Recently, a friend asked me advice on how to avoid getting exhausted or burned out in the juggle that is modern life, where many of us find ourselves doing way more things than is feasible. As I ended up quitting the career I had started a year and a half before due to burning out, it’s fair to say I have learned my lessons the hard way. I really want to keep others from ending up the same way and will now share some of the suggestions I gave my friend. The topic is massive and everyone has slightly different pain points, so let’s get started on things you can do to feel slightly more aware of what is going on in your life to gain some headspace and feel calmer and less overwhelmed.
I want to point out that the advice I give is experience-based peer support. I am not a medical professional and I haven’t got credentials in psychology or coaching. If you are feeling consistently tired, suffer from physical pains and ailments or feel persistently sad, anxious or depressed, please turn to a medical professional to assess your situation.
Pause for a few minutes and take a few calm breaths. What are you feeling? What caused you to feel that way? Just notice. Don’t judge, don’t try to solve things for now. Only stop for a little while to acknowledge what’s happening and how you feel about it. Do this several times in during your day.
What often happens is that we go about our days rushing on autopilot doing the things we have to do and never wonder how our life has turned to what it is. Taking small pauses throughout the day to see where you are at and what you are doing (and why), makes you more aware of what’s happening in your life and you can make more informed decisions instead of reacting emotionally to impulses.
2. Figure out what’s in your head
If you feel resistant to this one but do find a way to try this out at least a little – especially if you feel your head is so full of things that you don’t know where to start or, like I did, feel there’s not enough space in your head to turn around:
Write down on paper what ever is going on in your mind. You might feel that’s the last thing you have time for or you might feel so stressed or anxious that you don’t feel like sitting down, but give it a go for 5 – 10min to get started. When you use a pen on paper your body is working together with your brain and your nerves have something concrete to concentrate on. You might get more clarity on why you are feeling the way you are and what you might do about it. You can tear the pages and bin them when you are done or take some action items from them to work on.
The original excercise this stems from is from a book called ‘Uuvuksissa’ (Exhausted) by a Finnish author Liisa Uusitalo-Arola. At the moment the book hasn’t sadly been translated into English, which I think it should be as it has helped me a lot. In the excercise you make a point of writing three full A4 pages each morning, even if you find you don’t feel like it or nothing comes to mind. You do this consistently for two weeks. It took me about three weeks to manage to write on 14 days and often it wasn’t one single session, but I got into the habit of journaling, which now is a tool I use to unclutter my mind.
3. Ease on negative self-talk
When you are having way more responsibilities and things to do than you can actually manage, it’s really easy to feel inadequate, inefficient and maybe even lazy. There might also be a narrative from the past that makes you believe things about yourself that aren’t helpful – like being messy or always late and so on.
Changing patterns we’ve had maybe even for years isn’t necessarily easy and we still need to start from somewhere. Try changing the things you say to yourself a little bit at first. Instead of telling yourself how you have been lazy letting the dishes pile up in the sink, tell yourself how good it is that you are now taking the time to fill the dishwasher or wash up even if you have so many other things taking your time. If you find you are constantly rushing late to things, tell yourself that you want to leave 5min earlier since you want to be on time (instead of saying that you don’t want to be late – focus on what you want). If you still end up being late, make a note what you could do differently next time to be on time instead of beating yourself up about it and take credit that you at least made an effort of being more aware of your time.
How do you feel about these action points? Do you feel like doing one or all of them might help you make a beneficial shift in your life? Sure there’s no harm in trying? Do drop me a line to let me know how you feel!