourself into the proverbial brick wall.
An Easy Way to Start Meditating
If you’re feeling burned out, give meditation a try. I recommend starting with a short, guided practice of no more than 10 minutes. Even 2 minutes is better than no minutes. Check out @insighttimer or @headspace. These are two great (and free) apps that are perfect for beginners.
Hope that helps!