This Just In: Breathe in. Breathe out. Move on.
Are you burnt out? You’re not alone.
Earlier this week, I woke up with Jimmy Buffett’s Breathe in. Breathe out. Move on. in my head. The song was written in response to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation in New Orleans. I woke up with its titular phrase on repeat like a mantra.
If a hurricane doesn’t leave you dead
It will make you strong
Don’t try to explain it just nod your head
Breathe in, breathe out, move on
The peak of hurricane season is next week, but 2020 gave us a lot to deal with already. With all we’re dealing with, it’s important to pause and breathe.
I’m not saying we should ignore social injustice, the lack of response to a global pandemic, or any of the other atrocities of this year. We must address all of these issues head-on. If you’re not registered to vote, please get on it.
That said, individually we cannot hold the weight of the world. We need to find ways to breathe before the weight crushes us.
I used to train youth workers on the signs and dangers of burnout. We all experience stress, that’s a natural part of life. When our stress grows unmanageable, it can develop into burnout. Common symptoms include demoralization, a lack of hope, and a sense of overwhelming helplessness. Does any of this sound familiar?
Burnout is a tricky bastard. Once its claws dig in they are hard to shake. But, since burnout is connected with hopelessness, fear not, it can be defeated.
Step 1: Identify the problem
This is the most difficult step because we are used to being overworked and overstressed. Especially this year, where everything seems hopeless.
Take a moment and ask yourself these questions:
If you answered yes to all ( or most) of these questions then you’re probably looking at a form of burnout. Don’t let knowing you’re burnt out add to the weight you’re already carrying. Identifying the problem is a huge and necessary first step!
The first time I experienced burnout I ended up in the hospital. My heart was racing and my chest was tight. After a healthy prognosis, the doctor talked to me about stress management and told me I couldn’t work for a week.
Don’t let burnout take you this far. Identify it before it causes your body significant harm. The good news is that once identified, burnout becomes much easier to recover from.
Step 2: Develop a plan
Recovering from burnout requires a detailed plan of action. One of the symptoms is a lack of drive. We need a detailed plan to stick to otherwise we’ll continue to spiral. Everyone’s plan will look different, but it should include two things: boundaries and accountability.
Boundaries are rules we follow that help our brain get back to a healthier space. The boundaries you set will depend on the triggers causing your burnout.
If work is an issue, remember, you are only paid for so many hours a day. Whether you are working from home or in a physical location, turn your phone off at the end of the day. If that’s too much of a step, turn off the email notifications. Do something to take control of your schedule instead of letting your schedule control you.
Maybe the news is causing a feeling of hopelessness. Remember, you cannot carry the weight of the world on your own. In fact, there is only so much you can do on your own. So, limit your news intake. Find a few trusted sources and then limit how much time you spend with the news.
Do you need to stop doom-scrolling? Do you need to unfollow and unfriend people who constantly share and post things that set you off? Do it and don’t feel bad about doing so. We’re talking about your mental health, which is more important than potentially pissing off someone you may never actually speak to in your life.
Once you set boundaries, you need to hold yourself accountable to them. Use the features of your phone to limit app usage if you have to. Set reminders, alarms, timers, whatever it takes. Maybe track how you followed (or didn’t follow) your boundaries in a journal. If you’re willing, reach out to a trusted person and ask them to help hold you accountable to your boundaries. Do whatever it takes.
My personal burnout boundaries include turning off work-app notifications, increasing physical activity, and relentlessly pruning my friend and follower lists. But, again, create a plan that works for you and you’ll be well on your way to recovery.
Step 3: Breathe in, breathe out, move on
Developing a plan won’t cure you of burnout overnight. But, diligently following the plan will peal back burnout’s claws until you return to a place of manageable stress.
Recovering from burnout doesn’t mean your stress goes away, too. It also doesn’t mean you are free from burnout forever. Failure to manage stress can cause burnout to return, so you need to stick to your plan.
As the song says, if a hurricane doesn’t leave you dead, it will make you strong. Breathe in, breathe out, move on. The same is true with burnout.
If you own an Apple Watch, you can set the Breathe app to remind you to breathe throughout the day. It sounds silly, but the act of deep breathing is incredibly helpful. When things seem overwhelming, or your plan seems like it’s falling apart, pause what you’re doing and breathe. It won’t fix the problem, but it will help you refocus on your plan and what is important.
Breathe in, breathe out, move on.
Footnote: if you’re interested in reading more about identifying and overcoming burnout, let me suggest Mad Church Disease. While focused on church-workers, the principals are solid and it’s the book I used in my training.