Recovering from burnout and building a sustainable life

- March 11, 2023

Recovering from burnout is a journey that begins with acceptance of where you are. You might be so overwhelmed that you can’t imagine what life on the other side of the emotional, mental and physical exhaustion you are feeling looks like. And that’s ok. Just know that you can recover, and this state of being is not permanent. Given the time, resources, and support you will be able to create a sustainable life that you can enjoy again.

Recovering from burnout is a journey that will be unique to you as a person and your circumstances. Depending on how long you’ve been building up to this point, it may take you weeks, months or years to recover fully – and build a sound and healthy foundation for a life that nourishes and nurtures rather than drains and depletes you. In this blog post, we discuss the symptoms of a burnout, how you can prevent yourself from burning out if you recognise the warning signs early enough and then introduce 7 strategies that will help you on your recovery journey and allow you to build a sustainable life.

What is burnout?

The three pillars of burnout are

  • Exhaustion/chronic fatigue
    Your battery is so drained that a weekend or even a holiday can’t recharge them enough to keep going
  • Inefficacy
    No matter how hard you try and how much you do, you feel unproductive and incompetent which leads to a “why bother? who cares?” mentality.
  • Cynism
    You are disengaging from work more and more and become extremely irritable towards co-workers as well as friends and family.

When you are burnt out your brain is not able to function or cope the way it normally would. Your creativity will very likely be decreased. You may struggle with problem-solving as well as your memory and concentration. Your body has been running on cortisol, one of the body’s stress hormones for a good while which negatively impacts your cardiovascular and immunesystem. Yes, burnout changes your body’s chemistry. Recovering from burnout is key to a happy life.

Burnout is more severe than just going through a stressful or intense period at work and doesn’t even need to be related to your job. Being the primary caregiver for a loved one, working towards an academic degree or going through a divorce can also lead to burnout. Burnout is when the body and the brain start shutting down and strongly signal “we are done here” after experiencing chronic stress to the point where it makes you sick.

How you get to this point and when you reach it will be different for everyone. Therefore, the recovery journey and what you need to get better and build a sustainable life will be unique to you and your circumstances. It starts with evaluating how burnt out you are and acknowledging and accepting that you can’t keep going the way you have been.

Before we look at strategies on Recovering from burnout, we will discuss the signs and symptoms and how to prevent them. Know that wherever you are on the burnout spectrum, there’s nothing wrong with you and you are anything but weak. So, as you embark on this journey, please be kind and patient with yourself.

Recovering from burnout

Burnout signs and symptoms

How to recognise it

Anyone can work themselves into burnout – it is very much a disease of this day and age and a highly capitalistic society that expects us to be “switched on” pretty much 24/7.

However, there are two types of people who are particularly prone to suffer from burnout at some point in their lives:

High-achievers who have a lot of ambition to succeed in their professional as well as in their personal lives and people pleasers who struggle to create boundaries around their time and energy (they feel like they are letting others down whenever they say “no”).

  • Feeling fatigued/exhausted/depleted
  • Struggling with insomnia
  • Feeling trapped/helpless/disempowered
  • Feeling detached/anxious/depressed
  • Negative/cynical outlook
  • Decrease in productivitya and creativity
  • Increase in procrastination
  • Being irritable and easily frustrated
  • Struggling to stay focused/concentrate
  • More forgetful
  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle tension/pain/headaches
  • Impacted immune system
  • Difficult to maintain relationships

How can I prevent burnout?

The key to preventing burnout is knowing the source of your stress as well as gaining the self-awareness of how you are wired as a person and what your unique needs are. Are you facing too many demands in your job or private life? Or is it the lack of resources – the things that motivate you and give you energy – and/or support that’s draining you? What do you need more/less of? What’s missing? What are your current coping strategies? How are you navigating challenges? What are your core values and beliefs when it comes to your life and your work?

Once you have identified the underlying causes of your stress (which will very likely be a combination of several things) and the stories you’ve been telling yourself (e.g. with a very self-critical/perfectionist voice) you can tend to these roots and make the necessary changes to improve the environment around them.

Recovering from burnout, how.

How long does it take to recover from burnout?

Suffering from burnout can be just as serious as being severely wounded or having a complex back injury. Therefore, how long it will take you to recover from it really depends on how long the burnout has been festering within you and how intensely you’ve fallen into it. Just as with a physical injury there will be a time when your body is in acute crisis, a period where you are slowly recovering and healing yourself and a period when you are feeling almost like yourself again. Eventually, you will come out on the other side and feel at peace within yourself again.

Recovering from burnout looks different for everyone but there are some strategies that you can follow and implement to help you on this journey. First and foremost, you need to start listening to your body and mind and learn tending to their needs. If you are not used to honouring your body’s and mind’s needs this may feel unfamiliar or even uncomfortable, so please be patient with yourself.

Ask for Help

Recovering from burnout starts with admitting to yourself that there is a problem and you can’t keep going the way you have been. The second step is communicating it to people you trust and asking for help. When you are completely exhausted and depleted emotionally, mentally, and physically it can be too big a task to start identifying potential solutions and ways to downgrade on commitments and other sources of stress. When you open up to a loved one and/or your boss, they can help and support you with immediate adjustments in your work and private life (e.g. reassigning one or several projects to someone else, getting more help with childcare, etc.). They will also know you well enough to have some understanding of the hot spots of your personal and professional life that need tending to and the distance to evaluate your situation with clarity.

Recovering from burnout

Prioritise your needs + practice self-care

You have reached a point where you need to prioritise your needs and practice self-care on as many levels as possible. Taking responsibility for your physical and mental health is a key element of your recovery from burnout. Therefore, the following suggestions are about taking the time and creating the space so you can get to know yourself again. You want to reconnect with or find out what brings you joy and nourishes you – and this might be slightly or very different to what it used to be before your burnout.

  • Sleep
    Self-care starts with enough good quality sleep. To ensure a good night’s rest it is worth looking at how you time your caffein intake and creating an evening/bedtime routine that allows you to unwind – e.g. reading, listening to an audio book or music, writing a gratitude list, a gentle yoga session in bed or doing some relaxing arts & crafts.
  • Healthy, nutritious meals
    Make sure you take care of your body by eating regularly and creating a balanced diet with plenty of healthy and nutritious meals. It’s also not just about what you eat but how you take it in – do you sit down for your meals and make time to enjoy your food? This blog post explains what “mindful eating” is and how you can benefit from it.
  • Time away from screens
    Disconnecting from technology can be highly beneficial for your mental health. This blog post on “Digital Detox for your Mental Wellbeing” explains the benefits in-depth as well as how to implement a regular digital detox in your everyday life. When you do spend time on screens be picky about what you consume and who/what channels of information you allow access to head and heart space.
  • Introduce mindfulness practices
    Learn to do practices like meditation, yoga, breathing techniques, Qigong, etc. into your life to help you create more self-awareness and grow the ability to stay present in the here and now.
  • Spend time in nature + move your body
    At first, you might not have much energy to exercise or engage in any sports – so don’t. Start slowly and gently by going for a 15 minute walk or doing some gentle yoga exercises. Even just spending time in the woods – it’s called “Shinrin-yoku” which translates to forest bathing – has numerous health benefits in addition to relieving the body of stress.
  • Spend time with loved-ones
    It’s important to find the right balance between alone time and time with family and friends. Both are immensely important. You may have neglected your relationships over the last few weeks/months/years leading up to the burnout and now that your batteries are utterly depleted, you may not particularly feel like you’ve got enough energy to socialise. However, research shows how detrimental loneliness is for our health. Meaningful social connections on the other hand lower the rates of anxiety and depression, strengthen our immune system and can lengthen our life – all of this in addition to providing a support network. So, schedule time for a walk with your best friend. You could also have a chat with a loved one where each of you gets to vent for 15 minutes and the other person just listens. Neither of you needs to solve the other’s problem or offer a solution for the source of their frustration. It’s simply about listening, being on your side and offering empathy.
  • Time for self-reflection
    What caused you stress or inner conflict today? What brought you joy? What was the best thing that happened to you today? What have you learned? Making time to acknowledge your efforts and accomplishments in a brief check-in – may that be verbally with a friend or spouse, in a voice memo to yourself or a quick (mood) journal entry can help you become aware of patterns and celebrate baby-steps in the right direction. This blog post explores in depth “How Journaling can help with Anxiety, Depression and Stress” .

Self-Talk: Give yourself Permission to be Imperfect

Do you have an inner critic that keeps pushing you and in whose eyes nothing you do is ever quite good enough? Are you aware when your internal dialogue moves along the lines of “I should/shouldn’t have” and “if I only could/would have…”? Are you aware of the negative self-talk, the stories you keep telling yourself (e.g. taking a break or relaxing is a sign of laziness)? Maybe you have a tendency of giving yourself a hard time when you are already having a tough and stressful day.

Many of us are our own worst critic. And there’s a reason why this voice exists inside of us. But what would happen if you gave yourself permission to be imperfect? What if you didn’t hold yourself to the highest of standards at all times? What if you gave yourself permission to be human – with flaws and shortcomings and not having it together? What if you responded to that negativity with kindness and compassion and became your own best friend? If you used your most compassionate, caring and encouraging inner voice, how would that change the story you are telling yourself? Know that no single action defines who you are as a person. Meet yourself without judgement. Remind yourself that you are doing the very best you can at any given moment with the resources that you have just now. And allow yourself to screw up and fail sometimes.

Recovering from Burnout with Self-Compassion

It will take time to identify and change negative/harsh/critical self-talk. It will take time to accept where you are at and become comfortable with prioritising self-care. You are un-learning unhelpful behaviours and patterns that have been with you for a very long time. You are rewiring yourself. You are growing and evolving. So, please be patient with yourself on this journey. Give yourself time to heal – it is a process that can’t be rushed. Give yourself plenty of credit for the effort you are putting into recovering from burnout even if the outcome is not immediately tangible. Remember that you are doing this work, this healing in an environment, in a society, in a system that celebrates the rat race and is largely based on people who exploit themselves to chase a career or the next fancy car or the latest gadget.

Cut back on Commitments + Set Boundaries

As you are becoming your own best friend and most supportive ally, it will become easier to say “no”. One of the biggest gifts you can give yourself when you have reached the rock bottom of your burnout is to press the pause button. Take a close look at any and all commitments – professional as well as personal – and evaluate if you have the time and energy for them or if you can delegate/cancel them. Before you accept any new commitments from here on out, take the time and space to think what will be required of you if you agree and if you have the mental, emotional and physical capacity to take that on. Ask yourself: Does that commitment align with your values? Will it nourish you or take energy out of you? Your time and energy are very precious resources. Not everyone should have access to them. You are allowed to select carefully which commitments are important enough to you that you want to honour them.

Learn to set boundaries around your work – this can be in regards to the hours you are available as well as the location. When you shut down your computer or leave the workplace, try to do whatever is necessary to not let your work seep into your private life. New Life’s wellness coordinator Tamas shares some great tips and recommends practices that are helping him to do that in his interview on the topic of “Burn On”.

Re-Connect to your Values

When you are burnt out you struggle to find meaning in your work and have most likely been disengaging from your job for a while. You might have a career that you were once very passionate about and burnout can feel like an identity crisis in that way because how you feel about your work may have fundamentally changed.

It helps to take the time to reconnect to your values. What drew you to this job in the first place? Was it the impact/difference you are making? Was it because you wanted to help people? Or was the main purpose to provide financial security for yourself and your family? What positive things would your customers/clients/patients say about you? Remembering and focusing on the “why” that drives and motivates you can help you to do something even though it is difficult or requires greater effort. Maybe your goals and values have changed and you feel like you need to shift things in your life to live in alignment with who you have become and what’s important to you now. This can seem scary at first but is well worth figuring out because living against our inner truth can be detrimental to our mental health.

Recovering from burnout at New Life Portugal

If you have been prioritising your work and everyone else over yourself and have reached a point of burnout where you are struggling to function, you may need to take some time off and get away from it all. If you are looking for a break outside of your everyday environment New Life Portugal might be the perfect place to help you reset your nervous system as well as get a new outlook and perspective. Our wellness retreat and mindfulness centre is nestled into the stunning mountains and serene nature of the Serra Da Estrela. From your private ensuite room to the yoga and meditation hall with panoramic views of the valley – our accommodation and facilities are designed to give you the perfect blend of privacy and community.

Our program consists of various paths, each of which has a different focus and can be tailored to your individual needs. We offer a wide range of therapeutic elements that are rarely found all in one place. Everything is optional and you can join as few or as many of our offerings and activities as feels beneficial to you at the time. Our team of experts will skillfully support you every step of the way to sustainable wellbeing, getting the deep rest you’ve been craving, shift patterns that may have set you up for burnout, nurture your body and heart, and reignite your spark for life. Here, you can expect to be both challenged, and nurtured – all within the container of a supportive community that fosters deep, meaningful connections as well as contemplative silence and privacy. You can look forward to three tasty and healthy meals containing plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, low GI foods, and probiotics. We serve minimally processed foods and take pride in using homegrown or local products whenever possible.

A stay at New Life Portugal will nourish and nurture you on a physical, mental and emotional level and allow you the breathing space you need to figure out your first steps on your recovery journey from burnout. If you have any further questions or would like to talk to a member of staff, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today.

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