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How I ditched the gym to beat my burnout

How I overcame adrenal fatigue, learned to zen my life and how you can avoid hitting burnout.

You’ve heard the saying ‘burning the candle at both ends.’ Well, it’s all the more true when you work in the fitness industry and go by the common belief of ‘go hard or go home,’ needing to be that typical hard-core personal trainer that pushes people to get results.

That’s how results are gotten, right? That’s how beach bodies are made, right? Wrong! You do not have to pound the pavement to get a healthy, fit and toned body. This discovery took me a while to come to terms with, however, where I hit that point of burnout and extreme fatigue to investigate why my own health was slowly deteriorating at a young age.

I was a successful personal trainer from the age of 19 and loving the vibe of the gym, pushing and sweating teaching loads of classes and clients. By my mid twenties I was doing long hours in my business, managing other trainers, plus still taking lots of clients myself.

Things started to go pear-shaped with my own health when I needed to desperately start sleeping for hours during the day in between work (even if I had slept lots that night) and kept getting sick. My immune system was low and I just felt more and more drained especially when I would exercise. I also had this constant mental fog too, that I just could never snap out of. You know where you just feel ‘cloudy’ all the time?

As fate would have it, I was recommended to see a holistic GP who told me I was ‘burned out’ and that my adrenal glands needed a rest. I didn’t even know what they were!

He then explained that someone my age should have more energy, and that I was engaging in too much fast-paced exercise with not enough balance in my lifestyle. He then told me to change my eating, stop teaching all classes and go to bed earlier. A shock to the system, to say the least. 

Here I was, knowing I needed to make serious changes to feel better, but feeling completely stuck and isolated because the gym was all I’d ever known. But the pain outweighed the sacrifice, so I went all in and literally stopped teaching all loaded, fast-paced classes and anything strenuous.

Now if you have ever experienced symptoms of burnout or adrenal fatigue or similar, you will understand it’s a tricky condition to deal with because there is not much outwardly wrong with you. People at the gym could not quite understand what was going on with my health, why I was pulling back from classes and why I started to say no to social occasions or go home early.

So I started my journey of research into energy management. I thought, well, I’m literally below zero with my energy in every way, so let’s start from the beginning. 

I came up with some questions that sparked my curiosity: 

*What food should I eat that will give me energy instead of making me feel tired after I eat them?

*What exercise can I do that will help me feel restored and not so sore and lethargic?

*What can I do to clear my mind and lift this constant brain fog?

During the two year period (yep, that’s how long it took to really get my full energy back to a point of health, vibrancy and physical strength) I tried lots of holistic health modalities: reiki, pranic healing, meditation, Yoga, Pilates, chakra healing, and did some food cleanse diets.

I researched what foods were lighter to digest while building your immune system, did countless variations of meditation and participated in lots of different Yoga and PIlates classes.

I found benefit with all of these methods especially for stress reduction and my mental health, but my most exciting discovery was that the Pilates classes would boost my energy not only during, but afterwards. And I started to get comments about looking toned, when I had ditched weights and cardio and only been doing a bit of Pilates, Yoga and short, gentle walks. At last, I thought, there was a way to stay fit and healthy without having to push myself to extremes. I honestly didn’t believe this was possible without weights and high impact exercise.

There was something more mindful, more present and more deeply engaging when you focus on your core as the basis for your movement and breath. So I studied Pilates in depth and began to share my teachings and passion with any clients who would listen! 

One of our mental health clients who was a participant in my wellbeing program (suffering from high anxiety, social isolation and trauma) said it beautifully, ‘Anyone can walk on a treadmill and think of all the things going through your head. But not everyone can coordinate their arms, legs, breathing and focus like you need to in Pilates. It helps me find peace in my mind.’

And that, my friends is what health is about today. Finding peace in your day, your mind, your world. Not burning the candle at both ends, when life is already pushing you to the max.

I’d like to leave you with some tips on overcoming burnout, or if you feel you are headed that way, how to prevent it from worsening.

BURNOUT PREVENTION TIPS:

1- Evaluate stress levels in your life: what is causing you stress? List everything in your life that is causing you stress right now, and take steps necessary to reduce those causes. Cover personal, work-related, relationships and any other triggers in different areas of your life. By confronting these, you can easily see on paper what is really going on for you, plus be open to making changes to decrease these triggers over time.

2- Prioritise your wellbeing guilt-free: often we know we need to make changes, but feel bad for others if we need to say no or not be as willing to help. If you continue to say yes to everything or carry emotional guilt, you will continue to carry that heavy mental load, which will affect your physical health at some point. Take a breath and realise that by saying no to things that you do not really need to do, you are filling up your own cup of energy. This will serve you well in the long run.

3- Allow time for restoration: assess your schedule. Start to reduce any tasks that are time-wasting or could be done more efficiently. For example, if grocery shopping causes you grief, do online shopping. If you are super tired and busy, get a cleaner. If you prioritise higher tasks then you can fit in that 10 to 30 minutes a day for restoration like a walk in nature, meditation, light exercise or anything that helps you relax and restore.

4- Exercise for your mind and body: Firstly, any movement is great, but I urge you to do what is right for your body and mind in this moment. Not what you did five or ten years ago. If you have recently gone through illness, a loss, a major life change or anything that can cause emotional highs or lows, then be kind to your body and mind. The last thing you want to do is go pounding your body with exercise that may cause you more stress, depleting what may already be low energy (if you are near or have hit burnout.)

I believe true health is about life balance today. For a strong, healthy body, you must engage your mind and be open to restoration and allow time to fill up your energy cup so you can be at your best for others.

Always listen to your body and respect where you are at. Health is an evolving journey throughout life, just as we evolve. To avoid burnout in busy life today, stay as present as you can with everything you do and the changes you may need to make will become clear.

Please reach out if you have any questions at all, and I’d love to connect with you.

Power to your Core,

Vanessa Bartlett

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