We have all been here before. There are countless things still left on the to-do list, deadlines fast approaching, and you have no idea where to begin. We take on as much as we can if it offers a reprieve from another moment inside of your own head. You ride the wave for days, weeks, or months.
And then, it all falls apart.
Suddenly, you don’t have the energy to do a fraction of what you used to do before. The motivation just isn’t there. More than that, you’re exhausted. This is all another symptom of burning out.
Chipping Away At the Problem
Usually, you burn out because of the mounting stress. Perhaps you have just agreed to an inhuman amount of work. Perhaps there are too many events that you had to commit to. Maybe it’s your job. Sometimes, it’s just your need to show the world how much you can do and how valuable you truly are. There is no right answer.
As depression sufferers, we have an added list of reasons for this. Usually it boils down to our own insecurity and self-worth (as is the case with most things). It sounds simple, but it always goes unnoticed.
Take a moment. Tell yourself that you have nothing to prove to anyone. Take a slow, deep breath, really noticing the air filling your lungs; hold it in for a few moments; then, slowly exhale, relaxing every muscle in your body (this includes that brain of yours). Repeat as many times as needed.
Now, take another look at that to-do list. How much of that is actually important to do right now? Start tackling the most urgent thing first, by breaking it down into tiny little pieces.
For instance: You absolutely have to finish that essay that you’ve been putting off because it looks too complicated, but it’s due tomorrow (cue flashbacks to college days). The essay as a whole is intimidating. Break it down into smaller steps (ex: ensuring that you have done enough research, figuring out the core “sections” of the essay, getting the “easy” paragraphs out of the way, etc.).
Life works in a similar manner. Sometimes, if looking at the bigger picture doesn’t work, you break it down into smaller, manageable steps. Just a hint: there are always smaller steps to tackling a problem.
Someone once told me something important:
“You never look at how tall a mountain is until you reach the top.”
As in, a problem always looks bigger and more intimidating when you are at “the base of the mountain”. It’s only once you get started that you realize how big or small it really is.
Beware the Cycle
Those of us who like to work as hard as possible to escape ourselves face another problem with burnouts – a cycle of behaviour.
Here’s how it looks (roughly speaking):
- The sense of accomplishments fuels your self-worth. You feel as if you have a handle on your situation. But, it’s not enough.
- You take on more assignments/projects, because after all, you handled the other ones so easily. The rest just have to end up the same way.
- Suddenly, you feel exhaustion. You try to take a break, but there’s just too much on your plate right now for that.
- The exhaustion continues. The easy tasks become a chore. You feel as if you are a failure because why can’t you just do this one little, simple task?
- The awareness creates another opening for depression.
- Somehow, you get on your feet, finishing that little task. You are invincible again.
The trick is to stop the cycle in its tracks. Realize when you are taking on too much. If you need help, ask for it. It doesn’t make you any less of a person. Every single person needs help with one thing or another. If you no longer can handle a task, so be it. Your well-being is much more important than anything else. People will understand.
Make sure that you are doing something that relaxes you. Add one little item on your to-do list that makes you feel happy. Whether that is singing and dancing around, playing music, drawing, painting, knitting, writing, baking, … whatever it is that brings you joy. This is a high priority item, so make time for it.
No one has that kind of time! I have too much to do!
You don’t need a lot of time. Even if you manage 10-15 minutes, that’s fine. Even 5 minutes.
Life is stressful. There are many, many obligations that we have. Taking some quality “me-time” makes a world of a difference. Do something good for you. Make yourself a priority in your life!