Recovering from Burnout
The themes that inspired my Summer Bucket List.
Recently I wrote an article about recognizing burnout. A few readers reached out to me personally asking how I have worked on recovering from burnout. Therefore I decided that sharing what “I have been up to” over the past two months could potentially be helpful for others.
To be completely honest, after I earned my master’s degree in June 2022 and stopped working full-time in early July, I felt a lot of guilt.
I felt guilty that I wasn’t maximizing the same potential I was reaching when I was in school and working long hours. I felt guilt that my partner and brothers were working overtime while I had more time on my hands. I felt guilty that I was going to rely on my savings, money I could have continued saving for when I started my Ph.D. program instead, for the summer months as I took a break from working full-time.
This guilt carried on the first few weeks until my boyfriend practically had to argue with me that if I didn’t take advantage of the summer now, I may not have another break like this until I finished my doctoral program. In defeat, I began to create what would be my bucket list (that I could afford) for the summer.
I didn’t make the summer bucket list long or complex because I also wanted the freedom to “go with the flow” and have extra time for any opportunities that came up. Yet, there were a few themes that inspired my list:
Something that scared me
Even though the past few years had been extremely stressful for me, I figured that taking on a voluntary challenge. One that ultimately scared me, would be beneficial.
Why? Well in my personal experience, feeling burned out made me rely on my normal routine to survive. Any deviation from it felt catastrophic, chaotic, and well, more stressful. Therefore I knew that I needed to get out of that rut.
So I decided to take surfing lessons. I know how to swim, but only once before had I gone into the ocean (away from the shore where I can no longer stand on the sand).
During my first lesson, as my instructor and I approached the water, I remember wanting to quit then and there. The waves were big and looked aggressive. I could already feel my heart in my chest. But I had gone as far as paying for the lessons, driving there, putting on the wetsuit, and walking down to the shore with a board at hand. So when my instructor started walking through the water that touched the shore, I followed.
An hour in, I was catching small waves and riding on my knees onto the shore. The experience was thrilling and eye-opening. My instructor even complimented my bravery for approaching the waves head-on when paddling back into the deep end. “Most people get scared and go back to the shore on their first lesson when they see big waves coming. I’m impressed you face them head-on.”
After months filled with memorizing my dad’s medications, appointments, and also everything and anything regarding mental health and psychology for my master’s degree, I knew that I needed a mental shift.
My boyfriend and I decided to attend a few historical tours provided by docents at different historical landmarks, and go to a variety of history and art museums.
Focusing on new content that I could experience first-hand and engage with was refreshing. After months of forcing myself to focus in class or in my readings for school, this shift made learning exciting and enjoyable again.
Even though in primary school I never really enjoyed history, I found the tours interesting because the docents would try their best to really help picture what it was like to be at war or living on a farm, for example.
Some of my best memories are with my dad when we would go on hikes every weekend in the winter and also the ones where my boyfriend and I would go on a new hiking trip every other weekend the summer we first started dating. However, after my dad was diagnosed with cancer, the hiking trips stopped for a few years.
Eventually, I started going hiking again after the trail restrictions placed due to the pandemic were lifted. But I would mostly go on the same trails I had hiked with my dad or boyfriend in the past. Therefore, this summer I ventured to a few new trails to have a change in scenery.
The trips have been wonderful in that I’ve gotten to experience different wildlife and plant species. I’ve gotten to see new mountain ranges and even find a few hidden labyrinths made from rocks and branches.
Not to mention that the change in the physical routine has been helpful in building my strength and stamina because the trails are a different kind of challenge from the prior ones I hiked.
Although similar to the top theme, I have been going on more adventures recently. My boyfriend and I took on this summer to visit different botanical gardens, landmarks, college campuses, and food restaurants.
The experiences have been nice because they made me realize how much of the world I had been missing out on. It also allowed my curiosity to flourish when searching for new places to visit. In addition to the perk of trying out new things and creating more memories with my partner.
Another thing that was helpful for me was creating a shift in my weekly routine. Of course, this was more of a side effect from no longer being in school and only working part-time. But I did have things I kept on a weekly basis and other things that I allowed to be spontaneous.
This mixture of the expected and unexpected kept me disciplined while also having room for fun.
For example, on a weekly basis, my boyfriend and I would go bowling, I would write one or two articles for Medium Thursday mornings and go to the gym before the crack of dawn on weekdays.
However, things I would keep spontaneous were the days my boyfriend and I would go on “an adventure,” whenever I would go on hiking trips or when I would meet up with an old friend.
Picking up old favorite activities
This last one wasn’t necessarily represented on my list, but it is something that I started doing that improved my mental health. In high school, I was into painting, drawing, and creating artwork with shells and small stones. Since I have a lot of my old art materials, I took these on hobbies again.
Therefore, whenever I get tired from working online, I’ll take an hour's break just to paint or do art. On the weekends when I have downtime at home, I’ll also finish up any projects I started during the week.
What I like about this is that I still feel productive with my time, even if I’m not necessarily working. Which helped me get over the guilt I initially felt once my life started to slow down for the summer.
A few extras tips I would recommend focusing on if you’re recovering from burnout are:
Focus on your physical and mental health
This one is probably common sense, but taking the time to really meet your basic needs will allow you to function better, be more resilient, and tolerate stress better. These basic things include sleeping well, resting as needed, eating balanced meals and a variety of foods, and taking supplements if needed.
Intention to be around loved ones more
If you’ve spent the past couple of years or months constantly away from your loved ones, creating a few islands of time in your schedule to see them or simply call them can also be refreshing.
However, because loved ones are often the most forgiving or supportive people in your life (or at least hopefully they are), it’s easy to push aside connecting with them. Therefore this one may require a bit more intention.
Silence & reflection
Modern technology and our fast-paced society make it easy for us to be bombarded with large amounts of stimuli in only seconds. Therefore, taking a few minutes, hours, or days if you’re able, to disconnect can have a positive effect on your cognitive functioning. This may include going out in nature without your phone (or on airplane mode) or reading a book with your notifications turned off.
I’m aware that not everyone will have the same opportunity that I did for their life to slow down for two or three months. My advice to you is to incorporate as many of these that you find appealing (and possible) into your daily life.
When we’re burned out, we may feel tired all the time. Therefore, doing something different can be a big toll on our mental energy at first. But once you begin trying a few things, you open the doors to building the momentum needed to really get engaged with the opportunities out there.
The new activities can be the shift or refresher you need to gain a different perspective and change the choices you make on a daily basis to avoid burning out again and hopefully really be able to enjoy your career or job, family, and life overall.
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