Burnout, it often seems like the modern world is determined to make this a characteristic of our daily lives. Recently I’ve been giving myself a little bit of imposter syndrome. I work and teach people about mental health while at the same time letting mine dive off the side of a cliff. Sometimes we forget about self-care.
I realised that I had let myself go when I went out mountain biking. Things I would never have given a second thought to before were suddenly out the window. I realised that I was facing a mountain, the wrong way, so to speak. I was swamped, overwhelmed, and I was emotionally a wreck. It was all too much, and even simple things were a nightmare.
I needed to find a way to reset.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a state of physical and mental exhaustion.
Burnout does not just happen overnight; it builds up over time. It is a multiplier effect. Stress has to grow and pass through chronic stress to become burnout. With stress, we feel like we have too much to do; with burnout, we feel we have nothing left. Burnout is our body trying to protect itself after being hyperactive or stuck in a fight or flight system for a long time.
Burnout has symptoms similar to those of stress and anxiety. Your sleep will be disrupted, and insomnia will appear; you’ll feel fatigued, and as such, you will change your appetite and caffeine use. You’ll be ill more often, and your body will spend a lot of time feeling tense. You’ll be way more irritable and feel very apathetic and numb. Sarcasm will come to the fore, and with it, a lot of self-criticism and an almost debilitating self-doubt. You’ll procrastinate and isolate yourself. Numbing may be through the use of substances or by diet; you will no longer enjoy life.
At this point, I’d like to point out that I am just someone typing words online, and if you need help, you should seek professional help. No one will judge you for asking for help. Use what I’ve written here to make yourself realise that you are not alone, and in a minute, we’ll talk about some solutions you can try as you await an appointment.
Speak to your doctor or counsellor. If you can’t speak to them, talk to a friend or work colleague whom you trust.
What did I do?
I talked to people around me and let them know what I was going through. The most dismissive person of myself, at this point, was me; which is a good sign of being burntout. I then knew I had to try calming activities; I went back to reading. I took time to go and ride my tracklocross bike, as it is a style of cycling that is not connected with work. It can be a bit of a nightmare when your hobbies are also your work.
I started to make sure I prioritised time for myself to go through mindfulness practices. A small meditation in the morning and then used the various activities I have talked about on this blog before sessions, and slowly I started to turn the tide.
I also spent less time answering emails, invoicing, and dealing with work. It now has an allotted time, and I work to that. The problem for me is it easy to allow a business you own to overtake everything.
Overcoming burnout and the associated evils of stress and anxiety is not easy. A simple blog on the internet will not give you all the answers. I can show what I did and be honest and say I’ve made mistakes to let you know that life is not all plain sailing even after you prioritise your mental health.
Let us try and defeat burnout, feel free if you want to private message about your feelings.
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One of the questions I get asked is why I like mindfulness and how did I come to want to bring it to the masses. Like many people, I came to mindfulness after a mental health crisis. It will take a little explaining, and hopefully, the story won’t bore you too much.
Years ago, I decided to use my head as an emergency brake in a bowl. This is not a technique I would recommend to be honest with you. At the time, I did what all my peers did and just shook myself off and carried on until a headache forced me home. In retrospect, this was one of the worst ideas I have had in my life. I shouldn’t be too hard on myself as I was undoubtedly concussed at the time.
I’ve now spent years trying to overcome the issues this crash has brought me. I’m deaf in my left ear. I lost my sense of taste and one that I can’t decide if it’s good or bad, my sense of smell. I’ve also lost most of my life’s memories and have memory issues to this day. Then there are the mental health issues that came with it.
I’ve had issues with depression and severe anxiety since the accident. I managed to follow this up with being in a highly toxic relationship, which I should have left years before. It led to me trying to commit suicide to get away from it, which brought me more attention from mental health services.
Mental health crisis
It is one of those bitter pills to take that you can’t get help from mental health services until you are at a crisis point. I will go out on a limb and say that earlier intervention is preferable. Like many people, I had been asking for help. But, resources were so stretched that there was no way to get the help I needed until something happened.
Now, my mental health decreased from this point and got worse for the next few years. I was stuck in a feedback loop, which is the way I feel about it now. I was getting stronger and stronger drugs. It was making me feel like I was losing who I felt was me. I’d go to therapy. After, I’d then just get a new prescription. I’d think in some ways, and it justified me in feeling like shit.
The mindful revolution
It allowed me to wallow in self-pity. I was justified in this. Mindfulness was offered to me, as much as I wanted to pretend it wasn’t. It was, but it was in groups, and at that point, there was no way I’d go to a group setting. I also felt that mindfulness was just part of some crazy Eastern philosophy.
My thinking here was affected by my university education. My studies centred around philosophy, and my teachers were sceptical about the Eastern traditions. I never read anything about them, as this felt like a waste of time. Allowing others to direct your thinking without any research is not clever. I wonder what other things I have not experienced due to being conditioned against them.
Eventually, I was tired of just getting new prescriptions and a pat on the back for trying. To be honest, I didn’t feel like I was trying. I began to cycle more, and I asked for a reduction in my medication. The time was right to start exploring other ideas. I looked at mindfulness. Which on Instagram just seemed to be people in yoga poses selling what looked like scams. They probably were, but slowly I started to read more.
The skatepark epiphany
The moment it all clicked was at the skatepark. I was looking at a vert tombstone. A block of rock on top of a ramp, essentially. I’ve never really bothered with it before. It’s always given me the fear. Today I was going to have a sesh on it.
In the past, when I was doing something “gnarly”, I would have put headphones on and pressed play on something fast and aggressive. I went with something mellow this time, some smooth jazz if you need to know. I took a minute and focused on my breathing. Negative thoughts came, and I accepted them rather than shooing them away.
I then told myself today was great, and this will be the icing on the top. Following this up, I told myself how many people I had seen successfully tackle this beast and how great it would be to ride away. In and out, in and out. I rolled towards the tombstone. I rolled away but wasn’t successful at what I was going for. The second try was closer, and the third try was a make.
Then it hit me. I was elated at not dying and making something gnarly. I used mindfulness and overcame my negative headspace. It works. It actually works. Going home that night, I was floating on a cloud.
So, simply I want people to experience this feeling.