Recovering From Burnout: Important Steps for Self-Care
“Every day I’m hustlin’”
“Rise and grind”
“I’m so busy”
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead”
We see and hear these phrases everywhere these days. From Instagram quotes to coffee mugs to Snapchat captions, it seems like everyone is “busy.” They are always doing, doing, doing, building that empire, rocking that side hustle, running on coffee, crossing tasks off endless to-do lists — so much so that watching it is enough to make our heads spin. Busy-ness has become a trend and burnout is a rarely spoken-of side effect.
I was one of those constantly busy people. As I progressed through college I began to take on more projects and wear more hats. It wasn’t enough to take classes through my double major and my minor, I tutored, interned, was involved on campus, had a work-study job, explored the city with friends, and also kept up a full course load. Senior year in particular stands out to me as I packed my schedule with as much as I thought I could handle: a full-time internship, a part-time tutoring job, part-time work-study, my most challenging classes, serving on the executive board of three clubs, and writing my thesis. I had my life scheduled to the minute with a few hours’ sleep thrown in here and there. I was constantly working until the late hours of the night, rushing from commitment to commitment, running on iced coffee, groaning whenever my alarm went off in the morning, and holding my schedule together with my bare hands. Once, I scheduled a tutoring appointment for halftime at a basketball game I was at for pep band, just so I could get both things done at once. I was a chronic multi-tasker, constantly exhausted and tense, often on the brink of tears over the smallest thing, and developing a serious reliance on caffeine to make it through the day.
Not only that, but in the midst of rushing here and there, I never felt present or like I was truly accomplishing anything to the best of my abilities. I was able to put on a brave face in public and act like this wasn’t a problem at all, but the cracks in my hustle were showing and small voice in the back of my head began to question if I had really given that student the best possible feedback on their paper because I was so tired from being up late writing my own paper the night before, or if I was copyediting that article properly because I was doing it while answering the phones at my late-night work-study shift. I knew something was wrong but I didn’t know how to do anything else but push forward and make it through the next day.
When I look back at pictures of myself from senior year and especially graduation day, in addition to someone who looks proud and ecstatic and relieved to have made it through college, I see someone who is flat-out exhausted and burned out. My eyes are swollen, my face is pale and drawn, and those bags under my eyes certainly aren’t designer. I didn’t realize how much of a mess I was until I got home and was faced with absolutely nothing. My schedule was no longer packed to the brim and I began to sleep more, read for pleasure, practice yoga and barre, fill my body with nourishing foods, and above all else, do nothing. In the year since I’ve graduated from college and transitioned from a constantly full day to a 9-5 workday, I’ve learned a lot about myself and burnout and have decided that I don’t ever want to feel like that again. To prevent this here are the steps I’ve taken to prioritize self-care over being #sobusy:
This is my number one advice to anyone who feels even the slightest bit burned out. The worst thing I did to myself during those four insane years was make sleep my last priority. A few days here and there on too little sleep is okay, but sleeping is our body’s best way to recharge and refuel for the next day. If you are constantly sleeping too little, your body is constantly playing catch-up and you will notice the effects. I felt like I was always in a fog, never able to focus completely or think perfectly because I was only running on 5-6 hours of sleep each night, and sometimes less. Now, however, I count back at least 7 hours from when I know I need to wake up and I force myself to go to bed at that time. The more sleep I get, the clearer and happier I am.
Resting is different from sleep in this case because you’re technically still awake. Instead of going, going, going, and crashing into bed, I’ve set up an evening and weekend routine that lets me relax in addition to getting plenty of sleep. I go for long walks and get plenty of fresh air and Vitamin D, I take hot baths to relax my muscles, I read every evening to help my brain unwind, among other relaxing activities that I crave after a long day. What makes you feel totally at ease and content? Make sure you have time for at least one of these activities a day so you can help your body decompress and de-stress!
I say “no”
In college, I was often guilty of saying “yes” to everything that came my way, whether it be a fun city adventure with a friend, taking on a new project or position, or even a last-minute tutoring appointment, often because I felt guilty about saying “no” even if I needed to. Of course, I enjoyed the things I was doing, but I kept cramming activities and events and tasks into my calendar and this meant I had less and less time for the tasks that were already there, as well as the ever-important sleep. Saying “yes” to a new opportunity can have amazing benefits because you never know what’s going to happen next, but constantly saying “yes” at the expense of everything else that’s already on your plate can be detrimental. Now, if I know I’ve had a long day and just need some “me” time, or if I already have a lot going on one day or in a week, and I get invited out with a friend or something, I sometimes take a rain check to preserve my sanity. There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying “no” if you feel like you need to, for whatever reason. Your self-care and your physical and mental health are at the utmost important, so saying no to keep these priorities in balance is often the best thing you can do for yourself.
We’ve all been guilty of taking on too much or sacrificing sleep to be a superstar. After all, chasing our dreams requires hard work and a little sacrifice. In truth, I loved college and all of the opportunities it gave me and I wouldn’t necessarily change anything about it. But hustling the point of burnout is anything but fun and you lose sight of your “why” in the process. Taking care of yourself is just as important as crossing a task off a to-do list, and doing so to prevent or even recover burnout is essential to our overall health and well-being.