Before recovering from burnout, I was the typical high-achiever who put the job’s needs first and forgot all of mine in the process. I’d always been able to work incredibly hard in challenging conditions and keep going. The ability to keep pushing no matter what enabled me to transform from fat and unfit in my mid-20s to marathon runner and helped me climb the corporate ladder to Director level in a large FS company.
The same characteristics of ‘head down, focus, and push through’ also led me to experience a severe and life-changing burnout that ultimately ended my corporate career. I missed every single warning sign because I was so focused on doing a great job and getting through my to-do list.
Thankfully I was able to fully recover and grow as a person in the process. Burnout ultimately forced me to really think about what I wanted in life, what was important, and realise that I am human and not a robot that can work 24/7. In this article, I cover the six lessons I learned while recovering from burnout.
Please note I am not medically trained, and this article does not constitute medical advice. If you are experiencing a severe health condition, then you should consult a medical professional.
Table of Contents
What I learned while recovering from burnout
It’s easier to say ‘I’m OK’ than open up about burnout, but talking helps
Before experiencing burnout, I didn’t spend too long thinking about or analysing my feelings. The typical responses you’d get if you asked how I was were “I’m OK,” “I’m fine”, or “Busy!”
As part of my treatment, I had weekly sessions with a cognitive behavioural therapist designed to get me talking about what had happened and reframe my thinking where needed. I found this therapy excruciatingly difficult at first. It involved working through a lifetime of repressed emotions and crying a lot. I hated that feeling of not being in control of my emotions, but it was exactly what my body needed to complete the cycle and process everything that had happened.
CBT helped me to learn how to open up about my feelings, which has ultimately made me a more empathetic person. It put me on the path to sharing my experiences widely on social media, in an upcoming book and on stages in front of hundreds of people so that I can help others spot the signs of burnout and take action.
You can fully recover from burnout
When burnout struck, I can remember thinking that my life was over and that I was completely broken. My usually confident demeanour shattered into hundreds of pieces, and I felt raw and vulnerable in everyday experiences.
My psychiatrist promised me that I would come out the other side and probably have a lot more perspective on life than I’d had previously. I struggled to believe him at the time despite all of his years of experience and impressive results.
I’m pleased to say he was right. Based on all the research I’ve read, my experiences and those of my clients, with time, support and a willingness to change what led you to burn out, you will come out the other side. What’s more, you will likely find you are a stronger and more rounded person as a result of the tough times you’ve worked through.
The recovery process isn’t linear
The most frustrating part of my burnout recovery journey was that it was seemingly unpredictable. I’d have a day where I felt so much better, and like I could do more. Then the next day, I would feel low and vulnerable again. It was so hard not to take this personally and see it as a failure.
My therapist and psychiatrist helped me to realise that this was part of the process. I had to learn what my body and mind were ready for. If I pushed myself on a good day, I’d pay the price the next day. This constant feedback forced me to listen to my body and start picking up on all the signs of stress that I had missed previously. I learned patience and gratitude for the progress that I was making.
Someone, I forget who, recommended that I kept a journal of my progress to look back on, so I could see the overall uplift in what I could do and cope with. I still keep that journal to this day, and it amazes me to read how I’ve grown from the person who couldn’t get out of bed and face the world, to the woman who now coaches others to prevent and recover from burnout. It feels like a dream!
Burnout forces you to slow down and reassess everything
Burnout forced me to rest. Not the kind of rest you get if you’re lucky on a Sunday where you stay in bed a little longer and maybe have an afternoon nap, but rest for the longer term. I had so much sleep to catch up on and, at first, very little energy to do much more than get up and get dressed on a good day.
It took me eight months to get to the stage I was mentally well enough to work again. By that time, I knew that going back into the same working environment would be counter-productive; I couldn’t change as a person in the way I would have needed to thrive in that environment. I knew it would only be a matter of time before I relapsed.
The time out gave me a lot of time to think and ultimately led me to realise that my calling in life is to help other people, which I now get to do every day through my burnout coaching business and the content I share freely online.
There is no quick fix for recovering from burnout
Burnout builds over time, and in the same way, it takes time for your body and mind to recover. In hindsight, I think my burnout had been building for a year, and it took me about the same amount of time to come out the other side and feel like myself again. I’m now a firm believer that staying well and healthy is a lifelong journey.
I know I have workaholic tendencies, so I’ve had to build systems into my working week that force me to stop, rest and check in with my mind and body. I learned the telltale signs that let me know I am starting to get out of balance, such as a twitching eye, losing patience and a pain in my side.
It took me one severe burnout and a less severe relapse to learn these lessons over three years.
There is strength in reaching out for support when dealing with burnout
Had my experiences with burnout been less severe, I would have probably soldiered on, repressed it, and not spoken to anyone, not realising how serious the condition is. However, I became too ill for this to be an option.
My husband took me to the doctor, which started eight months of support from a psychiatrist and a therapist. I then hired coaches and mentors to help me to find myself again and figure out what I want to do with my life. I’m confident I’ll always have a coach now because there is so much value in setting aside regular time to talk to someone neutral to your situation about what is going on in your life. Having someone hold space for you so you can find the answers within yourself.
Not everyone needs this intensity of support, but I believe that everyone benefits from some form of support, whether it’s following someone on social media who reminds you to take care of yourself, being part of a group that promotes mental health awareness, or working with a coach. Your needs will vary depending on what you are experiencing.
Conclusion: recovering from burnout changed my life
Burnout has been a truly life-changing experience for me, full of painful lessons that ultimately helped me change the path I was on. As a result, my life is far healthier and fulfilling because I’ve learned what I need to be happy and perform at my best over the long-term. I’ve gone from sprinting marathons to enjoying almost every step of the journey surrounded by the most important people in my life.
If this article has resonated with you, and you recognise some of the signs of burnout in your life, you can connect with me in the following ways:
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