5 Simple Ways to Support yourself with Fatigue and Burnout

For the longest time I didn’t recognise that I was burnt out. For years I went in cycles of boom and bust, not understanding what was happening, and why I couldn’t keep up, despite doing a stressful job in toxic conditions. I blamed myself for not being up to it. I imagined I should be this superhero figure who could cope with anything. And that was all without understanding the impact of my own early childhood difficulties, and long held pattern of anxiety, and how stress impacted my nervous system.

The most important part of my recovery from burnout was the initial recognition that I was not well. I didn’t have a name for it, so I called it ‘being tired’ but my GP helped me to realise this wasn’t some personal failing but a condition that many people experience. Acknowledging and accepting that I am not superhuman took a bit of work. Learning to be vulnerable and admit that I couldn’t cope with the stress in my life was a process that took time.

This blog is for you if you have reached the point of recognition and are looking for strategies to support yourself. You’ve done the hard work of becoming more self-aware and understanding your fatigue and/or burn out, and you want to build upon this self-knowledge.

These are my recommendations of what helped me to physically recover and prevent relapses. This blog isn’t focusing on psychologically dealing with stress, which is also an important thing to consider, but these are the foundations to caring for yourself in a way that will support you to physically get better.

 

  1. Learn how to Rest

Take as much rest as you need. Prioritise it as something that your life depends upon (because it does). You may find judgemental thoughts creeping in about laziness or not doing anything worthwhile. Ignore them. We are conditioned from a young age to believe we must be ‘doing’ and we completely forget how to ‘be’.

If it helps, think from a different perspective:

  • Top athletes need rest days so that their body can completely recover.
  • Babies have three distinct awake states and three distinct sleep states, and they naturally fluctuate through all six states.
  • Toddlers need to learn to rest as much as they need to learn other skills. We’ve all seen young children who are over-tired and cannot regulate their emotions anymore.

Find ways of resting that are nurturing rather than numbing. As an example, I like to curl up with a good book as opposed to lose hours scrolling through social media. Or to watch a film, rather than binge watch a whole series of TV. Learn what works for you, and what feels restful. What self-care rituals can you create that feel nurturing? A hot bath, sitting chatting to a friend, painting your toenails? It’s important to start understanding your own individual preferences.

When I was at my most burnt out, I was forced to rest. My body couldn’t cope with even a few stairs, and I had to rest every few steps. This was a brutal lesson, and one my body hasn’t forgotten. These days, I have early warning signals that alert me long before I reach this state. Learn from me, and don’t allow yourself to get this fatigued. If you’re already there, your body will tell you how much rest it needs.

Remember to make seasonal adjustments to your resting routine. We all need more rest in Winter regardless of our baseline energy levels. Use the daylight hours to guide you: shorter daylight = more rest.

 

2. Get enough Sleep

Learn how much sleep you need. I needed more when burnt out than I do now, but this is still something that fluctuates.

Sleep is deeply restorative. We need different amounts at different times of year. It isn’t something that there is a rule for i.e. that magical figure of 8 hours.

There are ways of improving sleep quality and helping your body switch into ‘rest and digest’ mode if you’re struggling to switch off and therefore, not drifting off. Simply slowing your breathing into a deeper, longer rhythm signal to your body that it’s ready to rest (count your breaths if it helps – it’s like counting sheep). Having a bath or doing some gentle stretches before bed can help, as can listening to relaxing music or a soothing meditation. I find reading in the evening is preferable to looking at a screen. When I switched this habit, I found it immediately had an impact on how quickly I got to sleep at night.

If your mind is just too busy, remember that resting in bed is preferable to getting up and doing activities in lieu of sleep.

 

3. Go slower

Go more slowly through your life. Learn to pace yourself.

Although this is, in essence, a practical piece of advice, there is a lot of mindset work that goes with it. There are many reasons we go fast and race through life. We are conditioned to meet targets, aim higher, work harder and so forth. This starts when we are very young, at school, if not earlier. It feels normal to function within this system of striving to do more as efficiently as we can. By going fast through life, we are also able to keep at bay all the uncomfortable thoughts and emotions that we’d rather avoid. Slowing down within these frameworks therefore presents some challenges. Firstly, all the uncomfortable internal voices shouting at us that our self-worth depends on our ability to get stuff done, and then all the uncomfortable feelings that we’ve been suppressing come bubbling to the surface.

We need to work on reframing going slower as a positive thing. It’s not some second-best choice because you can’t keep up the pace. Going more slowly allows us so much opportunity for joy, connection, pleasure, playfulness. We stop missing those opportunities for connection that pass us by whilst we’re so busy striving to do more. As a result, we feel happier and more sustained or fulfilled.

By allowing ourselves to stop suppressed difficult emotions, we also give ourselves opportunities to heal which in turn create a life that is happier and healthier.

I’ll leave this point with a reminder of the story of the tortoise and the hare. The hare was so busy trying to win the race that he burnt out. Well, that’s my take on it anyway!

 

4. Eat well

Learn to eat more intuitively. What is it that your body needs? Eating for comfort is a classic stress response. Can you tune in to what your body is asking for? Your body will always choose nutrient dense food. It’s your mind that wants chocolate cake.

During my most serious burnout, I found my digestion affected quite significantly. My body didn’t have the energy to digest things well. I experimented with cutting down on food groups that can be harder to digest. We are all different in this regard and I’m not a trained nutritionist, but personally for me, eating less dairy, gluten, sugar and caffeine helped me, as did increasing pulses, vegetables and fruit. It wasn’t the easiest journey, but I found I was motivated to get better and that kept me focussed on listening to my body. I feel it was a major reason that I recovered from a serious physical burnout so quickly (within six months).

Food and diet are still areas of learning for me. It’s an area I struggle with. Emotional eating is deeply rooted in my behaviour patterns and it’s something I’ve been working hard to bring more consciousness to in my life.

 

5. Move your Body

Yes, I know, I talked about resting more just a few paragraphs ago, but gentle exercise is equally important.  Our bodies need to move to stay healthy. Can you learn to move your body whilst deeply attuned to it?

I love walking, especially through a forest, park or along a river. Stopping every now and then to listen to the birdsong, the water flowing or to watch a squirrel running up a tree, I find it deeply restorative. What does this for you?

I also love restorative yoga or pilates when I’m tired, or gentle swimming, or simply a few stretches throughout the day.

Learn what your body needs and figure out what environment feels good. Wild swimming anyone?

 

The link between all the above is clear: learning to tune into what you need. Your body will let you know. Don’t listen to the mindless chatter of the mind (I chose the word mindless on purpose).

I still slip into bad habits. I go fast at times, but usually when needed, and then I’m able to come back to my slower pace. It’s a habit to be formed over time. Most of all, be kind and patient with yourself, always.

If you’d like to practice slowing down in a supportive environment, do join me in a short, free, weekly session, Thursdays at 8pm UK time. I’ll support you to check in with your body and learn a few tools to help you slow down.

I can’t wait to see you there!

Ruth

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