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How to Recover From Burnout: 5 Steps I’ve Taken

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A question that keeps popping up from my readers and followers is how to avoid burnout and more importantly, how to recover from burnout and stay focused. 

In the world of side hustling, that is the number one issue I’ve had – fighting burnout. And I’ve dealt with my fair share whether it be burnout at work or my side hustles (or both). 

We can talk all day about how to avoid burnout.

Below are some of my own tips to avoid burnout:

  • Set boundaries and try not to spread yourself too thin.
  • Strive for work-life balance.
  • Avoid pushing yourself too much and exhausting yourself.
  • Don’t stay at a job you hate.
  • Always be aware of your mental health and take note of how you are feeling throughout the day on a daily basis.
  • Steer clear of unrealistic deadlines. 
  • Only pursue side hustles and projects you truly enjoy.
  • Make time for yourself with rest, exercise, self-care, etc.
  • Meditate and revisit your priorities and goals in life.

Does anyone actually listen to that advice? People have so much going on in their lives and it is hard to stop and assess everything that is going on. We need help. 

Side hustlers aren’t the only people feeling the burnout though. Kronos surveyed 614 H.R. leaders back in 2018 titled the “Employee Burnout Crisis” and 95% of them admitted their employees expressed burnout.

That percentage is alarming but looking around at my own colleagues and peers at my day job, I see it.

What is burnout?

Burnout is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as:

Exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.

Experiencing burnout and depression can range from being completely exhausted from overworking one’s self or the feeling of stagnation from a prolonged frustrating situation that you are totally over. Well..actually it can be a lot of things. 

The symptoms of burnout are different from person to person but there are generally 5 stages:

  1. The Honeymoon Phase: the feeling of high satisfaction when taking on a new task or set of tasks. You might experience predicted stresses of the job or task(s) but if you develop good coping strategies, you can continue in this stage.
  2. Onset of Stress: when you notice the first signs of stress that affect you emotionally and physically such as anxiety, fatigue and irritability. 
  3. Chronic Stress: when your stress levels rise and become more frequent. 
  4. Burnout: where your situation becomes more critical and includes symptoms such as behavioral changes, developing an escapist mentality, pessimism and isolation.
  5. Habitual Burnout: the symptoms of your burnout have become embedded in your life you might actually be developing physical symptoms and/or emotional problems that could be chronic. 

I am currently between stages 3 and 4.

The 5 stages of burnout and how to deal with them. #burnout #sidehustle #stress #recoverfromburnout #avoidburnout #avoidstress #coping #recovery

My History With Burnout

My first real burnout was probably studying for finals during my last semester of college. I maybe got a total of 5 hours of sleep that entire week. Thanks to Adderall, I didn’t feel the real burnout until I ran out of my medication and finals were done and over with. 

Because of that very medication, I was in and out of burnout for the next 5 – 7 years of my life without really knowing it because I would never feel tired while on it. And when I came off of it, I crashed hard while sleeping for days in a row. It was a sad cycle.

I was able to kick that habit back in 2015 and haven’t taken it since. 

The only downside is that I recognize burnout more quickly without my medication. But hey, I’d rather be aware of what is happening to my mind and body than just “chugging through it”.

I actually rather not call Adderall medication because it is more like a legal form of meth to keep the worker bees performing high day in and day out for “the man”. But I won’t get started on the conspiracy talk. This article isn’t for that.

My Current Burnout

Being a stage 3/4 burnout, not every day is the same. Some days I am totally fine. On others, well I kind of want to “drop out” of society. But I attribute that to the imbalance of my emotions and hormones that may be coming from the increased stress I’ve been feeling with juggling my job and side business. 

I am usually pretty good at balancing my priorities but as I’ve become more invested in my side business, I’ve noticed competing priorities between that and my day job. As work gets busier and more demanding of my time, I find my mind wandering to things I need to get done with the blog and other passive income ventures I’ve started. 

And sometimes, I get very angry that I have to work on things that don’t mean as much to me at my day job when I could be kicking ass in my side business with that same energy. 

I need my day job for the benefits for the time being and do not want to walk away. It’s a difficult thing to swallow at the moment but I am just not there yet with my side business to be able to completely walk away from my day job.

I’m getting there. 

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How I Deal With It

There are a couple of things I’ve started to do that have helped me recover from burnout. 

What’s helped me the most would be allowing myself to realize I might be doing too much. In the past, I put in every bit of energy of my extra time into my side business. Now, I realize there are days that I need to have completely off from both my side hustle and my day job.

That’s Saturday. There are weeks where that doesn’t happen but as with anyone trying to start a business, there are times where you are working a lot.

I do try to balance it though and some weeks where I work a little too much on my side biz, I don’t work as much the next week. Or I try to get stuff done in batches so I can take a week or so off. 

And I don’t work any overtime for work. I haven’t worked overtime or “on-call” at my day job for 3 years and highly recommend it. As someone who works in I.T., I also will not take any job that requires me to be “on-call”. It is a death sentence for your free time. 

So where I don’t spend long hours at my day job, I make up with the time I end up spending on my side businesses and that is where I feel exhausted.

I still struggle with the frustration of how much I could be getting done in my side business during the hours I spend at my day job but meditation and my daily runs help with clearing my head and frustration.

Yep, I am recovering. It’s a constant process to make sure I keep up with my positive coping mechanisms, habits that help me and make sure I realize when signs of burnout might be creeping up. 

I still make mistakes though, thinking I can cheat the system. Don’t we all?

Just be sure not to press your luck too much.

I am recovering. It's a constant process to make sure I keep up with my positive coping mechanisms, habits that help me and make sure I realize when signs of burnout might be creeping up.Click to Tweet

5 Steps to Recover From Burnout

In addition to allowing myself more time outside of working (whether it be my day job or side hustle), meditation, running, rest and general awareness of my well being, there are a couple of other steps that help me.

1. Get to The Root of The Problem

Have you heard of the 5 Why’s before? The 5 Why’s is a part of Toyota’s Production System and is one of the most effective tools for root cause analysis.

You can use the 5 Why’s by asking yourself basic questions about a problem you have that might be a factor in your burnout. The way it works is you ask the first “why” and continue with asking “why” until you are at the root of the problem.

Start by asking why you might be experiencing burnout. There may be a variety of answers to that larger why. Break them out into separate branches of the 5 Why process.

The structure of this could look like:

  • Why am I feeling burnt out? A: I’ve overworked myself. (This is just one reason and there may be many more but for the sake of this example, we will use this one reason.)
    • Why did I overwork yourself? A: I am trying to get my business going while also juggling my full-time job. I am afraid if I don’t do as much as I can now, I may fail.
    • Why do I think I will fail? A: Anxiety.

From this example, I didn’t have to do all 5 why’s until I saw the true cause of my burnout is the generalized anxiety I have around starting a business. I know a big problem I have is not being able to completely jump into full-time entrepreneurship and that’s been weighing down my efforts lately as I juggle my day job with my side gig. 

Ironically, I found this technique while at my day job. It is a process of how we resolve incidents and has become quite helpful in my life outside of work.

2. Identify Action Items

Once you discover the root cause(s) of your burnout or signs of burnout, look for action items you can take to resolve it.

There could also be multiple smaller action items to take to solve the problem and even help prevent it from recurring again in the future.

This could be finding ways to take some work off your plate, adding more flexibility to your life with remote work, going part-time or even changing roles or career direction. 

A takeaway and action item for me with my generalized anxiety is to take it slow. To not think about it all at once and do at least one small thing that helps me in my side business so I don’t feel powerless when I may end up spending more time on work that week, more time on rest and less time on my side projects. 

I actually started outsourcing more work with my blog and business, started working remotely at my day job more and that has helped me with overwhelm and being able to get more rest in my off time.

3. Rest, Rest and More Rest

Rest is a big one for me but maybe because I really enjoy sleeping. It’s my favorite past time.

I am one of those people that if they don’t get a full 8 hours of sleep, I want to destroy the world. I can’t think straight and feel horrible when I don’t feel like I got a full night of rest.

Don’t skimp on the rest. If you try to get more and more done every day and end up cheating yourself out of sleep because of it, that is definitely going to add to your exhaustion and maybe burnout. 

When recovering from severe burnout, rest almost always should come first before anything else. If you are on the verge of developing a medical issue because of your burnout and exhaustion, stop. Take any PTO you have and start resting now. Make that appointment to see a doctor and take any necessary steps they give you to recover.

Even if you don’t have PTO, take the time off. Your health is more important than that pay while taking the time off. However, I do understand some people can’t afford to take multiple days in a row off without pay and if that is the case for you, see if you can at least take a half-day or 1 day off to see what you can do about getting better. Ask for help from friends and family. Don’t worry, they will be there for you. 

Rest can also be other things like meditating (I love the app Headspace for this), reading a book or just laying in bed and doing absolutely nothing. 

4. Get Your Health Back Up

Focus on the basics. If you need to see a medical professional, do that first. Take their advice, I promise they aren’t lying.

Also, be cautious about what professional you are speaking to and what is in their best interest…some do get paid for the prescriptions they recommend to their patients. Open Payments Data is a helpful resource where you can search if your physician had a past or existing relationship with pharmaceutical companies.

You don’t have to see a doctor if let’s say, you don’t want to pay for it. I get it, health costs for something as small as a doctor visit these days in the U.S. can be insane. 

Maybe you don’t need a doctor, but you need to talk to someone..like a therapist? Talkspace is this amazing site where you can get matched to an online therapist for much cheaper than seeing a therapist in person (and more convenient).

For me, I changed a lot about my diet and shifted to a plant-based diet but you don’t need to make a huge lifestyle change like that to help get your health back up to par.

You can make small changes to your health that help recovery like:

  • Take a multivitamin daily. Make sure you are getting plenty of vitamins B and C, which is what your body tends to use up when it’s stressed out.
  • Eat real foods to get your vitamins too like green leafy vegetables and lots of fruit.
  • Go to bed 30 minutes earlier or wake up 30 minutes later.
  • Add a morning or evening meditation to your routine.
  • Squeeze in small 10 minutes bursts of exercise where you can throughout your day.
  • Fit a nap in on your lunch break.
  • Do anything that you can fit into your daily life that will boost both your emotional and physical health and works for your lifestyle. 

5. Be Patient

Recovering can take some time. Be patient.

Especially if you’ve reached stage 5, you are going to feel worse before you start feeling good again. Stress takes a toll on the body and sometimes it’s hard to bounce back.

Everyone responds to stress differently and what is important is that you recover at your own pace and listen to your body.

You Can Only Go Up From Here

You’ve done the best thing you can do for yourself, and that is recognizing that you need help, asking for it and wanting to make the necessary changes to get your life back on track.

For a quick recap, burnout has a long history among employees of every working-class but also with leaders and entrepreneurs. Now with the gig economy, growing demands in corporate 9-5 work and certain benefits dwindling, it is becoming increasingly common.

The 5 stages of burnout:

  • The Honeymoon Phase
  • Onset of Stress
  • Chronic Stress
  • Burnout
  • Habitual Burnout

Steps to deal with and recover from burnout:

  • Identify the root cause
  • Identify action items to take
  • Rest
  • Get healthy
  • Be patient

Some resources to help you along the way:

  • Talkspace: Search for online therapists for much cheaper than a therapist in person.
  • Virtual Vocations: A site where you can browse remote jobs if you are looking for something more flexible away from your current job (and the site is free of scams). 

Other helpful articles on burnout:

Hang in there, things are going to get better. I know everyone says that but seriously. You are making the effort to get better and therefore, things can only get better.

It will take time but I promise things will get better.

And remember to ask for help.

You got this!

What are some ways you’ve dealt with and recovered from burnout? Can you share an experience with us? We would love to hear from you in the comments below!

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