Burnout is the death of the life you’ve outgrown

This article was previously published on LinkedIn on May 16, 2018

dead trees - LI post

I have been researching what our end of life experience is like. The results of this research on ‘end of life signs’ (my google search) came eerily close to a poem I had recently seen floating around Facebook by Pablo Neruda. When I read that poem, I saw many similarities between dying and burning out. For example, when you are in burnout you are:

  • Not interested in meeting up with people, travelling, being social, going to events, participating in hobbies or other enjoyable activities
  • Not interested in what is going on in the world or your local area where you live
  • You are very Interested in sleeping and getting more sleep, although it does not leave you refreshed
  • Eating whatever because you need to or are craving, but the food does not nourish you

End of life signs are eerily similar – if death is approaching because of old age, these signs can start several years or months before death actually happens: you lose interest in the world around you, you stop doing things you used to enjoy, like hobbies, you start eating less and enjoying it less,  and sleeping more although the sleep does not heal or refresh. As death approaches, other signs start to show up, like not having energy to do even minimal tasks and organs starting to fail. There is more to it, but if you are interested, I encourage you do your own research.

Burning out is really the death of your old life. A life that is no longer able to sustain itself. There is no energy left in that life for living. In a way burnout can be seen as a death in the middle of your life. Your old life dies, and a new one will emerge.

Dying is hard work – it is a labour of love – we don’t all just go gently into the night – for many of us dying is just as much work as being born and growing into our bodies is.

Recovering from burnout is hard work too, and just when you have completely run out of energy. It seems unfair, but the body has wisdom that we can use to recover. So there is hope! Recovery starts with recovering yourself. Who are you? What do you like? What nourishes you? What does your physical self need right now? What do you need to say no to? What do you want to say yes to? What old habits are you going to ditch? Which new ones do you like? What makes you cry? What makes you laugh, feel good? What did you enjoy as a child? Do you still enjoy that? What have you always wanted to do but never had time for? What things make time  disappear for you? What do you hate doing? There are many questions you can ask yourself when you are in this burned out state.

Recovery starts with self-care, and self-care also includes caring for your emotions as well as your physical self. Just like death brings with it grief for the loss of that person in our lives, so does burnout bring grief for that old life, that person you used to be.  Grieving is necessary. Crying washes away pain. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross came up with the five stages of grief. They will wash over you like waves at the shore – sometimes violently crashing against the rocks in a storm of emotion, other times gently lapping at the shore as you recover parts of yourself you thought were lost at sea.

I will leave you with that poem – it has deep truths in it – may it spark the flame of life in you.

If you do not travel,

If you do not read,

If you do not listen to the sounds of life,

If you do not appreciate yourself,

You start dying slowly when you kill your self-esteem,

When you do not let others help you.

You start dying slowly if you become a slave to your habits,

Walking everyday on the same paths…..if you do not change your routine,

If you do not wear different colours or you do not speak to those you don’t know.

You start dying slowly if you avoid to feel passion and it’s turbulent emotions, those that make your eyes glisten and your heart beat fast.

You start dying slowly if you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job, or with your love, or with your surroundings.

If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,

If you do not go after a dream,

If you do not allow yourself,

At least once in your lifetime

To run away from sensible advice.

 Pablo Neruda