A b*tch named Burnout

Based on a true story. Bring popcorn + tissues.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

What is burnout?

Burnout happens when your body has been running on super extra high- performing hormones for far too long. This accumulation of stress hormones over a period of time can lead to your body feeling in overdrive and no amount of coffee or sugar can help you show up as your best self. In fact, running on adrenaline for too long can create adrenal fatigue which can have adverse effects on your body.

Some signs of burnout include alienation from your work, physical environment, and/or people around you; headaches and/or digestive issues; lack of motivation and general mental fatigue causing you to finish work slower; lack of creativity, negative feelings about tasks, a feeling of needing to ‘run away’. Yep, it’s not pretty.

Who’s fault is it anyway?

Burnout is simply a by-product of capitalism and the rat race. There really is no way to escape it and also be financially stable during this wild global pancetta (at least imo). As a 20-something millennial, I’m still struggling with self-worth, paying bills, impostor syndrome, body image issues, parental expectations, my expectations from myself as a child…and a shit ton more. I cannot stop my racing anxious mind. That’s just how it goes for me. So my burnout is inevitable.

How the f*ck do you get out of burnout?

Getting out of burnout first requires you to understand that you are, in fact, burnt the f*ck out. Check to see if you’re showing the signs of burnout mentioned above. If you’re chronically experiencing more than a few, your burnout might be more severe than mine and you might want to seek medical attention. However, if you’re like me, perpetually exhausted, physically fatigued and mentally checked out, my de-escalation list might be a decent starting point for you.

When your brain and body have been subjected to chronic stress over a long period of time, they really really need a period of de-escalation before they can begin the recovery period. This is why taking a week-long vacation after a burnout doesn’t make you feel like the greener grass you’re trying to become. 7 days is not always enough (or ever lol?) for every human to be born again.

My de-escalation routine heavily revolves around these five key things:

Sleep

As many hours for as many days as required. Sleep is your best friend when you’re way into the deep end. Your body repairs itself in your sleep so make sure you’re catching up to your 56 years worth of sleep debt before anything else.

Personally, I tend to sleep (more like crash) for 18 hours the first day or two. It starts going down to 10-ish hours over the next few days at night but I also cave during the day when I’m yearning for a nap. The best way to get your sleep in is to listen to your body. It will tell you what it needs. And then follow through. Your body is your friend. Don’t fight it all the time.

Hydration

Chug that water, your body needs it to flush out all the chronic stress you’ve been keeping in. Water plays an essential role in helping your body feel well. It regulates your temperature, and keeps your adrenal fatigue at bay. If you’re feeling thirsty, you’re already behind. Keep sipping.

I drink water before going to bed when trying to recover so that my body has access to water while it repairs itself during my sleep. Doing this helps me feel less parched in the mornings.

Movement

Light stretching, yoga, brisk walks, running, whatever works. Your body was meant to move. Without the movement it needs, your muscles are going to feel like shit. With movement, your body starts to connect to itself. Even as much as stretching can help you get rid of those crackles in your neck. It’s important that you move mindfully. The goal is to reconnect with your body because it holds all the knowledge you need to make decisions with grounding.

I prioritize regular movement over other things during de-escalation. I tend to stretch often, do some light yoga, and go for walks with my water tumbler.

Boundaries

Ever had too many cups of coffee and felt your eye twitch because of all the energy and not enough outlets? That’s what your brain feels like when you tell it to slow down after weeks of adrenaline. It’s twitching to do more, be more, think more. It’s not at fault, it’s conditioned to be in overdrive. That’s why it needs to de-escalate before it can rest. Don’t be angry at what it was asked to do. Let it be and it will eventually stop twitching, and ease down.

While you do this though, make sure you give your brain some time to be bored again even if it takes slapping your hand every time you reach for your phone to “read an article on productivity”. The reason why you’re in burnout is because you can’t chill and you’ve been overcommitted for a while. It’s time to let that sh*t go and soothe the feelings of urgency.

Saying “no” plays a big factor in making sure your mind can rest. Whether it’s setting boundaries at work, home, or even yourself, it’s extremely important to recognize that you get to choose your wellbeing over serving others and the people who care will understand.

Mindfulness

When we’re overworked, our brains are rushing past the details during our day to day. These details could potentially help in grounding us to the present moment and realize that there is less urgency than we feel. Being present in the moment can help you connect to the world in a deeper way. This depth can often serve as a bridge between living cerebrally and being fully present in any moment without thinking about the next one. Mindfulness is most effective without distractions which is why meeting your body’s other needs come first.

As an introverted extrovert, I find that spending time alone helps me connect to myself and the world. I am able to zoom out of my day, see the bigger picture, and feel lighter because I feel present in my body. Some of my favourite mindfulness activities include dancing to music that I can truly feel, singing, writing/journalling (great way to braindump and create space), sitting by water and listening to the waves, and spending time with my cat without any distractions.

How do you know you’ve “de-escalated”?

De-escalation doesn’t feel like recovery. It feels like a nauseating motion sickness that doesn’t go away for a hot second (like, a week and change). I’m still in it. And all I’ve done is sleep my ass off until I felt better about my body and mind. After a week of de-escalation, I feel a bit mentally rested and ideas start to flow in because my brain has more room to breathe. I tend to write these ideas down in a safe place (so I’m not worried about forgetting them) and I avoid acting on them.

My body also begins to feel more hydrated and the creaks, crackles and pops subside a bit with regular movement. I begin taking genuine interest in what I’m eating, and how I feel about small details during each new day. Life starts feeling a bit brighter and even if it’s raining, I’ll go for a walk just because.

What’s on the other side?

Rinse and repeat…. It’s not that great on the other side unless you’re committing to change your lifestyle which might mean making some changes in different aspects of your life. And while that seems daunting, knowing that you will eventually find peace can truly help you through the transformation. As you make small changes, overtime your energy will start to return at a more consistent level and you’ll be less likely to suffer from this chronic byproduct of capitalism called Burnout :)

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I write about whatever is on my mind. This ranges from my life as a second-gen South Asian immigrant in Canada, multiple career changes, behavioural psychology, UX design, to occasional heartbreak.

If you resonate with my words + feelings, give me a follow and let me know what you loved about my piece. I’d really appreciate it!

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Natasha Anwar

Natasha Anwar

I write personal observations about psychedelics for mental health, emotional efficiency, and design thinking.