Vacation Doesn’t Solve Burnout, You Do
My husband and I just got back from a fabulous vacation in Hawaii. Earlier this year, we intended to take time away from our normal, day-to-day responsibilities and routines before our baby arrives early next year to reevaluate our short and long-term goals, daily habits, and what we want out of our relationship and life together. After 8 days of rest in a beautiful location outside of the continental United States, I was surprised to feel burnt out again upon my return to work and daily life last Monday.
As many sources quote online, burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and/or mental exhaustion caused by excessive or prolonged stress at work or in daily life. While it’s not a medical diagnosis, it can cause chronic low-grade anxiety or stress, reduced motivation or feelings of accomplishment at work, and a decreased interest in the work at hand.
Burnout doesn’t happen by accident though, it happens when we over extend ourselves, don’t put our health and priorities first, or work at an organization that is conducive to burnout culture. We allow someone or multiple people to take over our daily time, habits, and concerns. As popular podcaster, writer, and Wharton School professor Adam Grant said, “The holidays shouldn’t be a time to recharge. It should be a time to celebrate. If work is exhausting to the point that they’re using their time off to recover, you might have a burnout culture…” I argue that sentiment applies to vacations as well, and that, outside of our work cultures, the onus is on us to find ways to overcome burnout through rejuvenation and recharging through our daily habits.
Taking consistent vacations is extremely important, but they won’t solve our burnout problems. So, what will? We must make recovery – spiritual, mental, physical, emotional – a regular practice. If those areas of our life are constantly out of balance, then we will consistently feel exhausted, unmotivated, uninterested, and stressed.
While we all have different ways to rejuvenate and recover, it’s important to focus on individualized self-care and what things we can control in our lives. As studies have shown, self-care isn’t just bubble baths with a glass of wine (although, who doesn’t want that every so often?). For some, self-care may be increasing their sleep every night or changing their nutrition and exercise lifestyle; for others, it may be signing up for dance lessons after work or hosting weekly or monthly dinners at their house. What creates the feelings of rest and joy for you?
Here are a few suggestions (that I’m learning to practice too) that create regular recovery and rest, even if work or life is more demanding than we’d otherwise like.
We don’t have to be religious to focus on our spiritual lives. After all, we are part spirit. Building habits of daily quiet time, meditation, getting outside and connected with nature, volunteering and giving back to others, focusing on a higher power, spiritual or Biblical reading, mental and verbal prayer, regular church attendance, and refocusing on our life’s purpose are just some ways to make deposits into this area of our lives. If we don’t know what our life’s higher purpose is, then we may feel defeated or feel a lack of drive towards our other goals.
In our workaholic culture, our mental capacity is arguably the most overused and drained. Take an inventory of how you’re spending your time, both in and out of work. This exercise provides a profound, and often surprising, visual of our time spent. It also helps us get outside of our daily routines to understand how we can restructure our day and refocus our habits. Outside of work, ways to rejuvenate our mental capacity is through journaling, writing to-do lists before bed, writing a blog, speaking with a therapist, gratitude practices, or learning something new through an online or in-person class or professional development course. We should positively challenge our mental faculties, but when it’s the only thing we rely on day-in and day-out at work, then we will constantly run up against burnout.
It goes without saying that if we put most of our energy singularly into our mental capacity, then we will consistently feel drained and won’t have the energy to put into our physicality. Focusing on and improving our daily physical habits affords us healthier lifestyles, more energy, and additional capacity to work when life’s demands increase. Regularly getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep (don’t try to convince me you can “survive” on 6 or less hours of sleep for an extended period of time), eating clean and minimally processed whole foods, and working out 3-6 days a week are a great start. By working out, I mean strenuous movement that you enjoy, be it walking, lifting, cycling, boxing, HIIT, running, sports, or something else. Enjoyment is key. Perhaps you’re someone like me who hates baths but prefers hot showers each evening to detox from the stress of the day and relax my muscles before bed in addition to those other habits. I fully realize these physical habits are easier stated than incorporated.
In our fast-paced, chronically fatigued world, it’s pretty easy to sweep our emotional life under the metaphorical rug. But this area of our lives is just as crucial to balance and deposit energy into as the others. To enhance our overall emotional arena and evoke more positive emotions, we should focus on creativity and connectedness. Each of us has different preferences for creativity, but it’s essential to find yours. Maybe you enjoy ballroom dancing, reading a fictional book each night before bed, trying one new recipe each week in the kitchen, or getting in touch with artistic outlets such as drawing, coloring, sculpting, painting, or graphic design. Social connection, along with creative outlets, is vital. Whether it’s hosting dinner parties, attending social events after work, grabbing coffee with new acquaintances after church, playing intramurals on the weekends, or calling lost long friends, emotionally connecting with others is pivotal to our overall wellbeing and health. If COVID lockdowns taught us anything, it’s that humans crave and require human connection. Connectedness with our community and having creative outlets ultimately creates positive emotions we can draw from when life provides less than ideal circumstances.
While these suggestions only scratch the surface of ways we can rejuvenate, recharge, and alleviate burnout, they are a start. Vacations are fun and necessary, but positive, daily habits are the goldmine of energy that we can consistently draw from. Additionally, if our work or team culture doesn’t recognize the burnout it creates, it may be time to consider a new role or company. Ultimately, our daily practices and where we draw our energy from will determine the quality of our lives.
Looking for more on this topic? Here are a few book recommendations! The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam, The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, and The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson.