Burnout. You heart races, your to-do list has sub-sub-headings and you wake up at 3am thinking 'I MUST DO MY TAX RIGHT NOW’. A friend asks you out for coffee and you wig out – screaming about rent that needs paying, presentations / manifestos to write, and dependents who need tending. So, how to keep working through burnout?
1. Have an endpoint and a ‘why’
People have always found the juice to perform super-human tasks, like jumping through burning windows and marrying Geoffrey Edelstein if given a compelling enough reason.
Think of your body as a reluctant five-year-old. It’ll only pump out those last precious drops of adrenaline if there’s a foreseeable end point, and a compelling ‘why’. And give yourself a deadline after which you can crash, or your body will choose one for you, like peak-hour traffic.
2. Cancel non-essentials like ‘other people’
Tell friends and family you can only do the bare minimum until deadline. ‘The bare minimum’ includes carting a sick relative to the doctor. It does not include bonbonierre shopping with your bridezilla friend.
Create a list. Column 1. Events at which I have to stand-upright and smile, and Column 2: Events at which I can wear trackies and a scowl. Cancel everything in the first column; now is not your time to shine.
3 & 4. Say hello to your new friends: sleeping and crying.
Your stress is like a balloon: the more you periodically let the air out, the less likely you are to pop before deadline. Crying releases stress hormones, but how to cry on call? I compose eulogies for my cats, though beer or gin also work. But to spare you stressed out liver, you’ve temporarily cut out drinking, so I’m afraid it’s life insurance and workcover ads for you.
As for sleep, every minute you can get is worth 600 expensive vitamins. Can’t spare ten minutes after lunch for a nap in the park or Yoga Nidra? Be honest. If you’re at your desk from 6am to midnight, chances are a good chunk of that time is actually being spent on Facebook being outraged at Miley’s twerking.
To manage nighttime anxiety, keep a notepad next to your bed for insights like ‘Fire Francine!’ and ‘Albuquerque Jesus!’
5. Let yourself go to seed
In order to keep working through burnout, you must be ruthlessly healthy on the inside and ‘Gary Busey’s mugshot’ on the outside. So ditch all shaving and under-eye concealer and relish when people tell you ‘you don’t look well’. It means they will leave you alone.
6. Pace Yourself
Don’t peak too soon. All-nighters, sugary junk and Red Bull too early in the game are a rookie mistake. Go cold turkey on strong caffeine and sugar. Start Friday, you’ll be a nightmare by Sunday, then the headaches and heart palpitations will be gone by Monday. Save your legal speed for the night before your burnout deadline.
7. Bring your energy up or down without using crap
Need to perk up? The ‘breath of fire’ breathing technique can be done in the time it takes to make a coffee. Take yourself off to the office bathroom, huff and puff for a few minutes and the rush of oxygen to your brain have you buzzing (avoid it if you have high blood pressure).
It’s 11pm and you need to unwind? Lie with on your back with your legs up the wall and a cushion under your butt. If you’re at work, just take ten slow breaths into your belly, lengthening your exhale to shift into the parasympathetic nervous system.
8. Eating and drinking for dummies
Put a dry sponge on top of your computer monitor. That represents your burnt out brain. Every time you look at it drink some water.
If you only have time to eat out of packets then buy a packet of wholegrain wraps, a couple of packets of salad mix, a packet of ham of vegetarian equivalent, a jar of pesto and a roll of Glad wrap. Combine.
9. It’s not forever
If people can’t support you, the least they can do is not get in your way. Loved ones insisting you ‘slow down’ is getting in your way. If they really want to help they can do your share of the housework / listen to you complain. A warning: this only works short term. But if you’re regularly telling loved ones/ housemates you can’t possibly shop, cook or clean because ‘Don’t you know I have a deadline?’ one day they’ll say ‘We have to talk’, and if you want to keep being their loved one/housemate, you’ll have to listen.
Working through burnout is a short term thing. As a lifestyle choice, it results in driving your car into a wall and running naked while trying to catch war criminals.
10. Post deadline
You’ll get sick. For about the length of time it will take you to watch a season of House of Cards with the loved ones you’ve bitched at for the two months. Let them hold the remote.
Alice Williams is a yoga teacher and writer. Alice-williams.com @AliceWillalice