The year was 2001. I was 26 years old and a newly married, blushing bride. I had managed to turn my passion into my paycheck, and my startup was flourishing. I had been featured on the cover of the Business section as well as numerous other publications and TV shows. Life was rockin'. If I am to quote one of my favorite scenes from a Johnny Depp film, “I had the world by the short and curlies.”
Except, a few things. I wasn’t sleeping. I was anxious. I was lying awake night after night brainstorming strategies to grow my company. I became obsessed with doing a great job. I was on the brink of a burnout.
Maybe it was my Type A personality that brought it on. Maybe it was my admirable work ethic that almost got me into trouble. No one had ever placed any pressure on me to succeed – I had always placed it upon myself. I was a self-starter, self-driven, and now it was becoming counterproductive.
So what does the onset of burnout feel like exactly? Well, it’s this constant agitation, and the inability to feel at ease, at peace, and restful. And the little things? They begin to piss you off: the line at the bank, traffic, people! You get into bed at night, and your thoughts come at you a million miles a minute and you are unable to shut them off. Because of this, you do not get restful and restorative sleep, which leads to more anxiety and worry. Your fight-or-flight system is constantly working, and your adrenal system gets taxed due to the constant pumping of cortisol (the bad hormone). I had managed to plan and organize every minute of my life, which turned me into a high-functioning, hot mess.
Luckily, I met a wonderful woman at the gym who was also a therapist, and as we pushed through our weekly workouts, I asked her if she would see me.
Slowly but surely, along with her guidance and my supportive family, I started to return to myself. Luckily, that line that I had briefly tottered for a few months was never crossed, and has never been seen since. I learned a lot about how to keep my career, health and wellness habits in check, and would love to share 3 different strategies with you if you’re tottering on the burnout line.
Create your “Worry List” and leave it on your nightstand.
I credit my therapist for this genius idea. The Worry List worked as follows: When my thoughts raced and kept me up at night, the idea was to transfer them from my head and onto paper, to worry about them at another time (not during my sacred time when I deserved to sleep). It is still something I practice today if I am unable to sleep (which thankfully is rare). I keep my notepad in my nightstand, and if something keeps me up, it goes off my head, and onto paper to worry about tomorrow. I give myself permission to own it, park it, and deal with it at a later time.
Don’t minimize your talents; balance them.
Let me explain. One of the greatest things my therapist said to me was not to diminish or squash my talents. She told me I didn't have to stop doing what made me successful in life. She said, "Don't eliminate your gifts. Be your authentic self, but complement it and balance it with a calmer lifestyle." This was my aha and light-bulb moment! I didn't have to change who I was, I just had to balance my hectic pace with calming activities. Well, that was the birth of yoga for me. I have found meditation since as well (on a Dove® retreat at Canyon Ranch), and I make sure to make time for activities that calm my mind, body and spirit – lots of good fresh air, bed at 9:30 pm on most nights (don’t laugh), nutritious food, my nightly hot bath, self-care, long walks, great funny movies, and my music.
Know your limits and what you need.
This is a process and takes time for you to discover. And when I say, know what you need, it doesn't mean what your friends, or neighbors, or society needs. It means what YOU need. It means that I listen to MYSELF, and not to the norm or standard. It means that lunch is sometimes at 10:45 am because I'm starved, or it means I got to bed at 8 pm with my kids, because I'm tired. I give myself what I need, and not what society dictates to me is the norm, and it has made all the difference. I credit my mother, a wise women’s therapist of over 30 years for giving me this ability to filter out what others say we should do, and look inside to see what we need.
"It may seem admirable to work yourself sick, but the longer you burn the candle at both ends, the faster you'll burn out." - Martha Beck
I’d love to know, have you ever been close to burnout, or burnt out? What were some strategies that helped you return to yourself? Are you struggling now?