Deep down, many of us long for a sense of control in our lives, and we work hard to avoid a sense of helplessness.
Someone who “has things under control” is often admired, usually, because it gives the impression that they’re capable of managing things more effectively than others – and while that may be true, at least temporarily, it can also be a slippery slope into burnout.
Of course, the irony of that is that by the time you recognise the symptoms of burnout in yourself, you have probably surrendered control over your health and happiness to your manic schedule. The ability to steer your own course is the true value in having control – but many of us are so overwhelmed and burnt out because we have forgotten how, or lost sight of the ‘final destination’ we were aiming for.
The good news is that it’s possible to reclaim that lost sense of agency – that is, as long as you have a watertight plan in place – and this blog will explain to you exactly how I did it and helped hundreds of burned-out people do the same.
With my six-step framework, you’ll be ready to get back into the driver’s seat and reclaim control over your own life.
1. Pause and turn inwards
Do you feel as though you’re constantly rushing through your life without much time to breathe? If so, you’re already a prime candidate for the full burnout experience – but you can change that with just a few mindful moments each day.
With time and space to pause and reassess how you’re really feeling – physically, mentally and emotionally – you’ll have the opportunity to learn more about what burnout looks like for you, whether it manifests in negative self-talk, physical exhaustion or something else.
2. Identify your signs
Burnout can manifest in each of us through different physical, mental and emotional symptoms – some of which may be more subtle or difficult to discern than others.
For example, you might be having trouble sleeping, or concentrating, feeling detached from the things and people you love, being pessimistic or negative or feeling worthless and unmotivated.
Understanding common signs and what you can do to counteract them puts you in the best possible position to prevent or lessen the effect of burnout long-term.
Dealing with your inner critic
A pattern of negative self-talk is a common side effect of burnout, but there’s no reason to let it become part of your daily routine.
The voice in your head – your “inner critic” – can be tougher on you than anyone else in the world and have a lasting effect on your self-confidence. When you’re ready to turn that dynamic on its head, start by getting to know your inner critic. Even though you may not want to hear it, their messages demand to be heard, and this alone may be enough to quiet them down.
Then, conjure up an image of them in your head, transforming them into a person with an identity and a background. This creates distance between the two of you and also gives you a deeper insight into the origin of your negative thoughts.
Finally, once you have given the voice a name, a face and a story, you can also give them a message – something a little like this: “OK, inner critic. I hear you, and I acknowledge that you are here. But I’m not giving in to you. I love you, but please be quiet!”
Talking back to your inner voice can be very therapeutic, but it’s important to remember that the voice is still part of you, and to deliver your messages in a way that is kind, measured, and mindful.
3. Get in the driver’s seat
Most powerful transformations begin with a decision – and if you’ve found that your emotions are ruling your life, you can always choose to take your power back. All you have to do is grab your keys and follow the steps below.
Choose to let it go
While it may be tempting to hold onto things that have hurt you, it’s much easier to forgive and set yourself free. Just making the choice to release the things that hold you back will propel you toward a brighter life.
Write your thoughts down
Life coaches and gurus everywhere recommend putting pen to paper, and for good reason. While decisions alone are powerful, they become much more real when you can see them written down.
Avoid casting blame
Just as you can’t be in control of everything all the time, those around you are facing the same limitations –and it’s okay not to feel in control all the time. The best thing you can do for your mental health and productivity is to take ownership of that which you can control, and let go of everything else.
Live in the moment
Negative emotions often stem from the past or the future – two places you will never actually live! Shifting your focus to the present will help you to feel more productive, more capable and happier.
Cry it out
No matter how hard you work and how brightly you shine, life will challenge you in ways that you may not be prepared for – and on those days, remember that it’s okay to cry. Plus, the hormones released when you cry actually make you feel better.
Focus on the positive
If you already write in a gratitude journal, you’ll know how powerful gratitude can be in transforming your mental and emotional state – and if you’ve never done it before, you might just be convinced to start a regular practice.
To be human is to be always learning new things – and many of the best lessons (particularly in burnout prevention and general well-being) come from reflections on past experiences. Reflecting on things that are happening at the moment can also help you to put things in perspective. If in doubt, simply ask yourself: will this matter in two months?
4. Create capacity
Once your mind is on board, it’s time to get your physical self up to speed.
When you’re in it, the experience of burnout can be so overwhelming that even the simplest of tasks – things like showering, eating something nutritious, or meditating – can cause you to come undone. The thing is, these simple tasks are often just what you need to keep burnout at bay during challenging times – so start taking better care of yourself with these healthy habits.
A clearer mind, better emotional regulation, and more positive relationships – the benefits of this ancient practice are more than worth a few minutes out of your day. If you’re completely new to meditation, aim for two to three minutes to start and build from there.
Most people already know that drinking enough water is essential for good health, and yet very few of us actually drink enough. If you’ve been feeling foggy or low on energy recently, challenge yourself to drink at least two litres of water each day.
Too often, we feel pressured to turn our creative pursuits into side hustles and small businesses, contributing to feelings of burnout rather than minimizing them. The next time you need a creative outlet, try to immerse yourself in the process and enjoy it without worrying about the outcome.
The fact that so many people will understand and relate to your struggles with a burnout in the modern world is a blessing and a curse. Burnout culture is a pandemic of its own, but with a silver lining: when you open up and ask for support, others will meet you with understanding, compassion and practical solutions (all of which can also be found over at SheShatters).
Feeling and expressing more gratitude can truly change your experience of everyday life – and it really is as simple as writing down what you’re thankful for at the end of each day.
5. Explore your options
When you’re experiencing burnout, it can feel as though the only way out is through. The problem with that is, when you keep pushing on with nothing in the tank, you carve out a downward spiral for yourself. Instead, think about all the small changes you could make to improve your quality of life; for example:
- Could you change the way you’re working?
- Could you delegate some of the jobs you’re doing?
- Could you alter your schedule and routines to make more room for activities that light you up?
Many of my clients struggle with this and are afraid to make changes to their status quo because the status quo is comfortable and safe. By making small tweaks to your day-to-day life and exploring new ways of doing things you will find that there are more options out there than you ever dreamed of.
6. Assemble your anti-burnout team
Finding your way through the burnout haze can be a major challenge, and we all need support during times of trouble and transformation. The ideal anti-burnout team should include people who will hold you accountable, help you problem-solve, celebrate with you, tell you the truth and give you advice.
Change the way you think about getting help
Too many people have been led to believe that seeking help for a problem like burnout is a sign of weakness, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Advocating for yourself by asking for what you need is not only a sign of strength but also an opportunity to form stronger bonds with those close to you.
Stop expecting others to read your mind
Learning how to ask for help is essential during these trying times – not only for your own peace of mind but also for those to whom you turn when you need it – because those in your inner circle would love to help you, if only they knew how. The challenge here is that you may not have the answers yet or know how to express them – and that’s where the next point comes in.
Consider your needs, and get specific
You might benefit from extra time or team support, but unless you can express it in specific terms to those around you, you may not get what you really need. Think about it as if you’re setting a goal, and make SMART requests – Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-bound.
While these tips can be very helpful, they are only a tiny sample of many tried-and-tested burnout prevention strategies. You’ll find more strategies in my book, Hello Head, Meet Heart and on SheShatters
If you find that you need more anti-burnout support, you may benefit from extending your support network to include trusted coaches and mental health professionals.
Whatever stage of your burnout journey you’re currently in, know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and you’ll discover the light within you along the journey.
Hannah Morgan Austin is an author and a coach. She provides individual coaching.