How do you come back after a burnout?

Burnout is one of those buzz words that’s meaning has been watered down as we’ve used it so much during the pandemic. But we haven’t had our typical coping mechanisms; the spontaneous drinks or meals after work or weekends away to break up the day to day at work, so burnout is inevitable as the work/life balance is off. 

Burning out and feeling spent is essentially your body’s way of saying you’ve overdone it and it absolutely cannot cope anymore. It’s saying we will not keep calm and carry on, we are fed up of being neglected, so we’re now shutting down. See you in 3-5 working days.

I could have written a blog about how to avoid a burnout, but I haven’t figured that out myself yet. I fall into bad habits or have smaller burnouts week to week. With that in mind though, every time I have burnt out, I’ve been faced with the dreaded question, how do I go back to work after a burnout? And pick up all the things I was doing that fried my brain in the first place without burning out all over again. 

How do you come back from burnout? And hopefully avoid it in the future…

Reflect on what happened 

The first thing to do before going back to work after a burnout is figuring out why it happened in the first place. Write down everything you were doing and how it made you feel. 

In my experience it’s not the actual work you’ve been doing that’s led you to a burnout (unless you work an extremely intense job with long hours), instead it’s the amount of things you’ve been juggling simultaneously. It might be work, a side hustle, looking after your kids or caring for a relative, whatever it is, this concoction of responsibilities and demands on your time and energy is too much for your mind to handle.  

For instance, working your 9-5 hopefully doesn’t normally lead you to burn out (if it does, consider changing jobs as that should not be happening). But add in the pandemic, a less than ideal work environment or wfh buddies and everything becomes slightly more stressful. And that’s only thinking about the changes at work this past year; there’s been so many others. 

Prioritise your workload 

Split your pre-burnout workload into three sections: must do, should do, could do. This is quite self-explanatory, but the must do’s will either be urgent or something you have to do e.g. the bill paying work, taking care of children, yourself, your home, your bills. The should do section is dedicated to stuff that you feel obliged but it’s not time sensitive or it might even be optional. Then the could do is stuff you’d do if and when you have time aka it’s non-urgent. 

Is there anything on your current list of responsibilities that you could drop or put to one side for a few weeks? Perhaps you can close your Etsy shop for a fortnight or pause your podcast/blog or social media for the time being. It’ll still be there when you’re ready and well enough to return to it and it’ll give you a chance to focus on those must-do elements of your to do list without overwhelming yourself. 

Create a new routine based on your individual preferences 

In order to take back some control over your circumstances and break this cycle you find yourself in, create a new routine so your day feels different. If you work a 9-5 then it’s changing up your routine around work. Figure out if you’re more of a morning or evening person and utilise that time to do something that makes you feel good. It doesn’t have to be profitable or even useful, if it makes you feel good, make sure it’s included in your day. 

Ease yourself back into it

Yes, create a new routine, but don’t go all in, micromanage your life and overdo it. Make incremental changes to your life and routine as you’re in it for the long-term. Don’t be afraid to gently ease yourself back into going full speed ahead again with all your projects, socialising and interests. It’s the best way to keep those feelings of overwhelm or stress at bay. 

Take back some control

As Mike Manson in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck mentions, you’re in control and responsible for what happens next in your life. You can choose to do the same things all over again and burn out or you can make changes that will improve your day to day life.

Similarly in The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck Sarah Knight outlines a fuck budget diagram (see here). The idea is that you have a limited amount of fucks as you do with time, effort and money so you need to budget them. You need to decide what you give a fuck about as you can’t give a fuck about everything, if you do then you stand for nothing and will always feel overspent and burnt out.

It’s really helpful to filter through what you do and don’t care about in your life as it’ll help you avoid doing things to please others or be swayed by other people’s opinions in the future.  

Remember why you started it and how it felt at the beginning 

If you have a side hustle or passion project alongside your full-time job then it’s likely that in the beginning (pre-burnout) it was SO exciting and there was probably a reason, emotion or event that led you on this path. Try and reconnect with that energy and your why to bring back your love and enthusiasm for the projects again so they feel less like a chore and more fun.

How did you come back from a burnout?

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