“You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.” – Jim Rohn.
I love irony. Last month I was interviewed on the On Purpose radio show. My segment was called, “Take Back Your Life: From Burnout to True Balance.” We talked about my personal transition five years ago from burnout to a true balanced life. The joke was, during the interview, I was feeling burnt out.
No matter how vigilant we are, burnout can hit us throughout our life. We do well until a family member becomes ill and we are the primary caretaker. We love our job, but due to layoffs we become the only one left in our department. A relationship we thought was stable becomes demanding and draining. The source of the burnout looks differently but it all comes back to the same issue. The issue is focusing outside of ourselves instead of in.
Perception – Pain – Outside
Burnout is caused by giving priority to things or people outside of ourselves instead of putting the priority on us. We perceive that another’s need or some task is more important than we are. In doing so we give our power over to this thing outside of ourselves whether it be a person, cause, bill, task, or project. In saying that it is more important than us, we become slaves and victims to it instead of being our empowered selves. The result is that we not only feel drained because we have given away our essence, but in putting our needs below the need of something outside of ourselves we then also often lose self-care. We may give up exercise, eating well, and our daily practices because we perceive we don’t have time. Burnout is then exasperated by looking for solutions to the burnout outside of ourselves in the form of new jobs, houses, spouses, the latest pill, or our favorite comfort food.
Here is the usual burnout cycle:
- We perceive something or someone is urgent or critical making it now our priority. In doing so we give up our power and our “right to be” because we have giving something else more importance than ourselves.
- Because we are no longer a priority we give up those things that feed us (exercise, quiet time, meditation, lunch with friends, etc.) because we “don’t have time.” We give all our time and effort to the thing or person we deem a priority.
- Then because we are not caring for ourselves our minds and bodies become run down. We no longer think clearly. We no longer have energy. We can no longer experience joy. We are exhausted.
- To try to get our energy back we look for cures outside of ourselves (caffeine, a change in job/house/spouse, etc.). However these “cures” either mask or exasperate the burnout we feel. They bring us deeper and deeper into burnout.
To break the burnout cycle we need to look inside instead of out.
Truth – Peace – Inside
There are times that other people or things have urgent needs. The key is to not sacrifice ourselves to them. The truth is that the only thing we can truly affect and that we are truly responsible for is our own health and wellbeing. No job, task, person, bill, or anything else is ever a priority above our own mental, emotion, and physical health. Let me say that again, our only responsibility is for our own health and wellbeing. No one else is going to do it for us. It is no one else’s responsibility and if we don’t do it, no one else will. Anyone or anything which appears to be a priority must be relegated to the energy and effort we have left over after caring for ourselves. Working from the inside out, we first ensure we are taking care of ourselves so we are in the best place to assist the other.
If you find yourself in a place of burnout, here are a few tools you can use to return to a good balanced life.
Stop: When we are in the midst of the pain, confusion, and overwhelm, we can not address it. Step aside. Walk away. Turn off. Tune in. Give yourself some physical, emotional, and psychological distance from the source of burnout. This does not need to be a lot of time, but it does need to be completely removed from the situation causing the burnout. It is necessary to step far enough away that you no longer are exposed or responsive to the source of burnout. It is necessary to have distance in order to gain perspective.
Awareness: Become aware of your current actions. Are you caring for yourself? What are you putting into your body and how is it affecting you? Is your mind preoccupied? Are you focusing on the negative? Are you thinking about what could go wrong? Are you upset that things are not moving quickly enough? Are you overwhelmed by the number of things on your to do list? Check how you are feeding your body, your mind, and your spirit. Is what you are doing helping or hurting you?
Put Yourself First: Take back your power from that person or thing you gave it to. Make a declaration – verbal or written – that you come first. This declaration is to yourself. You do not need to make it to the thing or person you gave you power to, because they did not take your power, you gave your power away. Now you need to reclaim that power. Realize that you are responsible first and foremost for yourself. Realize that there is only so much you can and should do for those things outside of you. Recognize, accept, and celebrate your own inherent worth.
Return to Your Routine: When I am my best, every morning I meditate, write affirmations, go for a walk, and eat a good healthy breakfast sans caffeine. This is the way I take care of myself and in return my body and mind are in their best shape for me. When I break away from this routine, I become sad, exhausted, unclear, and out of control. First and foremost, one must take care of themselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually before they are able to best handle the issues of the day. Find your own daily routine that brings you joy as well as physical, emotional, and mental health. Make a commitment to the daily routine above all else.
Next time you find yourself burning out, the tools above can help you regain your power and your energy.