3-Step Burnout Prevention Plan
I thought I was Superwoman. I’d wrapped up shooting for the second season of my TV show and had just finished touring the country promoting my second book. I was a badass New York Times bestselling author who preached badassery to other women. I was, from all outward appearances, at the height of my career. The top of the world. And then, I fell.
I had a breakdown. A complete and total mental, physical, and emotional breakdown. Trying to be Superwoman nearly killed me. Of course, I had experienced setbacks before, but my burnout and subsequent breakdown was the first and only time in my life that I fell down such a deep, dark hole that no one else could get me out of it. No one could swoop in to rescue me. I had to rescue myself.
Throughout my personal search for a way to get—and stay—better, I yearned for a guidebook to tell me what to do to find balance without losing my career or myself. Instead of finding one, I wrote my own and learned to stick to a routine, self-soothe, and boost my Emotional Wellness to get myself back in action. Before you experience burnout and push yourself till you wobble and fall like I did, try these self-care tricks and find your balance.
Create your own rituals
No, I’m not talking about breaking out the candles and crystals here. The kind of rituals I’m talking about creating are unique to you. With mindful repetition, they offer comfort and familiarity to even the craziest of days, serving as an antidote to anxiety and stress.
Think of rituals like daily gifts to yourself. You can give yourself anything you want, the possibilities are truly endless: making your bed meticulously, steeping tea after dinner, or going to the infrared sauna every Tuesday. They can be anything that truly, when no one else is watching, tickles your self-care fancy. A ritual also doesn’t need to be something you do; it can be something you say. Perhaps you implement a ritual of telling your child one reason you’re proud of them over breakfast or your partner three things you love about them before you go to bed. Some couples create more formal weekly check-ins complete with spreadsheets (swoon!) and calendar invites. A consistent ritual that’s special to you can give you something to look forward to and count on in any relationship, including the one with yourself, which tends to keep it moving in the right direction.
Rock a routine
Just as you’d learn choreography for a dance routine, you need choreography for your life routine as well. Of course, there’s always improvisation in a performance. You could slip, or forget one of your lines, or there could be a glitch with the music. Same with life. But, if you have a foundation to fall back on, you’ll be more likely to recover quickly.
Outline whatever morning routine you want, just as long as you make it your ritual and stick to it unless there’s a really good reason not to. My baseline suggestions are: Use an actual alarm, that’s not on your phone; Express gratitude by writing, saying a prayer, and/or some meditative thing, whether it’s a formal one or one you come up with yourself; Try not to look at your phone for as long as possible, and when you do, limit your time on it. Better yet, schedule a specific window for it. And yes, I know you’re kinda a big deal, but no one is such a big deal that they can’t unplug long enough to recharge.
Everybody talks about how important it is to start the day off right, but setting up a strong nighttime flow is even more important because it closes out your day on a high note and sets you up for success the following day. Now, outline your own night. Yes, there are a lot of variables that can rile you up and keep you from getting to bed. But the more you can stay on track when those things don’t happen, the better you will feel. Here are some of my best suggestions for making the most of your evening hours: Take a few minutes to clean up, whether it’s your room, your desk, or loading the dishwasher; Take a bath. Don’t have a tub? Fill a large bowl with warm water and a few tablespoons of Epsom salts for a spa-worthy foot soak; Get a good night’s sleep. Studies show that routine sleep behaviors, not just the amount of time you sleep, are a huge contributor to Emotional Wellness and your overall health.
Take a mental health day
The concept of taking a “mental health day” is pretty widespread, and becoming more and more accepted (it’s even legally protected, in most cases, as a totally acceptable reason to take a sick day). But being familiar with the concept isn’t the same as embracing it for yourself. Do you ever take a mental health day when you need one? You should. Ignoring your mental health can be costly for yourself and your career; look at taking a day off when needed as an investment in both. The key to asking for a day off is to not be wishy-washy or embarrassed about it. Be assertive about what you need. If you know that asking for a “mental health day” won’t go over well, don’t fake a cold or lie. Instead, go with “personal reasons.” And leave it at that. Your employer cannot ethically or even legally ask for more information.
Experiencing burnout is not fun. I’ve been there. And BTW, tons of high-powered people I know have, too. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. The best way to avoid it in the future is a combination of compassion and tough love. Give yourself empathy for what you’re feeling. Then learn, grow, and don’t go back.
A version of this article was originally published on Young Upstarts.