How to avoid burnout: Learn to mind the gap between body and mind
I’m going to keep this brief because I’m tired. To do anything else would go against the very purpose of this post: to talk about avoiding burnout.
Getting older has taught me many things. That pretty much everything and everyone is too noisy. That a stool isn’t a seat, it’s a one way ticket to back ache. And that just because your parents are no longer on hand to tell you not to eat 12 Jaffa Cakes at once, it doesn’t mean you should.
Mind the gap
But less obvious is the lesson I’m just starting to grasp about the gaps that can exist between our bodies and minds.
Between what our brains tell us that we can do, and what our bodies can actually withstand.
Between the energy we have in our muscles, and the space our minds need to think.
You know that feeling when you just keep going and going and going and then you suddenly realise that if you don’t go to bed RIGHT NOW you’re either going to collapse or throw up or both?
Or when your brain is just so FULL – with worry, dilemmas, ideas or emotion – that even though technically you could go out with friends or visit family, you know if you do, you’re just going to burst into tears?
That’s what it feels like when the gap trips us up and burnout starts to happen. And it’s chuffing horrible.
Life can trick us into thinking we can handle more than we can. It sounds simple when it’s written down but it’s amazing how frequently it can catch us out. We don’t always realise we’re pushing ourselves until it’s too late. And getting to that point never feels good.
Have the confidence to say no
I’ve written before about how, to feel better, we have to stop trying to do everything at once. And I think part of the issue is confidence. It takes courage to say no to invitations or to admit that you’ve got too much on your plate. Or to say, regardless of how simple an activity might be for somebody else, for you at this point it’s just too much.
Nobody wants to look weak or uncommitted, so all too often we’ll power through regardless. But staying well and happy matters more than saving face. So we need to find a balance between what we’re physically and mentally capable of, and be confident that our limits are justified.
As you change, your limits change
I’m currently trying to adjust to what I can and can’t do whilst pregnant. My brain has a million ideas about how I could spend my time. And then I remember that I get puffed out going up the stairs, and I have to scale back my plans.
And although it’s obviously all worth it, the process is frustrating nonetheless. My FOMO (sorry mum, that means ‘Fear of missing out’) is through the roof as I see people doing all sorts of things that just aren’t feasible for me at the moment. I’m having to learn how to have a nice time in this condition – how to socialise, write and exercise – without pushing myself too far. It was an inevitable part of the process, but I hadn’t appreciated the conflict I’d experience between what my mind and body want from me.
Your boundaries, your business
No matter what our circumstances are, we have to learn to foresee what our minds and bodies need to keep us well and avoid burnout. Annoyingly they don’t always talk to each other until it’s too late, so we have to use what we’ve learnt about ourselves to plan ahead.
What that looks like will vary from person to person. Right now for me that means going out just one evening during the week, as it’ll take me the next two to recover. And remembering not to make plans after appointments with the midwife as I’m always SHATTERED.
For you it’ll mean something else. Our personal boundaries are exactly that – personal. So nobody gets to set them but us.
What do you do to avoid burnout?