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I'm So Burned Out, What Should I Do?
If you're burned out, you're in a bad place, and it seems impossible to get out, is it?
I've been burned out often. It tends to happen when I'm trying to make something happen that is not meant to happen. I use energy and will and every mental, physical and financial resource to try to make it happen and I see no results. It's usually when I'm working on something I'm not as devoted to as I should be.
When you're at the end of your tether, what can you do to get the spark back?
Sleep. If you're not getting at the absolute minimum six hours of actual sleep, you're going to be tired, irritable, insulin-resistant, more likely to develop dementia later in life, more forgetful, more likely to eat junk and feel terrible. Your priority is to fix your sleep. You should ideally get 7.5 hours. We tend to sleep in 90 minute cycles, thus the unusually precise recommendation.
Walk. Try to walk for half an hour a day at least, outdoors. Ideally, do this when the sun is shining, mid-morning is a good time, but any time is good for a walk. If you can manage more exercise, then fantastic, but these are emergency measures, and you need to dig yourself out of a hole, so we do the easy stuff first. Really can't do 30 minutes? You can, but if it stops you from walking, start with just 5 minutes and add a minute a day.
Ritual. Become conscious of your activity rather than your internal dialogue. This is a mindfulness practice. Try making a cup of tea or coffee with total focus on what you're doing. If your mind wanders, bring it back gently to what you're doing. Same time, every day, whatever the thing you do unconsciously, like making a hot beverage, do it without thinking about work, just put your entire focus and your sense to the service of this one thing and make it your anchor.
Breathe. When you're burned out, you forget to use your diaphragm and you forget to take deep, belly breaths. You don't need me to teach you this, we all do it when we're young, but we take shallow breaths as we age and forget, and particularly when we're stressed. Just take a minute, every day, to focus on deep, natural breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth, deep into the belly.
Speak. Set up regular times to speak freely and easily with a friend. This has to be at least voice, video is better, IRL is best.
Hug. Oxytocin is a great stress-buster. If you're blessed enough to have someone special in your life, hug them and let them hug you.
Go barefoot on the grass. Find some nature, a garden with a lawn will do just fine, otherwise a park. Find some grass. Stand on it barefoot for a minute and do your breathing there.
Write. If you don't know about Julia Cameron's "Morning Pages" practice, now's the time. Get yourself an A4 pad and something to write with. First thing in the morning, before checking your phone, write three pages of whatever comes into your head. Don't stop writing for a moment. Keep writing, no matter how inane it seems.
Stop reading the news. Remember, the business model of the news media is outrage. It's not to report the whole truth, but just the most attention-grabbing aspects of it. Right now, you don't need that. So stop reading it, give yourself some space and allow your perspective to return. If something's important, you'll find out about it. Stop allowing yourself to become outraged. You don't have the energy.
Stop watching YouTube videos. I know, this one's hard, but the business model for most YouTubers is an extreme version of the news. They're fighting for your attention. Your attention should not be a pawn in the advertisers' game.
These are your emergency measures. Of course you could go further, perhaps you've stopped your mindfulness practice, perhaps you have stopped your exercise routine, but I reckon you've got enough on your plate, and this will help you get back to a baseline from which you can spring up again.
Give yourself time, give yourself space, put your mind and body and relationships first.