In the fall of 2020, I burned out and went into a deep bout of anxiety. It got so bad that I had to take a week off of work and I wasn’t sure if I’d ever return. It was one of the most difficult seasons of my life and it lasted over 6 months.
Looking back, it is easy to see that I was headed for what I experienced, however, in the moments leading up to the burnout, I neglected to acknowledge any of the warning signs:
- I had lost my sister to a drug overdose in December of 2019 and instead of taking time to grieve, I took ownership of the funeral and memorial service, raised a lot of money for my nephews, and I went back to work. I used work to cover my pain.
- I had been burning the candle at both ends for a very long time and I put an insane amount of unrealistic expectations on myself for what I believed I needed to accomplish. I was tired, stressed, and anxious.
I’ve spent the last 9 months learning and applying everything I could to overcome burnout and anxiety. Based on what I learned, here are five actions that I’d encourage you to take if you find yourself in a similar situation:
1.) Go to Therapy
In a lot of circles, going to therapy is seen as weak. I could not disagree more. Therapy is for the strong. It takes a strong and courageous person to admit when they need help.
My therapist has been extremely helpful over the last 9 months. He’s listened to me, recommended several helpful exercises that have helped me immensely, and gave me a safety plan for when I found myself in trouble.
If you’re going through a difficult season, run to therapy, not from it. I’ll also add that just like any profession, there are good therapists and bad. Be willing to try several until you find a therapist that works for you. It’s worth the time and effort.If you're going through a difficult season, run to therapy, not from it.Click To Tweet
2.) Take Time to Grieve all of Your Losses
I mentioned earlier that I lost my sister and did not take the time to grieve her death. Through therapy, I realized that I had a lot of losses that I have neglected to grieve in my life.
My therapist told me that I couldn’t say goodbye to something I’ve never said hello to (grief) and he recommended that I visit the gravesites of each person that I lose and write them letters. I can’t put into words what that exercise did for me. I cried a lot that day and felt so much tension leave my body.
It’s likely that you have a lot of unprocessed grief in your life. Take time to grieve.
3.) Call a Friend and Let them Know You Need Help
Throughout my difficult season, I called a handful of my closest friends and told them that I needed help. They asked what they could do for me and I asked each of them to go on a walk with me.
During our walks, each friend told me separately that they felt I had been neglecting deep friendships for a long time. I had gotten so focused on performance, that I stopped investing in relationships. I believe this was another issue that led to the season I was in.
On those walks, I discovered what true friendship looks like and determined that I would never neglect deep friendships again. I am grateful for friends who were willing to be there for me in my time of need even when I had neglected them in the months and years leading up to my burnout.
Invest in deep friendships now. There will come a time when you need them and when they need you. Stop doing life alone!Invest in deep friendships now. There will come a time when you need them and when they need you. Stop doing life alone!Click To Tweet
4.) Let go of the Unrealistic Expectations you have Internally
I asked my therapist to talk to me about burnout. He said, “Doug, oftentimes burnout isn’t a capacity issue. It’s often unrealistic expectations that you have of yourself internally.”Oftentimes burnout isn't a capacity issue. It's often unrealistic expectations that you have of yourself internally.Click To Tweet
That statement changed my life. I realized that so much of the stress and anxiety I had experienced leading up to this season was self-induced. I put an insane amount of unrealistic expectations on myself at work, in the gym, and at home.
I’ve spent the last 9 months learning to let go of unrealistic expectations. It’s helped me to delegate more, to be more comfortable in my own skin, and to be more confident in our team and in my leadership. It’s been one of the most freeing experiences that I’ve ever had.
5.) Ruthlessly Eliminate Hurry from Your Life:
I first heard this statement in John Mark Comer’s book, “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry.” I couldn’t recommend this book enough. If you’re going to recover from burnout and anxiety and prevent it from happening again in the future, you must learn to eliminate hurry from your life.You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life. -Dallas Williard Click To Tweet
One way to do this is to divert daily, withdraw weekly, and abandon annually. This is a principle I learned from Rick Warren. Here is how he explained it:
- Divert Daily – Every day you need to take time to rest. If you work with your hands during the day, you need to do something with your mind in the evening like read a book. If you work with your mind throughout the day, you need to do something with your hands like gardening. Take time every day to detach from the busyness of everyday life.
- Withdrawl Weekly – Every week you should take one day completely off from work. In Christian circles, we call this taking a Sabbath.
- Abandon Annually – Every year we owe it to ourselves to take a vacation. Make sure you schedule time in your calendar to get away from everyday life and just relax.
Each of these requires intentionality. I urge you to be intentional with eliminating hurry from your life. I hope that these lessons will help you prevent or recover from burnout and anxiety.
Have you experienced and recovered from a season of burnout? What lessons did you learn?
What lesson in this post impacted you the most?
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