Feeling Burned Out? What You Need Is Some R&R

A person sitting in a serene meditation pose, surrounded by greenery, symbolizing the deep R&R needed to combat burnout.

Burnout = Tired

Most people think burnout can be solved by a little R&R. I agree, but not “rest and relaxation” in the conventional sense! The R&R required to beat a chronic condition like burnout goes much deeper. 

I’ve been doing a lot of research regarding tools to beat burnout lately (I’m fascinated by this stuff, as you may have noticed), and I find that many of them fall within two categories: rest and resilience. 

Burnout is a crisis of energy. One of the main symptoms reported by people experiencing burnout (including me) is complete and utter exhaustion. The kind of tired that you can feel in your bones and makes your eyeballs ache. A tired so complete that you stop doing the things you love because they take way too much enthusiasm and, really, who has that kind of energy? There are stages of burnout and I’m describing an advanced stage, but exhaustion is ubiquitous throughout all of the stages. Burnout can equal depression, frustration, health problems, listlessness, etc, but most of all burnout = tired af. 

All I need is a vacation, right?

It is commonly thought that the cure for burnout is a nice long vacation on a beach somewhere, margarita in hand. There’s no doubt that relaxing under a warm sun recharges the batteries (especially for us Canadians), but it’s a temporary fix for a chronic condition that has likely developed over years and possibly decades for some people. Merriam Webster defines burnout as “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration”. The word “prolonged” is important here because burnout is something that doesn’t happen overnight and won’t be cured overnight either. 

The lack of quick fix is a frustrating part of this condition. Anyone can suffer from burnout but the types of people most prone it are the ones who are high-achieving, perfectionist go-getters. If they have a dose of people-pleasing thrown in there, then their risk goes up. These people are the ones who are known in the organization for getting things done, for going “above and beyond”, and for working extra hours. What they’re NOT known for is self-care or work-life balance. So, when they burnout, they often try to fix it by taking a vacation, forcing meditation or some other “woo-woo” tool that they don’t want to do, and expect that it will get better. It doesn’t. Some burned out professionals have to take time off work for a very long time because unfortunately, there is no pill that will make it go away and sufferers are forced to slow down, learn how to have compassion for themselves, and be patient and persistent in their self-care.  

Rest Through Self-Care

There are many tools that people can use to overcome burnout, but one of the most important ones include rest through self-care. This can be difficult for some people to practice, but if you’re suffering from burnout, your very body and soul are crying out for it. 

I just finished reading a book called “Rest is Resistance” by Tricia Hersey and the concept is fascinating. Ms. Hersey started an organization called the “The Nap Ministry” which advocates for rest as resistance to the trauma inflicted by grind culture, white supremacy, and capitalism. She states that grind culture would have us go on vacation to rest up with an end-goal of increasing productivity, but it is only through true rest (as our divine right) that we can resist that system. Here are some excellent quotes from that book:

  • Grind culture has created a bunch of exhausted, disconnected, and traumatized people moving through life, unable to tap into their true power. We need rest to connect back to ourselves and dream.”  
  • “We are resting simply because it is our divine right to do so. Treating each other and ourselves with care isn’t a luxury, but an absolute necessity if we’re going to thrive. Resting isn’t an afterthought, but a basic part of being human. We must believe we are worthy of rest.”

Perhaps the “true rest” (which is more than just taking occasional naps) that Ms. Hersey advocates for is not available or even desirable for everyone, but daily pockets of rest and self-care are at the centre of healing from burnout (or preventing it in the first place). Taking time to slow down and listen to our bodies and then treating those bodies better is key, as is processing emotions as they arise and therapy or coaching if needed. It can be as simple as changing the narrative, such as exercising to feel good instead of as a punishment, or allowing space in your life to heal or grieve if needed. Setting boundaries is also an excellent self-care tool and can work wonders for putting your own needs above other people’s. It’s not easy (take it from a recovering people-pleaser!), but it is very liberating to say “no” to things that you don’t want to do. People often don’t like it, but damn it feels good! That’s self care, baby. 💕

Resilience Matters Too

Resilience is the capacity to withstand or recover from challenges, and is essentially the anti-burnout. People who are resilient maintain a positive outlook and often view challenges as opportunities. They are also able to control their emotions during difficult situations. Resilience is a kind of “inner strength” and, just like building your physical strength, resilience is built through consistent practice.

So, how can we harness resilience to recover or prevent burnout? By finding meaning, purpose, and value in your work, through connection and community, and through (you guessed it) – more self care, such as:

  • Taking care of your body and heath, including your emotional health;
  • Getting enough rest to improve resilience (have you ever noticed how much shorter your fuse is when you’re tired?);
  • Practicing viewing challenges as opportunities to learn;
  • Learning how to manage emotions; and
  • Staying connected with friends, loved ones and colleagues because positive social connections are crucial to building resilience.

So, rest and self-care are important to building resilience, as is nurturing social connections. Social isolation has been known to exacerbate burnout, so joining or building community is so key to healing (this is very interesting to work, so you can expect to see more on this in another post). We are social creatures, so embracing vulnerability by asking for help or just joining a club/volunteering can do wonders. 

Banish Burnout with R&R (and R)

In conclusion, yes you CAN reduce or avoid burnout with R&R, but not in the conventional sense. The prescription is not just to put your toes in the sand on a beach for two weeks (although that’s a nice start). The R&R needed involves deep rest through self-care and self-compassion, as well as training your resilience “muscles” by building inner strength, fostering social connections, and taking care of your body, mind and soul. I would like to note that there is one other important “R” that can be added to this equation, and that’s “reflection”. If you’re in the wrong profession, rest and resilience will help, but it will not solve your crisis. Deep reflection on your dreams and talents may be needed, so you can write (or re-write) your life’s “mission statement”. If this is the case, I am also trained to help you with that! 

I’ll leave you with one last quote from Tricia Hersey as you think about burnout recovery and prevention:

Rest is a beautiful interruption in a world without a pause button.

Press “pause” on your life and interrupt the grind so you can reconnect to your joy and happiness and increase vitality and resilience. We only get one shot at this life and with a little R&R (and R), it can be a wonderful life indeed! 

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