Years ago I worked for a small consulting firm and we used to jokingly ask each other, “how crispy are you?”

It meant, “how fried/burned out are you?” We all had a lot on our plate, not only balancing our utilization goals but above all trying to do amazing work.

Recently, the topic of burnout has been coming up more with clients, and there are lots of interpretations about what burnout is. Many agree with how it feels, and none of them are good feels.

Psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, who coined the term “burnout” in the 1970s, identified three symptoms: exhaustion, emotional distancing, and futility.

I noticed I was feeling some symptoms of burnout a few weeks ago. Everything felt hard. I was having trouble concentrating and trying to balance a lot in life. I realized I was “crispy” after a reflective call with a group of peer coaches. I couldn’t pin what I was feeling until I took a moment to stop and try to notice what was going on for me over the last month.

Often when burnout is brought up in conversation, we commiserate. We sympathize if we’re not personally feeling it, but it can be hard to talk about what to do next. What do we tell someone who’s experiencing burnout?

  • “Wait it out, things will get better.”

  • “Just say ‘no’ more.”

  • “Have you thought about creating boundaries??”

The tough part about helping someone with burnout is not knowing where the “heat” is coming from. Externally? Internally? Is it a workaholic culture they’re living in professionally, with pressure to always do more, to be “always on”? Or is it coming from inside them, where a need for control is overwhelming their desire for balance? Where might the heat be coming from, for you?

Here are a few things to reflect on, that can help to heal burnout:

  • Examine your relationship with yourself. Are you treating yourself with the same respect and kindness as you hope to treat others? Try to tune in to yourself. At first, paying attention to yourself might bring boredom or make you irritable – it’s natural to resist attention to yourself when you’re not used to getting it…from…yourself.

  • To-Do vs. To-Be. Does your to-do list have anything to do with burnout? Can we add a “to-be” list? What do you hope to be more like today / this week / this month? How do you hope people experience you? Just this simple act of reflection can help turn down the effects of burnout, and start a shift towards something better.

  • Think of yourself as a bank account. If you’re only making physical, emotional, mental withdrawals, it only makes sense that you’ll overdraft that account. And like overdrafts, it can be hard to jump out of the cycle of the penalties compounding and just making things worse. If you give out more of yourself than what’s available for a long period of time, the amount of repair to yourself could be overwhelming. It could even become a burden to others, which is the opposite of all the good intentions you have in giving of yourself.

It’s incredible that a feeling so complex, heavy, and drowning can be turned down by doing 1 simple thing for yourself, every day. Starting with just 5-10 minutes. Go for a walk. Stand outside and put your face in the sun. Listen to a song that makes you feel amazing! These are ALL forms of self-care. And self-care isn’t selfish, or wasteful. It’s recharging, and healing so that YOU and everyone else get a chance to feel what a healthy, lighter version of you is like.

Here are a few related resources that I’ve enjoyed recently and have been sharing:

1 // Labeling our emotions can often cover up what’s really going on. “I’m burned out” or “I’m stressed” may not be a helpful label as Susan David helps us to appreciate in this short snippet from her incredible TED Talk. (47 second video) – she wrote an incredible book called Emotional Agility, highly recommended.

2 // Did you know there are 5 “high achiever mindsets” that are associated with burnout? Neither did I. This article gives some simple, reflective ways to reframe them. (10 min read)

3 // How can you recreate meaning in your work? Ness Labs talks about “Burnout vs. Boreout” (5 min read)

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