My burnout recovery tips – completing the stress cycle
I’ve been dealing with burnout for a few years on and off, and learning about completing the stress cycle recently has really helped me. In this video I talk about the symptoms of burnout and some things I’ve found helpful for dealing with it, including my new adventures in surfing and open water swimming. It’s all a process, and we’re in this together – so always feel free to say hi in the comments and let me know how you’re doing today xx
Here’s the article I refer to in the video.
Scroll down for the video transcript, and subscribe to my channel for more!
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Burnout recovery tips – completing the stress cycle
Let’s talk about burnout.
I really annoyed myself in my last video when I talked about how I find it really hard to take time off, and I like to work really hard…and all that stuff is true, but I annoyed myself, because – isn’t life so precious?
I’ve watched Gary Vee’s videos about “crushing it”, and I don’t disagree with a lot of the things he says, but I also know what burnout feels like – and I don’t want you to ever have to feel that way.
So, what is burnout?
According to helpguide.org, burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.
Burnout reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.
You may be on the road to burnout if:
- Every day is a bad day.
- Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy.
- You’re exhausted all the time.
- The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
- You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.
I’ve put a link to this article in the description box, it’s a really good one, and I wish I’d read it a lot earlier in my life, because looking at that list, I felt all those things, every single one, and alongside those feelings I became unable to control my temper, which made me feel really ashamed.
It wasn’t all the time, but every now and then I would completely unpredictably fly off the handle. It was horrible, and worse when I didn’t know what was going on, didn’t have a word for it, and so wasn’t able to accept that this was a condition with causes, and therefore solutions.
I didn’t know what to call it until about a year ago. Maybe if I lived alone, I would have just lived in denial and not looked it up.
When I realised that it had a name, and started taking it seriously, I realised I had felt that way many, many times before, and just didn’t know what word to call it. And for me, if something doesn’t have a name, then it sort of doesn’t exist and I can just forget about it and just concentrate on other things. So – that was helpful.
I’ve been reading a book recently called “Burnout”. I actually bought it probably about a year ago when I realised that I had this issue that was ongoing. And of course, I didn’t have time to read the book about burnout because I was too busy working! And then it kept happening…
So the time before last, that I felt the symptoms of burnout, I did start to read the book – and I haven’t read the whole book yet but even in just the first part of the book, I’ve learned so much.
It’s been a recurring theme in my diaries for the past bajillion years that whenever I don’t exercise, I feel rubbish. And then when I start exercising again, magically I start to feel better. I’m sure there are many, many medical and scientific reasons for this – we all know that exercise is good for us – but this book “Burnout” explained to me that the reason that it’s so, so powerful when it comes to making my mood lift is because it’s about completing the stress cycle.
Whatever you do in your job, whatever your family situation is, you’re going to experience stress. And if you can’t get that out of your body, then it sits inside – this is the science bit! – it sits inside you, and it festers, and it makes you feel rubbish, and it makes it feel like it’s really hard to do anything.
And I don’t know whether I’ve been confusing the symptoms of burnout for symptoms of depression for years either, because I wouldn’t say that I’m someone who has depression, I’m not someone who has anxiety – I find it very hard to call myself those things without having a diagnosis. If you have them and you don’t have a diagnosis, it doesn’t mean you don’t have them, I’m just saying that I’m unable to label those things in myself without more information.
But it is true, I think, that we all experience different levels of depression and anxiety without necessarily having those things as conditions in our lives. So I’ve experienced those things. They definitely get worse when I don’t exercise, when I don’t eat well, when I don’t rest enough, when I don’t get outside enough and when I don’t do much deep breathing.
So when I do yoga and meditation, when I go running, when I get outside, I “magically” feel better, and what I’ve learned from this book is that it’s directly linked to completing this thing called the stress cycle.
It’s Friday now, and I decided to take this whole week off work to rest and recharge and be adventurous and get outside and do the things that complete the stress cycle, but also have some fun. Like I said, I found myself a little bit annoying in the last video when I was talking about how I didn’t have time to do this, and I don’t make time to do this. And I just thought – make time to do those things.
The other book I’m reading at the moment is called “Four Thousand Weeks” by Oliver Burkeman, and that has had a massive impact on me. Just pointing out the fact that it’s such a waste to keep thinking about the next thing I’m going to do instead of enjoying the thing I’m doing now. It just made me wake up and think summer’s over, I blinked and I missed it. I sat in The Launchpad – my studio at home – making things all summer. I don’t regret that – I really like the things that I make – but that’s what I did all summer, I didn’t come outside really.
And it’s been really hard because of this pandemic to feel safe to be outside a lot of the time, but nothing was ever stopping me from cycling out to the Portishead salt flats. I just decided to stay home for a really long time. Maybe too long, maybe not. I don’t know. I’ve managed to avoid getting Coronavirus, that was my goal. I have achieved my goal. I hope to keep achieving my goal – while living my life and being safe – but living my life.
“Four Thousand Weeks” has just really woken me up. The title refers to the amount of weeks that we will live if we’re lucky and we stick around till our 80s. That’s not a very long time. It’s good to get a lot of stuff done, I love my job – but look at this!
I’ve been seeing the phrase “toxic productivity” around the internet recently, and that’s really interesting because I’m someone who’s read a lot of productivity books, I went freelance at the age of 24? 24. 23? 23. I went freelance at the age of 23, and that is incredibly precocious I now realise, and so I’ve been working for myself for 17 years. I love what I do, I love the creative career that I’ve built, but I agree that there’s a toxic side to this productivity idea. And so that’s why on my channel, I mention “mindful productivity”. Cal Newport, whose books and podcast I really love, was recently talking on his show about “slow productivity”, which to me is the same thing.
For me it’s about tweaking your life to make sure that you have time to do the things that you really love, and you really care about – whatever that is – while also taking care of yourself. And that’s a journey I’m on…I’m not doing particularly well at it at the moment.
I know when I’m starting to lose interest and not being able to see the point of the things that I do that it’s time to have a rest, but I’m really bad at doing it. And it really pisses me off that I’m bad at doing it because I think it makes me sound like some kind of productivity martyr. And I’ve got no interest in being that person.
So I started with really good intentions of getting outdoors and doing loads of cool stuff – just stuff I’d never tried before. So I booked myself in for a surf lesson at The Wave, which is this incredible powered lake thing in North West Bristol, it’s 15 minutes drive from my house. I went there on Monday and I had a surf lesson, and I’ve never been interested in surfing, I’ve never thought about surfing – the closest I’ve ever sort of come to watching any kind of surfing was on Baywatch when I was a teenager. And I didn’t even watch that much! So yeah, no interest in surfing before now, but it was a really fun thing to do.
And in “Four Thousand Weeks”, Oliver Burkeman writes about telic and atelic activities, and I’ve been thinking a lot about this. So, a telic activity is something that has a point to it, ao it’s got a goal of some kind. And an atelic activity is one that doesn’t, so it could be hanging out with a friend, it could be…surfing for me would be an atelic activity, because I’m not doing it to become a surfer, and I had no expectation that I would stand up on the board or anything, I just went along to do something, to spend time doing something for the sake of doing it, not for the sake of achieving something. And that is quite out of character for me, and therefore a really good thing to try.
I didn’t completely suck. But even if I had, that really doesn’t matter. That’s not the point of it. The point was to get out of my house and go somewhere and do something different. And I got to be around people – and I haven’t been around many people for quite a long time – and it all felt safe, and I had a few little chats with strangers, and that’s something I’ve missed as well.
Then on Tuesday and Wednesday, I sat on my sofa watching Netflix, feeling sorry for myself and deciding that I would never be able to go outside and do anything interesting, that I had no friends, that there was nothing going on in my life of any interest or import – and all of the stuff, all the voices, the voices, the voices. Luckily, Thursday I had planned to see several friends, and yeah, I thought about cancelling all of those things because I was feeling depressed on Tuesday / Wednesday, but I didn’t. So I feel proud of myself for that.
I don’t want to be the person who cancels on their friends – I haven’t been that person for a long time. When I lived in London, and I was “crushing it”, I cancelled on people all the time, and I really regret that now because I don’t live there any more. And those moments, those opportunities to hang out with those people are now gone forever, and that’s a shame.
Today, day five of my week off, has been much better. I again didn’t cancel on someone – and maybe at one point I would have done, if I’d let that voice that says “You don’t deserve to have a nice time”. Do you have that voice? I have that voice. If I let that voice be too loud, maybe I wouldn’t have gone today. But I’m so pleased that I went. And this is was even better than surfing I think – and surfing was wonderful!
I got up at six, because I’ve been doing that, and I met up with my neighbour from two doors down, and she drove us out to Clevedon Marine Lake, and we went swimming. And it was freezing! And it was so beautiful, and so quiet and calm and serene. And, oh, it’s gorgeous. It’s an infinity pool next to the sea, and it’s – oh, I don’t know how to explain it to you, but I took my GoPro so I don’t have to!
I spent the rest of the morning looking at wetsuits and swimming socks, and swimming gloves – these are cycling gloves – but swimming globes, and change robes that you can put on…like, there’s a whole load of stuff you can get. With any new pursuit there’s accessories, you know, you can go as far into it as you want. But I’m just really keen to go again, so that’s why I was looking at these accessories, so that I can go as soon as possible, because it’s obviously going to just keep getting colder now. And it’d be nice to be able to take advantage of the warmer weather as we go into winter.
I’ve been to Portishead before, but further over that way, so I’ve never seen this part, the salt marshes, and it’s quiet here. No-one’s here to laugh at me. I do find it really hard to get outside. I don’t know why. It’s not a habit of mine to spend a lot of time outdoors. Could it be? Could I build a new habit to be outdoors more? Could I build a new habit to go swimming in cold water a couple of times a week? I’d really like that – I’d like to be that person.
The only thing that I don’t like is running out of time, and Oliver Burkeman’s book is helping me reframe that in my mind. Because I’m not running out of time – time isn’t something that I definitely have. Time is something that I can use, but it’s not a resource, because yeah, you only know you had three hours when those three hours are up. Really interesting.
One of the things I wanted to do was give myself a little treat. I’m going to eat a chocolate bar out in the beautiful, beautiful environs of Portishead, who are one of my favourite bands as well. It’s funny to have been into them when I was 15/16…Portishead to me is a band, it’s not a place…but then I’ve lived just down the road from here for three years so it’s very much a place. Sorry to the people of Portishead – you had it first.
It’s just really nice out here. And I love a Twirl… I need to remind myself of things. Like how good Twirls are! Such a good Twirl.
So, here I am.