10 Things that Helped Me Recover from Burnout
What is Burnout?
The World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognized burnout in May 2019, classifying it not as a medical condition but rather an “occupational phenomenon” resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. However, psychologist Herbert Freudenberger introduced the term “burnout” to our lexicon in 1974. He described it as an overwhelming sense of exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment. He also noted it comes with a sense of professional ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.
That was me. I didn’t know my priorities were so badly out of balance. By the end of 2017, I was emotionally and physically at the end of 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. An additional 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes. That means about two-thirds of full-time workers experience burnout on the job.
Medical Profession Highly Impacted
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.
When To Take Burnout Seriously
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. I’m happy to share with you some of the key things that helped me through it
Here Are Ten Things That Helped Me To Recover From Burnout
I Saw Medical Professionals
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. In my arsenal to enhance my recovery, I wanted everything possible.
A visit to my naturopath was helpful. There, I was told I have adrenal fatigue. My research taught me 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.
Counseling sessions. I personally did not find counseling all that helpful in my case, because I wasn’t depressed but it’s an option for you to consider. 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 liked having someone to talk to, but having a coach was more effective for me.
I Had A Coach
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
“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 burnout recovery process on track for me. Rest and recovery is like slowly filling a gas tank. You don’t put the pedal to the metal with only 1/8 of a tank or you’ll run dry again.
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 had been an after-hours on-call chaplain at the hospital for the previous 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 2:00am would be detrimental to my healing.
I Did Small Things to Indulge Myself
Reading is one of my passions 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. The years we were raising children helped me realize I had lost an entire decade of music. I got caught up on the nineties during my drives. My daily brain exercise included crossword puzzles, a simple indulgence that taught me how to recover from burnout.
I Focused On One Productive Thing That Brought Me Joy and 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, ironically, 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. With the brutal winter cold and snow far behind, I spent the days reading books on my Kindle and taking dips in the beautiful turquoise ocean. At the peak of my burnout in March 2018, my wife and I vacationed for a week in Mexico. This was instumental towards recovering from burnout.
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.
I Maintained Relationships
My best friend throughout this ordeal was my wife, Mary-Jo, a woman knows me better than I know myself sometimes. She knew my bursts of energy did not constitute a full return to health. Mary-Jo helped me to manage social outings. I’m normally social, but during burnout, I did not want to be around people. 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.
If you’re severely burnout like I was, don’t dismay. Recovering from burnout takes time. You need to take control of your recovery to increase your chances of success. Give yourself the time you need to recover from burnout so it never visits you again.