I think that one of things that always made me 'twitch' about the concept of burnout since starting my business journey was that I didn't identify with it. This is a common trap for teachers, guides, mentors and counsellors! It actually accounts for a massive chunk of the shadow side of such work, to be honest. We begin to identify so much with the role that we're playing and, in the process, we expect ourselves to never again encounter the issues which we spend our time helping clients to tackle. Actually, this is an expectation to which we can never live up, and the sooner we get used to that, the better! I had previously felt that I had reached a place of realism about my work in the world, recognising that I could indeed find myself trapped in confusion, struggling and in need of assistance myself, despite being a qualified counsellor. But something about burnout, particularly the creative kind, just puffed my ego up into defensive mode. Burnout was for others, but certainly not for me. I guess one of the reasons for this hardline approach was that I see myself as someone who helps others to manage their energy. Shock horror - I had arrived at the end of September 2016 with an inability to effectively manage my own!
For me, creative burnout felt somewhat like that 'heavy head' feeling that you get when you have a bad case of flu and you're trying to pull yourself up out of bed to get on with things. You haven't yet accepted defeat. You're telling yourself that you're going to be able to keep going.. Then it began to feel like low-level anxiety and a fear of facing and interacting with people. I quickly decided that I was letting everyone down and that people were privately judging me as having 'dropped the ball' or failed in some way, particularly when I had to step back from YouTube. I felt guilty each time I logged into my inbox and ignored non-urgent emails, and eventually I felt so twitchy about email that I stopped opening the inbox altogether for a few days at a time. There were lots of false starts. I had a gripping idea, went over it with a fine-tooth comb in my head and then realised how much effort it was going to require and promptly dropped it. Enjoying and imbibing other people's content started to get me down and didn't give me a warm fuzzy feeling anymore. I just felt envious of their output and energy, and it compounded my own sense of exhaustion. I backed away from my YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feeds.
It took me a long time to admit that I was dealing with burnout, even though the signs were obvious. If I look back at where I was in my life when it began to occur, I had definitely bitten off more than a host of wild animals could conceivably chew, work-wise. I just committed to way too much, and at the same time, I was dealing with an increase in social events due to it being the month of my boyfriend's 30th birthday among other things. I kept a full schedule of client readings and sessions on top of my private discussion group for the Sounds & Sessions material and the growing list of YouTube videos created by those who were sharing their self-love stories, all of which I wanted and fully intended to watch and respond to. I was also trying to respond to comments and emails. Hey, even self-styled teachers of self-love can get a little carried away! Eventually I did openly admit that burnout was the situation, and I think that was the moment that I stopped pressuring myself and started arming myself with the information and activities that were required for healing.
Here are a few things to consider if you think you may have burnout or you're interested in being able to identify it more effectively if it comes up in the future.
1. Your body doesn't always speak, but when it does, it speaks loud and clear
I have often said that if you're not listening to your mind and your heart when it comes to burnout, your body will eventually step in and tell you that enough is enough! You can avoid your inner voice for a long time and suppress any thoughts of slowing down. You can even ignore and downplay the advice and concern of loved ones. But when your body begins to show signs of stress and burnout, it can be concerning enough to stop you in your tracks, particularly if the issues are affecting your mobility, your biorhythms or your looks! Pay attention to early warning signs from the body. Don't write ailments or random symptoms off as a coincidence or as 'no big deal'. They can snowball.
I personally didn't have any 'stand out' physical symptoms during my recent experience of burnout, which may have been one of the reasons that it took me so long to admit that there was a problem. But at the end of 2015, I was very stressed about something and became fixated on it, ignoring all advice from friends to stop obsessing. Then, out of nowhere, I started losing my hair and was diagnosed with alopecia areata. Well, that soon made me check my behaviour! I immediately recognised it for what it was - stress - and my doctor confirmed it. I changed my way of coping with the issue and shifted my mindset. I respected my body's way of saying, 'Stop this silliness right now!' Some of the key signs of burnout include sleeplessness or sleeping excessively, stomach upsets and headaches, rashes and spot outbreaks, and achey joints/limbs. Also look out for loss of libido, weepiness and short-term memory loss.
2. There's no shame in admitting to burnout
Once I started using the actual word, I felt better. The more I ran away from it, the more I kept feeling as though I had to make excuses for my difficulties and cover them up. There's a word for it. Use that word. Even if you only use it for yourself and prefer not to talk about it with others, depending on your situation. One thing I realised about admitting to burnout is that people were far more understanding than I expected, and many people have actually said that they are surprised that I don't suffer with it more regularly considering my creative output online. But even if some people in your life aren't necessarily supportive towards you, it's amazing how much permission and empowerment you offer to others -often without even knowing it- when you stand up and admit that you've reached the end of your expendable energy and you need to slow down. We could all stand to be more open about mental health and emotional wellbeing. Ending taboo discussions around this stuff is a responsibility which we all share.
Also, when you claim the word 'burnout' or even just say that you're starting to feel a little stressed and need to slow down, you give people the chance to recgonise how they can help you. Someone in your life might be asking you for favours or piling more pressure onto you unknowingly. Maybe you're even resenting them for what you see as their incessant demands. But if they aren't aware of your situation, they don't have a chance to amend their behaviour. They could quickly back off, or even offer great support, if they are given the opportunity to do so.
3. Burnout can bring out the worst in you, until you claim it
I have been healing from burnout relating specifically to my creative output and business activities. Some are dealing with burnout relating to relationships and social engagements, and some are experiencing spiritual burnout or parenting burnout. But whether it's across the board or specific to one aspect of your life, you will probably find that burnout brings out the crappy side of your nature. Snappiness, passive aggression, toxic comparison, jealousy, resentment and judgementalism can all rear their heads when you're struggling to keep up with whatever schedule you had in place before burnout struck. You may be looking at others and resenting their achievements, or you may feel unable to celebrate the joy of a friend and even find yourself tempted to rain on their parade! When we own burnout, we can regain control over these tendencies. When we ignore or suppress burnout, it can result in behaviours which are hugely regretable and which we feel we have no control over.
It's easier to apologise to someone and explain your crappy behaviour to them if you're able to own your experience of burnout. If it is in your line of sight as something that you are actively dealing with, you can recognise that some of the symptoms are relationship-oriented and you can make amends and, of course, begin to check your negative thoughts before they become damaging actions.
4. 'You pay a toll each time you scroll'
This is a cute little saying that I use with my clients when we are discussing energy management. It's a quick and easy way of reminding yourself that even the seemingly insignificant stuff that you spend time doing requires energy - physical, emotional, mental or all three. Scrolling through Instagram for a while in bed in the morning is taking up some mental space. You are imbibing the images, reacting to them emotionally and, in some cases, finding yourself going off into avenues of thoughts and memories as a result of the images you are seeing. The energy you're spending is non-refundable. Once you spend it, it's gone. Are you wasting the energy? Or are you investing it? Think of it as money. You have an allowance of this money each day, and you can choose to spend it wisely or not-so-wisely..
Good energy management prevents burnout most of the time, so it's really a preventative measure. But when we find ourselves experiencing burnout, we must focus on whereabouts we can claw some of that vital life force back from any pointless voids into which it is being senselessly thrown!
5. Don't think of self-care as 'unrealistic'
I have fallen into this habit myself, and it ain't pretty! Self-care is not optional. Self-care is not optional. Self-care is not optional. Wash, rinse, repeat. Yes, self-care can take time. Meditation takes time. A herbal bubble bath takes time. A nature walk takes time. Creating a vision board takes time. Journalling takes time. Therapy takes time. But the time that you spend on these things on a regular basis is seriously likely to prevent you from having to watch a shitload of your time going down the drain later down the line as you deal with burnout, overload, stress or even a mental health breakdown.
When people have a lot on their plate, they sometimes react to suggestions of self-care with cynicism and coldness.
'It must be lovely for people who have time for it.'
'If I had two seconds to rub togehter, that would be great..'
'Oooh, how the other half live! I'm too busy for that, but thanks for the suggestion.'
If you're one to roll your eyes at self-care, the reality is that you're keeping yourself stuck in that cycle and no one can take you out of it except yourself. Don't brandish your relentless hard work and refusal to stop as weapons of ego. Don't see your refusal to slow down and care for yourself as proof that you're better than everyone else. You're really only hurting yourself. (Conversely, if someone in your life is taking this position with you, trying to make you feel bad for practicing self-care, don't give them an inch, honey. You do what's best for you. Not everyone will be understanding when you make changes to your routine or factor in more self-care. What matters is that you are on your own team and that you recognise the importance of looking after yourself.)
Remember that self-care can also be about removing yourself from toxic situations and relationships, taking a necessary step back from political or social commitments etcetera. It spans a large terrain of considerations!
6. Learn how to prioritise effectively
There's lots of advice out there about setting priorities and sticking to them. Use that advice. Find something that sticks and works for you. For me, it helps to have a 'movable to do list'. I talk about that concept in my video about the art of paper planning. Essentially, I have a list of tasks which aren't time-sensitive and can be moved from day to day to ticked off as I go through the week. These tasks are always pinned into my planner on the week I am currently on, so I see them and they are on my mind, but they are not conflicting with my time-sensitive list of stuff, which takes priority.
When deciding what to do first during the day, or what to spend the majority of my time on, I stop to ask myself why I have chosen the priorities I have chosen. A good reason would be, 'because there's a deadline and I get fined if I don't comply with it,' 'because I promised that I would do it by this date' or 'because it's a paid client purchase with an agreed timeframe.' I know immediately if I am prioritising the wrong things because a little voice in my head will say, 'This isn't what you're supposed to be doing. Just because you want to do it doesn't mean it's the best use of time,' at which point I reassess. It's not a perfect system and I do screw up. But generally, I know that if I prioritise poorly, I end up feeling stressed and disappointed in the long-run.
I hope that these tips can be of service, dollfaces!
Check out my update video if you haven't already given it a look. It's long! Fair warning!
Do you have questions for me?
Fancy some company on your journey?
Come and work with me in 2017..