A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about how to avoid burnout. However, given we don’t live in a perfect world, notwithstanding our precautions, sometimes shit happens anyway, and before we realize it, burnout has sneaked up on us.
Luckily, in such cases there are a few things we can do to mitigate its direst effects. But be warned. Burnout is a condition you’d better take seriously.
In fact, even if it won’t throw you into depression or make of you an anxious knot of nerves — after all, depression, anxiety, and burnout seem all to be well-defined and independent conditions — insisting on overlooking it is only going to make your productivity plummet to zero. And stay there for quite a while. Actually, in some extreme cases, for life.
Burnout can affect everyone. It’s a condition in which a person can experience fatigue and declining performance in their chosen activity despite their continuing or increased efforts to get better at it. Burnout can also cause mood changes, decreased motivation, injuries and even infections.
Burnout – the recovery list
If you’re suffering from burnout, the first and most important thing you can do is take some time off. In fact, burnout is the way your body uses to tell you you’re taxing your systems beyond their breaking point.
If you immediately stop pushing yourself and let a couple of weeks go by, chances are you’ll stave off the worst effects of burnout, and soon you’ll find yourself fresh and restored, eager to resume your work.
However, depending on your character, you could find it pretty difficult to even let a couple of days go by without doing absolutely nothing. If this is the case, you can try a series of different activities. These should help you overcome the impulse to get back to work too soon while at the same time keeping you relatively busy.
Do something different
Isaac Asimov, who as a writer didn’t seem to ever suffer from any kind of burnout, in an interview once said he often wrote four or five books at a time, so that when he felt a bit tired of the book he was working on, he simply began working on one of the others.
Now, Asimov was most likely an outlier, but his idea was solid. This means that in your case you can simply focus your attention on something entirely different from writing. For example, when I feel burnout is knocking on my door, I spend some days doing highly rewarding but relaxing activities.
To start with, I often go out for long and solitary hikes in the woods. For me there’s really nothing like the peace of the woods, the continuous change of scenery, and the calls of the animals and birds to recharge my batteries. I stroll about, taking pictures — one moment thinking about nothing at all and the next about the entire universe and how marvellous it is. You know, like in freewriting.
In addition, I also paint, or draw. The beauty of painting is that I don’t have to strive to come up with anything passable, let alone notable. So I’m free to explore different mediums and solutions. One day I come up with a surrealistic work, some others I delight myself working on a landscape.
On those occasions I have to keep burnout at bay, I read books too. But I read them like a reader, not like a writer — just for the story. This is an important distinction. In fact, if while you’re reading a book you stop every other page to consider and analyze what the writer has done, probably you’d better focus on some other activity.
Finally, I could also go for a run. But this last activity is tricky. In fact, running is taxing both physically and psychologically and it can even worsen burnout. Consequently, I religiously keep a super easy pace and forget everything about personal bests.
Don’t trust your instinct
At least during the first week, don’t listen to your brain. Even if it seems it’s telling you everything is back to normal and it’s time to get back to work, chances are it’s still too soon.
In fact, your brain is just trying to make you do the things you’ve always been doing — paradoxical isn’t it? The very same brain you have so often to fight with to win your daily battle with procrastination is now telling you you must absolutely get back at your writing — right away!
However, the truth is probably that you still need more time to detoxify. So, take it easy and enjoy the pause, even if you spend it just lying down in a meadow, observing the clouds in the sky.
Sure, the Covid pandemic isn’t over yet. But now we have vaccines and masks and a better understanding of the damn thing, so even if it’s true that any relationship can be marred by the shadow of potential illness and worse, it’s also undeniable we have also to reappropriate of our lives.
This holds also for the most introverts among us — the only difference being that while an extroverted guy is going to organize a party, their introverted counterpart will be more than satisfied by a tête-à-tête.
It seems so banal, but a good night’s sleep is probably one of the simplest and yet most effective ways we can deploy to stay healthy and preserve our creativity. I’m not saying you should lie in bed all day long. I’m just saying that you should be proactive and take steps to make sure you can sleep at least 7 to 8 hours every day.
Of course, there are many people who live on a way more meager sleep diet. But while some of them thrive, others just think they are thriving. To discover if this is the case for you too, you can simply try an experiment.
For one week, sleep for eight hours and then evaluate how you feel. If you don’t notice any appreciable improvement, chances are you were already getting enough sleep. Otherwise you’ll discover that the additional hours spent sleeping can make a real difference to your wellbeing.
I hope you can find these suggestions useful. And if you have some more, just tell me in the comments.