How to Fight Burnout: Part I

Do you see trees or a forest? To fight burnout, keep your eye on the forest. (Photo by  Geran de Klerk  on  Unsplash )

Do you see trees or a forest? To fight burnout, keep your eye on the forest. (Photo by Geran de Klerk on Unsplash)

The concept of burnout is being talked about a lot lately. I’ve been thinking about it since I read this article that recently appeared in Buzzfeed, “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation.”

The article focuses on “millennial burnout” and explores why young professionals of the millennial generation (currently around 22-38 years old) can’t seem to get their lives together outside of holding down a full-time job.

I really related to this article. I've struggled with burnout at various times, especially in my early and mid-twenties when I was trying to get a solid grip on my career and figuring out what I was going to do with my life.

I still have periods where I feel burned out, but I tend to feel it much less, because I've been honing and fine-tuning a personal system to help prevent this feeling. I'm not perfect at managing my life, but I have found a balance that helps me stay on track and keep from being overwhelmed by the pressures of work and life.

Over the next three weeks, I will share some of the ways that I prevent burnout and address it when it happens in 3 steps. Hopefully these tips can help you deal with burnout and keep your life in balance so that you can avoid it in the future. Tune in on Sundays for new posts.

Step 1 is below:  

How to Fight Burnout, Step 1: Take a Holistic Approach to Your Life 

When you look at the photo above, do you see trees or a forest? In order to prevent burnout, you need to train yourself to start looking at the forest. Rather than thinking of different things in your life as separate segments (i.e., trees), look at your life through a holistic lens, with everything intertwined (i.e., forest). Once you start to look at your life holistically, with all the different aspects of your goals and priorities, responsibilities and obligations connected, it will allow you to prioritize and set realistic expectations, which will help prevent the daily churn and anxiety that leads to burnout.

I used to segment my life into separate categories. For example, I had my work life, my home life, my dating life, etc. However, I found that by thinking of all these things as separate, I wasn’t considering the whole picture. Keeping everything separated in my mind made it harder to assess what needed more focus, because essentially, I was focusing on everything at once and spreading myself too thin.

Here’s an example of a non-holistic approach how it can be counter-productive: a friend recently told me that they were very frustrated with their weight loss plan. They had recently gained weight and they were very upset about this. This person used to go to the gym almost every day. They were very regimented with their schedule and they had achieved the result that they wanted. However, in the past year, this person had started a new job—one they absolutely wanted and a great step in their career—but the new job was more demanding than the last, and therefore, this person was struggling to make the time for the same level of fitness they had prior. They were frustrated with themselves, because they felt like a failure, even though, objectively, they were achieving great success in their career. They were quickly heading down the path of burnout, trying to achieve success in a challenging job and also pressuring themselves to stick to the same fitness plan they had before. They were spreading themselves too thin and were unhappy.

Ultimately, my friend was not looking at their life holistically. Their life had changed with the addition of this new job, yet because they were looking at various aspects separately, they hadn’t adjusted other aspects of their life to accommodate that change. On top of that, they were being hard on themselves for not being able to achieve everything. In doing so, they were actually achieving less, because they were not setting realistic goals. All of this was leading them quickly down the path of burnout.

Here are some ways to reframe and adjust to prevent burnout, using this scenario as an example:

  • Recognize that it is unreasonable to hold one’s self unrealistic goals. (In this case, this person was trying to hold themselves to the same fitness plan, which was unrealistic, given they didn’t have the same time to dedicate anymore. They were setting themselves up for failure from the get-go).

  • Map out your priorities and see if that matches up with where you are spending your time. (In this case, this person had prioritized their career by taking on this new and challenging job, yet they hadn’t acknowledged that).

  • Allow yourself the grace to accept that you just can’t do everything. (Rather than adjusting, this person was continuously beating themselves up. They were stuck in this harmful and unproductive cycle).

  • Adjust, and implement workable plans. (In this scenario, this person needs to figure out a new way to achieve their fitness goals that fits within the framework of their new day-to-day obligations).

  • Set expectations to the pace of that new plan and measure progress accordingly. (In this example, this person will set expectations and measure progress based on their new, achievable plan, not their old plan).  

When looked at through this lens, the feeling of failure is reframed to acceptance of the current situation. A realistic plan is then created to address a problem and is implemented, rather than the person maintain status quo by holding themselves to an unrealistic plan that will never come to fruition, and thus perpetuating the feeling of failure and ultimate burnout.  

Once you begin looking at your life holistically, the next step is to prioritize. Tune in on Sunday next week for Step 2. And in the meantime, step back, and look at the forest.

Are you feeling burned out? What are some ways that you fight it? Message me here!