How to avoid burning out

How to avoid burning out

As a woman in her 30s who’s a mother and a business owner I think it’s fair to say my life feels very full most of the time. Looking back to when Finley was born, his health issues, breastfeeding, extreme sleep deprivation that went on for over two years, training for a half marathon and taking my business to the next level all at the same time, I was clearly on my way to burn out city.

I’ve talked a lot in my posts and Wholehearted Guide about how important self care has been as a tool for me to survive these especially full on years, and while I thankfully didn’t crash and burn completely, I found myself very close to the edge more often than I’d like. A lot of my more recent self development has been around how to thrive during this very full on phase of life that is very typical for a lot of women in their 30s. 

Maybe you’re also a mum, trying to develop your career or make a big career change whilst also dealing with the everyday pressure of life us women face. The expectation to run a household, keep on top of all of that, keep the kids clean and fed and then look like a supermodel while you’re at it? Well all of that is a recipe for disaster, yet it’s something most women I know have to manage.

The fact is, we can’t expect ourselves to solider on at this pace forever and not have to deal with some fallout. Maybe you already recognise that you’re burned out or know that, like I was, you’re skirting a bit too close to the edge. Well if so, this post is for you!

Know your early warning signs

All of our bodies are actually brilliant at letting us know when something’s not right, the trick is actually listening to the signals it gives you and acting upon them! My early warning signs are disrupted sleep (independent of a child!), tiredness that doesn’t shift even after a good night, repeated viruses that seem to hang around forever, increased anxiety, drinking more coffee for the lift and when things are very bad, a facial muscle tick. When I start to see these things happen, I know I need to take a look at the bigger picture and make more self care a priority.

Look to your menstrual cycle (or the moon cycle) for balance

I could write an entire post about our cycles, but I’ll try to keep this brief! Basically as women we are cyclical by nature, meaning that our energy and mood isn’t linear. Unfortunately, in our masculine-energy-ruled society, we are expected to behave in a linear way which denies our natural cycles. At it’s worst, we are encouraged to opt out of or mask these cycles completely. The problem with this is that we’re expected (or more accurately, we expect ourselves) to adhere to this linear system of go, go, go, with no ebb and flow. 

Our menstrual cycle with its different levels of hormones at different times literally affects our brain chemistry and metabolism. When we understand how the different phases of our cycle affect us we can use them to supercharge our work, avoid burnout and find a deeper connection to ourselves. 

The bottom line for all of this is that if we actually rest when we bleed we will avoid burnout by honouring our natural cycle. I know it’s not always possible to completely rest, but clearing your calendar of unnecessary appointments, asking to work from home, etc. can all help. Now that my cycle is fairly predictable I make sure I keep most of my week free when I’m menstruating. If you’re not menstruating you can try following the moon cycle which is roughly the same length as the average woman’s cycle with the new / dark moon being the menstruation phase and the full moon being the ovulation phase.

Do the 20% that gets 80% of the results

I got this tip from the wonderful Kate Northrup. We all do so much but what tends to happen is that it’s the top 20% of tasks that actually make the biggest difference in our lives. Try looking at your to-do list, whether that’s home, work or both, and focus in on the 20% that gets 80% of the results. Just start by looking at the to-do list and then consider the result of each task. Which have the biggest positive impact?

Don’t deny your bliss

Do you ever feel like the bottom of the pile? Like everyone else in your life needs to be cared for and served before yourself? So many women feel this way and end up living lives that don’t feel personally fulfilling. One of many issues with this is that burnout happens so much more quickly because you’re not experiencing the joy that can act like a buffer when certain areas of our life are a shit show. I totally get how important your kids, family and friends all are, but please never forget that you and your body are your greatest asset in this life. It has become a bit of a self care cliche but you cannot care or serve all those people when you’re burned out! Spending some time doing simple things that bring you joy is one of the best ways to combat burnout. It doesn’t have to be anything huge, for me standing barefoot on the grass for a few minutes or having a cup of coffee without distractions brings me a lot of joy. FYI – I know a lot of women who have no idea what makes them happy, think of this as a great place to start to get curious!

Understand your personality and go with it

You may have heard of the extrovert / introvert personality types and how these types relate to people. You can find out a more detailed take on your personality using 16personalities.com (I’m an ENFJ). What I really like about this is that it gives you a clue into how you might need to get your energy recharged. Although I came out as an extravert, I actually think I’m an extraverted introvert – i.e. I generally need to have time alone to recharge and find a lot of time with people energetically draining. Knowing this, I’m able to understand, and dare I say justify, spending more time alone when I know I need it. I can also plan in alone time to recharge when I know I’m going to be around a lot of people, e.g. after a conference event for example.

Ask for help

This is so important! You don’t have to do it all. I know sometimes it can feel like just doing it yourself is easier, but over time it can become a big drain of energy. Get comfortable with delegating whether that’s in the workplace or at home. Whenever you feel burnout creeping in, take a look at what you have going on in your life and assess what isn’t required, then decide if anything can be sorted out by someone else. So often it can and all you need to do is ask. Check out this great post all about how to ask for help.

Can you relate to that feeling of life just being too full on? What are your early warning signs of burnout?

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  • Pip

    YAY to standing barefoot in the grass – quite literally the most grounding thing ever.

    This is quite an apt post for me given various ongoings in my life lately, I would say persistent anxiety, feeling constantly fatigued and becoming very negative are my warning signs – I also then develop a tendency to stick my head in the sand which really helps the whole situation ;)

    • Oh yep I recognise those ones as well, hope that things start and shift for you very soon, sometimes life throws so much at us doesn’t it!

  • Jules Budd

    Perfectly-timed post for me too, Laura. I’ve been recently diagnosed with adrenal fatigue and was only two weeks into trying to put some habits into place to begin to turn it around when my husband broke his arm! hen a week later I was told my MRI of my ear was fine but they found a cyst in my brain!! Sometimes life throws stuff at you that you couldn’t make up.
    However, in times like this, times of deep and unavoidable stress I have found time to deep breathe and focus on the fact that nothing stays static and this shall pass.
    My signs tend to be similar to yours and Pip’s: waking up and very alert at odd times in the night, craving sweet and salty things and coffee, less tolerant of others and really fed up and emotional with myself.
    Things like just taking a moment to read this blog post make me calm down and realise I am not alone. We never are.
    I’ve also taken to writing a huge A4 sheet of the timetable for each day. So much is going on that if I don’t have it written down, I’ll forget it. It’s saved me, my big practical list!

    • Love practical lists! Blimey really sorry to hear that you’ve got all these things going on at once, but you’re absolutely right you’re never alone, and it will indeed pass. Sending you all the calm and healing vibes in the world x

      • Jules Budd

        Thanks, Laura. We go to Norway for two relaxing weeks on Saturday and I can’t bloody wait!!

  • This has come at a perfect time. I find listening to my body quite hard when I have planned things so find making small changes helps – e.g. today my planned run was swapped for yoga which actually made me feel SO much better. I love the idea of being more in tune with the moon’s cycle – where I live now I can see the moon every night and I love watching its phases as it’s a nicer reminder of time passing than dates / months which just blur into one when things are hectic. x

    • I bet it’s lovely being able to see the moon so clearly. I definitely think having some swaps like that is a great strategy :-)

  • Maria B

    I love the tip about doing the 20% of things that give the biggest results- so often we spend time doing menial tasks that are most of a box ticking exercise than anything else.

  • Great post! I am learning how to listen to my body signs and be more aware. It seems such a basic thing, but it’s so easily overlooked when we have 1M things to do.

    xx Raquel