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The Secret Behind Effective Burnout Recovery Strategies

When I first learned about burnout I heard it was a stress management problem. Essentially it was too much stress and not enough coping strategies to deal with all that stress. But after my own epic burnout experience, I realized that way of perceiving burnout was wrong.  The truth is, burnout is not a stress management problem. It’s an energy management problem. And that completely changes the way we look at burnout recovery strategies.

The Truth About Burnout

Metaphors and analogies are one of my favorite ways to explain abstract concepts like burnout, so bear with me. I promise it will all make sense in a moment.

Imagine you’re in a boat in the middle of the water and it’s full of holes. There’s water slowly pouring into your boat, but it’s okay because you have a bucket! So you’re using that bucket to keep bailing out water to keep your boat from sinking. But the water keeps flowing into your boat faster than you can effectively bail it out, and so you sink to the point that your lifejacket catches you and you’re just floating there in the water.

The water in this analogy are your sources of stress and the energy drains in your life. 

The bucket in this analogy are your stress management strategies like meditation, mindfulness, yoga, self-care etc. Sure, you can do more of them, or do the coping strategies you have for a longer time – but water’s still pouring into your boat. This means that no matter how fast you go or how big that bucket is, you’re eventually going to run out of energy and no longer be able to keep up with bailing out the water at the rate it’s coming in.

That’s when your burnout lifejacket catches you. 

Burnout’s our body’s fail-safe mechanism that forces us to slow down and take better care of ourselves. This then allows us to catch up, deal with some of the stress and keep going on with our lives.

Burnout Recovery Strategies are about more than just self-care; it's a proactive approach to preventing burnout.

The Secret to Recovering From and Preventing Burnout

So you see, the secret to finding the right burnout recovery strategies isn’t just meditating more, or going to more yoga classes or taking more time for self-care. Those are important, don’t get me wrong, but remember they are only making your bucket bigger or helping you bail out the water faster.

Instead, we need a combination of stress management strategies mixed with:

  • An understanding of which holes are in your boat leading to increased stress in your life
  • An energy management strategy to make sure that you have the physical, mental and emotional capacity you need to keep up with your life, your goals, your responsibilities, those stress management strategies, and what fulfills you and gives you a sense of purpose

Then we’ll be able to slow down or even plug up some of those holes in the boat, so that a more manageable level of stress and responsibilities are coming in. It gives us a chance to be able to sustain the levels of energy we need on a day to day basis.

Take a moment each day to check in with your energy levels

The Things that Cause Holes in Our Boat

Coming back to the boat analogy, the holes are things that need something of us. They need us to be productive, to hold stress, to be there for someone else, to be on top of our responsibilities. There are so many things that can create a hole – and not all of them are negative.

Some things that cause stress or drain our energy can be really positive, like going out and doing activities we enjoy, completing our favourite part of our job, or anything else that falls into the eu-stress category. 

Eustress is the positive, helpful stress where productivity and pressure are balanced and we’re in the peak flow state.

Some things like past experiences and traumatic experiences, etc – they also continue to pour more water into our boat.

We can do something about some of the holes, like:

  • responsibilities, 
  • work pressures, 
  • family dynamics, 
  • when we’re an out of balance people pleaser, 
  • when we overcommit, procrastinate, get stuck in perfectionism or all or nothing thinking 
  • carry forward stress from past experiences and traumatic experiences

We can learn new burnout recovery strategies, set boundaries or change our behaviour, get help so we can heal and balance some of the personality traits that are sabotaging you; this essentially plugs up those holes and prevents the stress from continuing to flow in. This then means that you won’t need as much energy to deal with these sources of stress because they won’t be contributing as much to your overall stress load.

But some of the holes in our boat we can’t get rid of, like:

  • living in a capitalist society, 
  • the job that we have, 
  • our family situation, 
  • our health challenges, 
  • financial insecurity
  • inflation
  • the generation we grew up in

Despite our best efforts to continue to bail out the water – these factors will continue to bring stress into our life. And that’s okay. We just have to take those into account when we’re looking at how many more things we can take on so that we can maintain the energy we need to keep up with it all.

We deserve to thrive, not just survive.

The Four Different Kinds of Energy and What It Means for Burnout Recovery

Now when it comes to energy, we often think that we either wake up feeling refreshed or that we have energy, or the opposite that we’re drained.

You are a complex human with a complex life, so your energy can’t be explained this simply. Instead of just having one energy battery, we actually have four:

  1. Physical energy – which is what we typically think about when we talk about our energy levels
  2. Mental energy – our ability to make good, quick decisions, solve complex problems, and think outside of the box
  3. Emotional energy – our ability to maintain control over our emotional reactions so we can instead respond to triggers, our ability to be patient, and hold space for others who need someone to listen.
  4. Fulfillment energy – the amount that we feel what we’re doing is making a difference in our corner of the world.

When we look at energy in this way, it’s so much easier to understand why some days we felt refreshed when we woke up, but then were super irritable all day and just didn’t have as much patience as we’re used to. We started our day with high physical energy, but maybe lower mental and/or emotional energy. 

Burnout Recovery Strategies are about more than just self-care; it's a proactive approach to preventing burnout.

How to Make Sure You Don’t Run Out of Energy To Keep Up on Your Burnout Recovery Strategies

So, let’s take a moment to reflect on our energy and how we manage it. Burnout isn’t just about stress—it’s about our overall energy reserves and how we use them. Like a boat with holes taking in water, our lives can be overwhelmed by stressors. We can’t always change these stressors, but we can manage our energy to navigate them better.

Incorporating daily energy check-ins can be a game-changer when you’re trying to recover from burnout. Imagine looking at your four energy batteries—physical, mental, emotional, and fulfillment—and giving each a rating. Are you running on high or feeling depleted in any area? By acknowledging our energy levels, we can adjust our day accordingly, focusing on tasks that align with our current capacity.

This practice is embedded in the Creating Calm app and discussed frequently in our morning 15-minute yoga classes. It’s about more than just self-care; it’s a proactive approach to preventing burnout. We deserve to thrive, not just survive.

So I encourage you to take a moment each day to check in with your energy levels. It can help you prioritize what truly matters, and reclaim your capacity to navigate life with intention. Challenge accepted?

Burnout recovery is not a stress management problem. It’s an energy management problem.

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Keep Your Head Up - by Andy Grammer