When I had burnout a few years ago, I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I thought it was just stress that wasn’t going away. Then I realised, when I am stressed, things feel overwhelming and “too much,” like I have too much work and too many responsibilities.
This was different, though. I kept hearing this voice in my head saying, “I have nothing left to give.” There was a general sense of “not enough:” not enough time in the world, not enough energy to deal with things, not enough love to give or receive, and not getting enough done however hard I tried.
I stopped seeing the point in trying in both my work and my relationships. I felt like I wasn’t good enough and I didn’t have the emotional or physical strength to take on new tasks, face the day, let alone dream, or be creative. It felt like I was swimming upstream but didn’t know when I’d reach the shore.
I thought the main issue was not having good systems in place or me not managing my time well. Once I closed my business, I decided to sit down and evaluate how the business worked and what I could improve for the next time around. I started doing courses on productivity and time management, hoping that they would give me the answer on how to manage all the tasks with my new business.
Little did I know back then, I only changed the tools I had been using rather than my actual behaviour. I was merely implementing a new coping mechanism for a deeply rooted problem that stemmed from my inability to set boundaries for myself.
When we talk about boundaries, we generally think about how we can set boundaries against other people, such as how to stand up for our needs and wants when it comes to relationships. But it all starts with setting boundaries with ourselves: not pushing through physical, mental or emotional pain. Overachievers and perfectionists, or people with the “can-do” attitude tend to have issues with setting boundaries and are more prone to burnout. Young mothers can also get burnt out by the constant people (baby) pleasing and over-giving.
The most important step to overcome this behaviour is recognising and accepting our limitations. Embodiment (being in touch with our bodily sensations) plays an important part in our ability to recognise when we have had enough. Once we recognize these signals in our bodies,, acceptance is the next step. This can be hard, especially if we deeply identify with being the employee/friend/parent/sibling who always sorts things out and has that “can-do” attitude. In our modern capitalist society, we get rewarded for being hard workers, and some people wear the badge of “I never call in sick” as if it were some kind of great achievement.
Having limitations doesn’t make you a failure, it just makes you human. Being in touch with those limitations and communicating them to others is essential to avoiding burnout.
Here are some ways you can set those healthy boundaries to avoid burnout:
– Stop creating unrealistic and unnecessary expectations for yourself. This behaviour can stem from wanting to be liked and accepted–but are you sure that you are only liked for always being available?
– Know your needs. Be still and turn your attention inwards to identify your needs. This can only be achieved by having enough downtime and relaxation. When our nervous system gets into the “Rest and Digest” state, our bodies can recover and heal. Our minds can also integrate experiences and make space for new ideas.
– When it comes to working, compartmentalising is key. Since the pandemic, remote working has become popular, but not putting work clothes on and not leaving our homes can blur the lines between “work” and “non-work” environments. To overcome this, we need physical boundaries to separate our personal life from our professional life. Examples of this could be: working on one end of the kitchen table and eating on the other, never working from bed, or not checking emails/messages after work hours.
– Take time for yourself and schedule it just like you would a meeting. Take a proper lunch break, go for walks in nature, or just set aside time for yourself to just be.
When you try to implement the above, are you still striving to do it right? I know I do 🙂 I still have a long way to go on this journey and the things that help me through the hurdles are humour and self-compassion.
If you want to learn more about boundary setting, keep your eye out for our next course launching the first week of April. You can also join one of our free workshops to connect with like-minded people who struggle with similar issues. Centrd Life is here to help you set better boundaries, conquer burnout, and connect with your own emotional intelligence.