How can I tell the difference between being burned out and just being lazy?
A person who is lazy doesn’t ever feel like working. There is no history of participation or dedication but rather a history of inaction, lack of interest, and indolence.
Burnout happens as a result of too much. Too much work, too much intensity, too much stress. You do so much without recharging or resting that you become consumed.
Burnout feels like a job you once loved has become a form of torture. Like all you want is to call in sick. Small tasks that you used to do before your first cup of coffee have suddenly become overwhelming.
Everything irritates you. You snap at people and have a sinking feeling that you don’t like who you are anymore. You begin to get sick a lot, because burnout impacts your body’s ability to fight illness.
You used to be able to rest up over the weekend but now it feels like weekends are not enough.
You feel exhausted. You could sleep for years.
Burnout is not something you can brush off. You have to take time to recover. What you want back is not just your health and energy but focus, life force and inspiration. What you want back is the way you used to be.
Recovery can be long and difficult because it’s not only about resting. You’re not just tired – something is broken. Fixing it requires that you look at what you’ve done to yourself, identify it, and change the patterns in your life that led to getting this depleted.
Your soul needs to be fed.
Getting yourself back from a state of burnout means different things for different people, but here are some common elements.
- Silence. Finding the space to sit quietly without the need to react or do anything. Our brains were not designed to withstand a constant barrage of incessant stimuli. (Yes, this is very, very hard and uncomfortable to an overstimulated brain.)
- Doing nothing. Watch clouds go by. Put your feet up. Put your phone away.
- Writing. For some people keeping a journal is helpful.
- Social interaction. It helps to reconnect with friends, plug into what others are doing, laugh, get distracted, step out of your own head.
- Find activities that restore meaning to your life. Volunteer. Do things for others.
Then, discover the things you need to do to make your life burnout resistant. Here are some to get you started:
- Set your ego aside. Learn that the world does not stop spinning if you are not in it. Things can get done well without your constant, active intervention. This is both painful and liberating.
- Learn about how to set better boundaries. Leave the office during lunch. Take a stroll. No more working late into the night or working weekends.
- Take regular breaks from technology. Turn your phone off in the evenings. Power down on Saturdays or Sundays.
- Find time to dedicate to anything you do that is creative. Paint. Write. Sculpt. Take a class to learn how to do something you’ve always been curious about. Activate new parts of your brain.
- Relax. Nap. Wander. Loiter. Take a bath. Read something that is not on a screen or device.
- Exercise. Activities with a cadence work particularly well: jogging, walking, swimming, yoga. Find your breath.
- Eat well. Your body does better when you feed it nourishing, unprocessed, whole foods.
- Sleep a lot. Go to bed early, sleep late whenever possible and nap.
- Rediscover the joy and power of laughter. Find what makes you laugh. Laughter is a recovery balm.
If you can, take a sabbatical (it doesn’t have to be a long one.) Take a solid break from everything and find a different, slower rhythm. Set your eyes on beautiful things.
Develop gratitude for all the things that used to irritate you (thank you so much, slow barista, for giving me the chance to catch my breath!).
Then, maybe, integrate all of these things back into your real life.
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