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Getting to the Bottom of Burnout

If you follow me on social media, you may have noticed something: I haven’t written a new blog since the beginning of November.

Here’s what you may not know: even back then, I was struggling. 

In fact, my second-to-last blog was actually about how I was struggling to write the blog. 

It was about that time that I met with my social media manager and mentioned I felt “burned out” in terms of writing the blog. She suggested I take some time off through the end of the year. 

That sounded wonderful, so that’s what I did. 

January came around and I still thought to myself, “I don’t want to blog. I’m burned out.” I had to roll my eyes because I hadn’t written one in months! 

As I sat and reflected, I remembered the part in my book where I talk about how breaks or vacations don’t cure burnout. (Guess that applies to taking breaks from writing blogs, too.) 

I decided to pick up my book and read that chapter again. As I was reading, I smirked — at my own writing — because I was annoyed.  

I was annoyed at what I know to be true. 

I have a confession for you, though: I’ve personally felt a bit stuck in this area.  

It’s not like I have abandoned my own burnout prevention plan. 

Here’s the thing: I’ve been really focused on… 

  • Making sure I’m tending to myself
  • Reviewing my compassion satisfaction journal 
  • Being intentional about detaching from work in the evenings
  • Making space for rest when I need it, and have pushed back against the hustle culture to honor my humanness 

So WHAT is the deal?! 

As I was lamenting with my therapist this past week, he asked me a question: “Have you given yourself permission to feel?” In that moment, I was like, “Oh, of course I have!” 

Despite my confident response, that question lingered in my mind for days. 

I chewed on it, and rolled my eyes at it, but I realized something: 

I hadn’t given this micro experience of what I’d labeled as burnout the attention it really needed. 

That’s when I put on my behavior specialist hat.  

I asked myself, “What is the behavior?”  

Answer: not writing the blog. 

Next question: “Why? What is the function of not writing blogs?”  

Answer: avoidance.  

I’m avoiding feeling frustrated about the topic. I’m also avoiding fear that people won’t find it valuable. 

Wait, so you mean I’m avoiding feeling unpleasant feelings?! 

And there it was. 

Of course my next thought was, “Dang it. My therapist was right! 

Here’s the problem: I labeled my experience as burnout, then did what made the most logical sense — just stop doing it for a while and I’ll be rejuvenated! Right? 

Wrong! That’s not how the brain works. And that’s not how burnout works. How do we know this? SCIENCE. 

So instead of calling my blog blues “burnout,” I sat down and thought about the actual emotions that come up when I sit down to write a blog. Then, I identified what I could do to listen to and express those emotions. 

First, I thought about the core emotions (happy, sad, fear, safe, shame, guilty, angry) and selected the ones that resonated with how it feels when I sit down to write a blog: 



Then I got more granular with it, because the more specific you get with emotion labeling, the more effective it is helping you cope. 

Fear – I feel worried and apprehensive that people are going to read the blog and not find it helpful. I value people’s time and don’t want them to waste time reading something that doesn’t resonate with them. Also, I don’t have a “cool” enough life and entertaining enough stories to interest people. I’m not good enough. 

Angry - I feel irritated that writing doesn’t come easy to me and sometimes I struggle to know what to write about. 

Now, that’s a bit deeper than me just saying I’m “burned out,” right? 

There is so much information — deep, rich information — to hear from my feelings that can help me. I can make plans and micro-changes to address what I’m really struggling with. 

I can implement strategies to help me once I really understand what’s going on. 

So here’s what I’m changing: 

  1. I’m only committing to writing a blog twice a month. If I’m inspired by something and want to write more, I will. But I am not going to write blogs just to write blogs. What this means is that when I write, I know it’s because I have something valuable to share. That addresses my fear of not being relevant. It addresses the shame that my life isn’t “cool” enough to have an awesome short story every week.
  2. I have support where I need it. Remember that anger I have about writing not coming easy to me and the shame that tells me I'm not good enough to write a blog? Well, I have a copywriter now. All I have to do is share the meat of what I want to say and she’s there to make sure it makes sense and flows well.

I’m acknowledging I don’t have to be a superstar writer to make a difference with my blog, so that takes away my feelings of not being good enough. I don’t HAVE to be the best at everything. I can ask for and hire help where I need it. 

I also have lots of people around me that are happy to remind me that if I can have a bestselling book, I can certainly write a blog. That’s the truth I need to hear from my social support system. 

So how about you? 

Is there an activity in your life that you’ve stopped doing because you’re “burned out?” 

For a lot of us, the default answer seems like it’s our job. But think smaller than that. What are the little things that make you think, “This burns me out!”? 

Here are 3 questions to help you get some movement: 

  1. What behavior or activity causes me to think, “I’m burned out”?
  2. What feelings statements can you make about it? (A great tool I use daily to help me identify feelings is the Mood Meter app from Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence. It’s a 99 cent investment that’s research-based and worth every penny!)
    1. I feel _____ when I _____.
    2. I feel _____ because _____.
  3. Listen to what your feelings are telling you and think about what micro-changes you could make to support yourself. 

Bottom line: it’s easy to lump a lot of feelings into the statement, “I’m burned out!”  

But when we ditch that catch-all exclamation in favor of an exclamation of feelings, it’s one of many small efforts we can make to move toward better emotional health.

And you know what? We are worth the effort. 

- Dr. Jen

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