10 Things that Helped Me to Recover from Burnout
by Brent Roy
Time spent in nature is the most cost-effective and powerful way to counteract the burnout and sort of depression that we feel when we sit in front of a computer all day. – Richard Louv
The term “burnout” was introduced to our lexicon in 1974 by the psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. He described it as an overwhelming sense of exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment, and a sense of professional ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.
That was me. If that describes you, we’re not alone. A recent Gallup study of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23% of employees reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes. That means about two-thirds of full-time workers experience burnout on the job.
Depending on what you do for a living, you could be in a career with even higher burnout rates. One-third of all nurses in the U.S. report an emotional exhaustion score of 27 or higher, which is considered to be "high burnout.” Medical doctors have even more dismal statistics with 55% of those practicing family and internal medicine say they feel burnt out. That number rises to 59% for those in emergency medicine.
In response to my previous article, “Recognizing Burnout: Seven Questions to ask”, Robert commented, aptly describing the condition as “…being in the middle of a dark cloud.”
And that, my friend, is the signal that it’s time to take burnout seriously. No two people experience it exactly the same way but I’m happy to share with you some of the key things that really helped me through it. I’m convinced they will help you as well.
- I saw my doctor. My family physician understands burnout and the serious harm it can do. She put me off work, warning me that staying on the crazy train at work would lead to serious health consequences.
- I used other health practitioners. I wanted everything possible in my arsenal to enhance my recovery.
- I went to a few counseling sessions. While some with burnout also experience depression and some with depression can become burned out, I was not depressed. Everything but my work was bringing me joy and energy. I personally did not find counseling all that helpful in my case, but it’s an option for you to consider.
- I also visited my naturopath. There, I was told I have adrenal fatigue. I did some research and learned the Endocrinology Society and all the other medical specialties do not recognize this condition. I did, however, benefit from another listening ear and some really good vitamins, supplements and herbal remedies that enhanced my energy.
- Being coached throughout my burnout period benefited me greatly. Why? Because coaching is about being asked powerful questions and being listened to while giving space to process things and make sense of it all.
- I took time off…lots of time off. “You need to allow yourself to get better and stop fighting this.” These words from the HR rep gave me permission to recover and really put the healing process on track for me.
- I slept. I talked about this before. For my first three months of burnout, I slept about 10 hours a night and had two naps a day averaging about 90 minutes each. That’s 13 hours of sleep a day. I discovered I had mild sleep apnea and began treatment with a CPAP machine, which noticeably improved the quality of my sleep. If you feel like crawling back in bed everyday before noon, I recommend talking to your doctor about possible sleep disorders.
- I removed my energy drainers. Even though I was away from work, I felt I needed to continue to be productive. I opted to temporarily pause anything that was taking my energy, no matter how energy-giving it had been in the past. For example, I have been an after-hours on-call chaplain at the hospital for the past dozen years, working week-long rotations about 3-5 times a year. I put it on pause for 2018 because I realized getting a crisis call at 2:00 AM would be detrimental to my healing.
- I did small things to indulge myself. I love to read and so I devoured several books on burnout, other topics of interest and even a few fiction books. I got massages, watched movies, went for drives just to clear my head and got a music streaming subscription. I realized I had lost an entire decade of music during the years we were raising children. I got caught up on the nineties during my drives. I also did crossword puzzles daily to challenge my brain.
- I focused on one productive thing that brought me joy/energy. For me, it was and is life and leadership coaching. I continued to work with 2-3 clients for a total of an hour a week. That was all I could do then but it was rewarding to help one client reverse her collision course with burnout and to help her erect some boundaries in her life to keep it that way.
- We got away. The year before burnout (I was probably in the beginning phase) my wife and I spent a week in Cuba in February. It was heavenly to lie on the beach in 30 degree celsius weather, reading my Kindle and taking a dip in the beautiful turquoise ocean, leaving the brutal winter cold and snow behind.
- I exercised gently, preferably outside. I started my day in the summer reading on my back deck with a coffee, followed by a long bike ride on our beautiful trail system. Later in the day, a nice walk alone or with my wife was a common activity that really kept my head clear. In winter, it’s the treadmill at home, but I’ll admit, I’m less active in the winter.
- I maintained relationships. I’m normally social, but during burnout, I did not want to be around people. My best friend throughout this ordeal was my wife, Mary-Jo. She knows me better than I know myself sometimes. She knew my bursts of energy did not constitute a full return to health. Other friends stayed in touch and seemed to show up at just the right time—even times when I didn’t feel like socializing initially. Instead, I just made shorter, less frequent engagements while my energy stores were low.
Rest and recovery is like a gas tank slowly being filled. You don’t put the pedal to the metal with only 1/8 of a tank or you’ll run dry again.
You might enjoy RESOURCES THAT HELPED ME TACKLE BURNOUT.
My goal is to help exhausted leaders reclaim their balance so their family life and careers bring equal amounts of joy most of the time.
I really enjoy reading your comments and insights from your own experiences, so please feel to leave them under the article on LinkedIn or my Facebook page. If you have questions about burnout and how to restore balance in your life, reply to this email, message me or give me a call.