Burnout Recovery Strategies

Previously published on LinkedIn on April 16, 2018

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As a recovering workaholic I have spent considerable time researching and testing strategies to recover from and prevent burnout.

My first observation is that burnout is not talked about much. Some of our colleagues may go on ‘stress’ leave and generally that is not viewed in a positive light, as if there was some personal failing about not being capable enough to carry on, or they have fallen victim to the excessive demands at work while we are still standing. Everyone is addicted to being ‘busy.’ If that is not your normal, you don’t have enough work. It is important to be always busy. Given that burnout is a taboo topic, it is tough to get support.

My second observation is that the recipe for dealing with burnout is something called ‘stress management.’  The advice ranges from yoga, meditation, to more exercise, better nutrition, and good sleep management. These things benefit all of us, not just those in burnout. Who is going to argue that you need to eat better?  And the scientific evidence about the benefits of meditation? Lots of them.

These strategies don’t work effectively because burnout has a root cause that stops you from looking after yourself properly and when you’ve been “workaholicking” for some time, you automatically don’t have time for these activities. By the time you’re getting close to or are in full burnout, you are not capable of doing any of these things, even if you had time.

A root cause of burnout is that we forget to take care of ourselves, to take a stand for our own well-being. We allow other people’s agendas to override our own. We allow infringement on time we need to stay balanced and healthy. We ignore boundary violations by tolerating abusive behaviour. This is an inside job. We have self-talk that says that we are less than those others, that we have less power than they do, that we are helpless in the face of ……, etc. Over time, we are so inured to this self-talk, we don’t hear it anymore, or if we do, we accept it as the truth. We give away far too much of our own worth.

Stress management strategies are often ineffective for burnout because by the time we are in full-blown burnout, we have mucked up our hormones so badly that we are sleeping as if we’re in a war zone, exercising leaves us tired for days because we can’t recover quickly enough, and meditation is like fighting the final boss in a video game – your inner self-talk has all the time in the world to come out and parade during a meditation session and your emotional state is not that great so your meditation session does not feel nurturing.

My coach training, which is integral based (taking the whole person in his or her whole life into account), supports the premise that who we are is stored in our physical body. Our bodies are the vehicle with which we journey this life. Every experience is stored in it. If we want to change ourselves, we have to work with the body. When I was in total burnout my ND ran a hormone panel for me. I had exhausted my adrenals, my other hormones were totally out of whack, and I was not making enough melatonin to make it through the night. It takes time to heal that type of bodily trauma, which by the way, was self-inflicted. And getting more sleep was not possible, all the lavender oil in the world and squeaky clean sleep hygiene was not helping. We had to address the hormonal imbalances with therapies, with food, and most importantly, listening to my body to allow it to tell me what it needed (mine was super excited about sitting on the couch and watching Netflix or just napping).

The way back from burnout is through learning new skills:  to listening to what you are telling yourself that takes you away from yourself; to  listening to what your body is telling you what you need; and, to honour yourself by standing your ground. You need skills then in dealing with conflict; in knowing where your boundaries are; learn to work with your anger in a way that helps, not hinders, your relationships; you need to learn to listen to your emotions. At work you need to know how to delegate, how to manage your time, your boss, your team. You need emotionally intelligent communication skills.

The biggest skill of all is to learn to value yourself above anything and anybody else. For women, this is often the hardest one to master. I am here to help with that.