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Identifying and navigating burnout

health and wellness Sep 01, 2022

If you’re familiar with my coaching style, you know that I put a big focus on helping the whole you, because the truth is, it is very unlikely that a person can achieve sustainable physical fitness if they are struggling mentally and emotionally. 

In such a fast-paced world, people are made to feel like they need it all - the perfectly toned body, the expensive clothes, the big house, and the “perfect” spouse and kids to match. 

In the fitness and wellness industries in particular, there is a sense of praise around exhaustion because it signifies that you have worked hard and pushed yourself to your limits. While a healthy dose of ambition is a great thing, this “rise and grind” mentality that the fitness industry and society in general have cultivated is problematic. 

I am here to remind you that while hard work is important, keep it in check! The fact of the matter is, perfection is not possible and the constant hustle will just lead to one thing - burnout! 

What is burnout? 

It’s become a social norm to wear yourself ragged to “have it all” but the truth is, whether it’s in relation to your physical fitness or life in general, working yourself to exhaustion benefits no one. We’ve all probably heard or said the phrase “I’m so burnt out” or something to the same effect in the past, but burnout is real and has actually been recognized as a clinical condition since the 1970s! 

There is a significant difference between normal stress and exhaustion vs. burnout. The stress of working hard to achieve your goals comes in waves. In this case, waves of stress can actually energize individuals and give them a push to power through. In the case of burnout, the individual has been under pressure consistently for such a long time that it changes their outlook and will to fight through it. Victims of burnout normally develop a sense of apathy toward their situation. Their fight or flight response has been depleted and their outlook begins to change. 

If you are constantly feeling like: 

  • You can’t catch up in life and no matter what you do, you’re “behind” 
  • You envy others on social media or in real life 
  • You constantly feel exhausted and disconnected 
  • You are experiencing physical symptoms like digestion issues, trouble sleeping, etc. 
  • You no longer feel joy like you once did

You are probably experiencing burnout! Even if you have just some of these symptoms, it’s important to take action before it gets out of hand and leads to other issues like severe mental health challenges or issues with relationships or your career. To find out if you are experiencing burnout, here is an online quiz. While this is not a clinical diagnostic test, it could help you to identify the severity of what you are feeling and take action. 

How does burnout impact your health? 

Unfortunately, for many people, when burnout sets in, self care and attention to health are often the first things to go out of the window, but making your health a priority is an essential part of reducing stress, feeling your best, and in-turn avoiding burnout. 

Even if you aren’t experiencing burnout in other aspects of life, burnout in relation to health is also real. While I work closely with my clients to avoid this through mindset work, I have seen people work so hard on their fitness and nutrition goals, only to lose interest or feel defeated once they reach a plateau and are no longer seeing the dramatic results they once did. 

Just like anything else in life, if fitness and nutrition are not pursued with purpose and positive intentions, the chance of powering through challenges and reaching your goals is much less likely. 

How can you avoid burnout? 

If any of the above feels relatable, it’s time to recognize the signs and take action. 

None of us are superhumans and unfortunately, the most passionate, motivated, and helpful individuals out there are the most prone to burnout. The fitness industry is full of go-getters and typically individuals who seek out personal training also have a similar mentality (I’m talking to you, Enneagram 3s…). As a health coach, I see it constantly, especially among my fellow fitness professionals that are pouring into others and physically and mentally pushing themselves to be the best role model they can be. 

But, with all of this said, the good news is that burnout does not have to be inevitable and it is okay to take a break, reevaluate your priorities, and ask for help!  

My top 7 tips to avoid burnout

Set intentions and adjust your mindset - As I mentioned above, mindset and positive intentions are your foundation! I have talked about this in past blog posts, but a growth mindset is an anti-burnout mindset. If an individual has well defined goals and intentions rooted in a place of self-love and positivity, they are much more likely to see failures as learning opportunities and overcome all of the challenges that are presented to them. 

Consider your behaviors vs. outcomes - All of our situations are different, so celebrating the little wins and actions that we take to better ourselves is much more realistic than focusing on the outcome. For example, it’s much healthier to set a goal based on a behavior like “I am going to workout 3 times this week and eat 4 vegetables every day” vs. the outcome of “I am going to lose 10 lbs.” The outcome is out of your control but the behavior isn’t. This same principle applies to everyday life. We have to let go of what we can’t control and focus on what we can. Behaviors over outcomes is a tactical way to adopt this approach. We all have different upbringings, metabolic makeups, situations, and other factors that play a role in outcomes. Focusing on outcomes leads to comparison to others and comparison is the thief of joy. 

REST - I cannot stress this enough. Rest is not an option. We need both mental and physical rest to process the world around us and prepare our bodies for what lies ahead. Lack of rest inevitably leads to stress and consistent stress leads to burnout. Overachievers can sometimes feel a sense of guilt when it comes to rest. They feel like they should constantly be productive and often connect a lot of their self-worth to how much they are able to accomplish. It’s important to recognize this pattern of thinking and address it right away. 

Move your body - The parasympathetic nervous system (i.e. the “rest and digest” mode) helps us to de-stress and protects our bodies. By moving your body in certain ways, you can exercise this important process which helps you to cope in times of stress. Discharging energy built through running, boxing, or other forms of exercise automatically triggers our fight or flight response and tells our bodies that we’re OK.

Listen to your body - If you are experiencing headaches, digestive issues, or other health issues, this is your body’s way of telling you something is up. Stress can trigger almost every health issue imaginable. While it can be easy to overlook minor health issues when you are constantly on-the-go, do not ignore them! Disregarding minor “clues” from your body about your wellbeing can lead to much bigger issues down the line. Pay attention to how and when these symptoms occur. If you are getting headaches at the end of every week, this could be a “let down” headache which happens at the end of a stressful period. Experiment with different “interventions” to see what helps your body. Breathing exercises, meditation, and keeping a log of when symptoms occur and their severity are all great ways to check-in with your body. 

Find ways to cope - While I encourage taking action immediately if you are burnt out or nearing burnout, I understand that drastic lifestyle changes like quitting a demanding job aren’t always realistic. In these cases, finding ways to cope with your current situation is essential. Here are some ways to cope: 

  • Plan, plan, plan! - Make time to map out your day or week. The more you can think ahead and anticipate what is to come, the less overwhelmed you will be. Anticipate challenges and obstacles. 
  • Stop scrolling - Pay attention to your habits. Actions like excessively scrolling on social media or drinking alcohol to calm your nerves are unhealthy ways of coping. 
  • Eliminate negative self-talk - Notice your self-talk in stressful times. Are you beating yourself up or adding a negative narrative to an already difficult situation? Work on ways to adjust this. There are a ton of books, podcasts, and other resources out there to teach you how to take control of your self-talk and overall mindset. 

You don’t have to do it all - Isolation is a one way ticket to burnout. If you are hoarding work because you don’t think others can do it as well as you or you don’t want to “burden” someone else, it’s time to stop and reevaluate. This might lead to some difficult conversations, but it will make or break you. 

You can overcome burnout 

Burnout is a very difficult issue to navigate and, while society has normalized it so much over time, this does not have to be your reality. If you’ve entered a severe stage of burnout in life in general or specifically in one area of your life, my best advice is to seek help. Do not feel ashamed to talk to a mental health professional, begin working with a health and wellness coach, or finding a mentor that can support you. On the health end, I have helped many clients in their journey to overcome burnout. It is possible and you can do it! 

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