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Burnout: Survive or Thrive

Life is a marathon, not a sprint.

I am a person of action. In college, I worked 60 hours a week between several jobs and internships, plus went to school full time. Upon graduating, I got married and jumped into a career in Mortgage Finance. I started out in an entry- level position making a smidgen above minimum wage. I quickly climbed the Corporate ladder, promoting to and obtaining six new roles in five years while running a network marketing side gig for two of those years. Whew- am I making you tired? I was “on the go” non-stop. I lived by a saying “I can push through any season”. However; I was in a consistent cycle of burnout due to that belief system. There were several times that I realized that I needed to break this cycle and I would attempt to, but this was new ground for me and I was not sure how to create a more sustainable lifestyle.

The real wake up call was when my husband and I found out that we could not have biological children naturally due to childhood cancer. This was the beginning of a long, emotional, “rollercoaster” journey. I had just started a new position at work that was really multiple roles combined into one because I have the ability to carry a heavy workload at a high pace. Life happens and when it does, it will tear down all of the systems that you have created that were not sustainable. It affords the opportunity to do things differently- to create a better you.

I quickly realized that my old way of coping was not going to work with the added layer of grief, stress, and uncertainty. I needed to figure out how to survive differently. My old mantra of “I can push through any season” did not apply here because this was not a sprint; it was a marathon. I was used to buckling down, gritting my teeth, pushing all self-care aside, working 12+ hours a day, and “getting the job done”. You cannot apply those methods in a season that has no definitive end in sight. Also, that solution would end in burnout- crying, sickness, exhaustion, affected relationships, and the list goes on. The truth is that life is a marathon, not a sprint. Let that sink in. Life is a marathon. It is not a season that you can push through. If you live with that mindset, you are not really living- you are just surviving. Self-care is imperative if you are not only going to survive, but thrive.

For those of us who are “people of action” and enjoy productivity over all else, self- care can seem like a foreign and almost sacrilegious concept. You really have to shift your mindset to “taking care of me allows me to do everything else that I want to accomplish well- without burning out.” The ironic part is that when you take care of you it translates to your relationships, your career, and to how you are handling the life struggles that are thrown at you. It seems counter intuitive, but I think it may be one of life’s best kept secrets. How you show up on the daily depends on how you are taking care of you. What I have learned throughout this journey, is that self-care is crucial to a full, sustainable life. It is crucial to thriving, not just surviving.

Full disclosure: I am still on this roller coaster journey to creating a family- this now looks like adoption. Also, I still have a job that requires 100% daily. I am still a “do-er”, a person of action that couldn’t give less than 100%, even if I wanted to. It is how I am wired. However; I have learned over that last couple of years some tips for self-care that are really helping me.

Self-Care Tips:

1. Build self-care into your life

I recently started using Erin Condren’s Petite Planner Self- Care Journal. The first thing I do in the morning is open this journal and write about what I am grateful for, my mood, my thoughts, and how I plan to take care of myself. Also, it has a weekly tracker, where you can write down self-care goals and check them off daily. It is ok to add structure into care for yourself. This actually really helps me to focus my efforts on taking care of me while also fulfilling my other responsibilities.

2. Gratitude

I was inspired by Brene Brown in the “Power of Vulnerability” to embrace gratitude. Write down three things that you are grateful for every morning. Do not write down the same things that you were grateful for earlier in the week. This helps to shift your mindset to look for the positive. I’ve noticed that after a few weeks of doing this, when someone brings up something negative, it is easier to choose positivity versus sinking into negativity with them. Remembering what you are grateful for rewires your brain as Dr. Caroline Leaf covers in “Switch on Your Brain”. Gratitude is powerful. Does being grateful mean that you don’t have negative thoughts and, in turn, live in some strange alternate reality? No, in fact, don’t be a person who “sticks their head in the sand”. Be aware of your current reality, but find reasons to be grateful in the midst of that reality.

3. Spend time on things that recharge you

This looks different for everyone. Brene Brown says in The Power of Vulnerability that “a property of play is time spent without purpose, something you don’t want to end, something you lose track of time doing and want to extend”. What are those things in your life? For me, play looks like journaling, reading a book, prayer and reading inspirational literature, taking a walk, gardening, playing with my dog, listening to music, researching health and new recipes, chatting with my husband and friends, and painting. When I started making time for things that recharged me, I immediately noticed that I had more joy, life felt fuller, and less of my actual responsibilities felt neglected. Before, I felt like I was giving 100% in a “push through and show up” kind of way. Once focusing on self- care, I feel that I am giving 100% from a place of thriving, not surviving. Thriving does not mean that you don’t have hard times or bad days, but it means that you make your life more than your circumstances.

4. Set Boundaries

Set boundaries on things that need to happen, but keep you from recharging. For me, this looks like setting time limits on housework and social media. As I mentioned before, I will go, go, go. A clean home helps to keep my anxiety and stress at bay. When there is clutter, I feel stressed. However; I noticed that when things are “falling apart” in my life, I will throw myself into cleaning my house because it is something I can control. I have recognized this as a contributor to burn out for me. I will give 100% at work and then throw myself into housework versus journaling, which really helps me to de-stress in a healthy way. Combating stress with more work versus doing something that will actually recharge you is staying in step with a cycle of burnout. Setting boundaries is intentional and requires effort. I intentionally monitor the amount of time I spend on housework daily. What I have noticed is my house is actually more clutter free and I am happier because I am not cleaning in waves due to burnout, but am cleaning on a consistent, daily, limited basis.

5. Time Limits on Social Media

Even though setting time limits on social media falls under setting boundaries, I feel it deserves a bullet point all to itself. This is a new one for me. I realized that all of the time I was spending on social media was not actually recharging me but was draining me. I enjoyed it to an extent, but it was not a method of self-care for me. In order to allow real rest, play, and creativity in my life, I needed to limit my time on social media. You can actually set daily time limits on your apps. I started out with a time limit of 15 minutes less than my daily average and have a goal to work my way down to less and less time on certain apps. Since doing this, I have read more books, journaled more, and spent more time with people.

6. Have Grace for Yourself

I’ve heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. When you start building self-care into your life, your life will look different. Have grace for yourself in this season as your expectations of yourself begin to look different. Exhaustion is the marker of success for many, but it is not the marker for a full life. Can you have a successful career and a full life? Yes. You may work less overtime and take more lunch breaks, but you will bring to the table a thriving you versus a surviving you- a “cared for” you versus a burnout you.

This is how you run a marathon versus a sprint. Life is a marathon. Take care of yourself so you can live it to the fullest.

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