How to Rise Above Depression When Dealing with Burnout

Burnout.  We’ve all felt it.  Life is going great.  You are loving your job or enjoying your marathon training or head over heels in love with taking care of your kiddos.  Then, one day, you wake up and it takes all of your energy to get your running shoes on or make one more peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The symptoms of burnout – fatigue, lack of passion, loss of enjoyment -are all too often daily feelings for a depressive.  Because of the similarities, I find it a major challenge to recognize when burnout has taken a hold.   To complicate matters, the best solution to burnout is a short break to reinvigorate and re-energize.  But when managing depression, taking a traditional break can be the first step into a dark and gloomy spiral of never ending sadness.

Finding the yellow-brick road back to the light of day can feel as daunting as eating rice a grain at a time.  Might as well not even be worth the effort.

I am an overachiever by nature.  I want to be at the top of my game…best of the best.  I want to do everything and actually believe that I CAN!  And while I have come along way in balancing my priorities, I still struggle with exercising moderation.  I go go go until I drop and burn up.

My first problem is recognizing burnout versus depression.  Even when recognize I am starting to get a little burnt out, I struggle to simply ease off the gas.  Instead, I slam on the brakes.   Once those breaks are slammed, it takes a force of nature to get me moving again.

Since exercise, particularly running, plays a major role in healing my depression, eliminating it is like taking away my oxygen.  While I am at rest, the burnout may go away, but I have no way of knowing because the depression grows stronger than ever before.

Additionally, proper physical recovery is largely dependent on mental well-being.  If you are dealing with stress because of the extra weight of depression, the physical body doesn’t have access to the tools it needs to fully heal.  And when the physical body isn’t nurtured and properly cared for, the mental aspects deteriorate as well.

So when exercise is your anti-depressant, what do you do when you burnout slaps you in the face?

Here are some strategies that have helped me get through while rebuilding my motivation:

  • Give Myself Permission to Slow Down: Taking off entirely leaves me feeling lost and hopeless, but running shorter or slower, making simpler meals, putting off a difficult to-do list task….these strategies give me room to breath.
  • Don’t Take a Day Off from Exercise: Related to the first point and contrary to logic, taking a day off entirely usually exacerbates my problems rather than solving them.  Don’t skip workouts.  In fact, add in an extra one, but do so with intentionality.  For example, instead of going to a HIIT class, go to a Yin Yoga class.  You maintain your routine, but modify it to treat yourself with kindness.  Or do something fun like cranking the music and dancing around your family room naked!!
  • Refocus on Daily Gratitude: When I notice myself getting burned out, it often coincides with a few days of skipping my daily gratitude journaling.  Whip that journal back out and write down at least 3 things, big or small, for which you are grateful each and every day.
  • Breathe: Set an alarm for each hour and when it goes off, take 5 deep breathes.  Slipping into flight or fight sympathetic nervous system happens when we are under lots of stress.  Breathing deeply resets the nervous system and moves the body into the parasympathetic system, calming and rejuvenating.   Quite literally, adding oxygen to a fire is fuel that allows it to grow rather than burn out.
  • Look Outside Yourself, Then Treat Yourself: Look at your friends and family and ask, “If they were having a hard time right now, what would I do for them?”  Then do that same thing for yourself.  If you would take a friend out for a glass of wine or your partner for a walk on the beach, then do exactly that for yourself.  Best done alone and really enjoy the company you are with….you are an amazing person to be with!!

Burnout results from a fire that burned too bright and ran out of fuel.  To reinvigorate passion, it is critical to find and supply proper fuel to keep the fire going.  If a fire burns out completely, it takes a lot more resources to get it rekindled.  It is easier to let the fire die down a little and when the fuel becomes available, the fire is ready and waiting to accept it and grow right back to a glorious bonfire.

The journey continues……

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