3 Significant Reasons Why Burnout Isn't Your Fault (And How You Can Recover)
Rates of stress & burnout have significantly increased in the last few years. But what if burnout wasn't your fault?
In our culture of rugged individualism, it’s easy to feel like your burnout is a personal failure. But what if burnout is actually a symptom of a larger problem?
Seeing the larger systems at play can remove some pressure. Which frees you to recover from burnout instead of berating yourself for it.
3 Reasons Why Burnout Isn’t Your Fault
We are all swimming in a system that values us for what we produce. Specifically, what ‘surplus’ we produce.
Capitalism isn’t the economy. And it’s not a method of trade. It’s specifically a system that organises all of society around producing profit… surplus… more.
We’ve normalised messages about hustling, productivity hacks, & squeezing every last drop from the working day. Because the underlying motivation of a capitalist society is to produce profit.
Under capitalism, rest is wasted time. The only thing that matters is producing more. Our value is fundamentally tied to our productive capacity. And this value is exploited every day.
And if you have internalised these capitalistic ideas about productivity & worth? Burnout is inevitable.
But humans aren’t machines. We cannot work constantly, producing an ever-increasing surplus.
We need rest, leisure, downtime and pleasure.
By claiming back time to rest, you not only prevent burnout, you honour your own humanity.
As Tricia Hersey from The Nap Ministry says:
Rest is a form of resistance because it disrupts and pushes back against capitalism and white supremacy. Disrupt and push back against a system that views you as a machine. You are not a machine. You are a divine human being. WE WILL REST!
When we think of trauma, we usually think of the big things. War, violence, abuse or neglect. Survivors of big trauma need tremendous compassion and support for the debilitating events they have endured.
Trauma can also be bullying, discrimination or persecution. Systems of oppression are traumatising for all marginalised groups. Especially Black people, Indigenous or First Nations people, and People Of Colour (BIPOC).
Trauma can also be an accumulation of smaller overwhelming events. It could come in the form of the loss of a loved one, financial stress, medical intervention or chronic illness.
But trauma isn’t about the event itself: it’s about how your body processed it.
Trauma is a fundamental feeling of threat. A perceived lack of safety. It is anything that overwhelms your ability to cope. Trauma is always about the impact, rather than the event itself.
And if you’ve been overwhelmed by stress and trauma? It can have a huge impact on your mental & physical health, leading to burnout.
If you are neurodivergent, a neurotypical world is going to be much more draining. We live in an ableist society that rarely accommodates disabilities or divergence.
Plus having sensory sensitivities can be incredibly overwhelming. The depth of processing required to integrate sensory information, emotions, and external stimuli can take a huge toll.
Pleasure, pain, sound, smell, emotions, temperature, texture and fatigue are all experienced acutely. Often to the point where you can no longer compartmentalise and you become overstimulated.
Burnout is particularly common for people with autism, ADHD, dyspraxia, or highly sensitive people.
According to a 2020 research paper published in Autism In Adulthood, autistic burnout was caused by
“barriers to support that created an inability to obtain stress relief”.
Managing neurodivergence can be a full-time job that often leads to burnout.
No, Burnout Isn’t Your Fault
From worker exploitation and the relentless pace of capitalism to trauma and neurodivergence. These are just a few significant causes of burnout. And none of them are your fault.
So now what? How do you heal from burnout?
12 Holistic Ways to Heal From Burnout
Healing burnout comes from honouring your need for restful self-care.
There are four major categories of restful self-care:
By taking care of yourself in each one of these categories, you’ll start to feel alive again in no time.
So here are 12 holistic ways to help you heal from burnout.
Physically healing from burnout
Sleep is vital for physical wellbeing, concentration, and mood.
However, insufficient sleep has been recognised as a global issue with serious health implications.
The good news is, that by making more space in your life for sleep, you’ll be going a long way to feeling better. But what needs to change to make that happen?
Do you need more help with chores so you can get to bed earlier? Can you nap during the afternoon? What do you need to say no to, so you can say yes to more sleep?
There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that eating healthy helps you cope better with stress.
But what is healthy for you?
Perhaps it’s about reconnecting with food from your cultural heritage. Maybe it’s learning to eat more intuitively - paying attention to what makes you feel nourished.
It’s definitely about making time for lunch instead of working straight through.
Soothing your nervous system
Burnout is the end result of chronic stress. Which means to overcome stress and burnout, you need to practice experiencing calm.
Anything that helps you slow down will soothe your nervous system and help you become calm.
Things that can help include:
deep belly breaths
a warm shower
yoga or gentle stretching
listening to calming music, or
hugging a loved one
Mentally healing from burnout
Mindfulness doesn’t have to mean sitting in lotus position for hours.
You could have a mindful moment when you simply enjoy your cup of tea. You could take a moment to take 3 deep breaths - focusing on the exhale to calm your mind and body.
You could even begin your day with mindful listening. After you’ve woken up, take a few moments to listen to all the surrounding sounds to bring presence to your morning.
Journaling gets your mental loops out of your head and onto a page.
When you journal, you can pour out any emotion or thought without the fear of being judged. It’s a quiet place for you to reflect and heal without any interference.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as taking your thoughts and spilling them onto the page in ‘stream-of-consciousness’ writing.
If you’ve suffered trauma that led to your burnout, you may need extra support. Finding a trauma-informed therapist will help to create a safe space for you to heal your burnout.
Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy can be very effective in reducing distress connected to trauma.
Since EMDR doesn’t require you to talk a lot about what happened, it may feel less overwhelming than other types of therapy. You may find EMDR especially helpful if you have difficulty discussing the trauma you’ve experienced.
Emotionally healing from burnout
Laughter is good for your health. Laughing reduces stress hormones and releases endorphins (the body’s natural feel-good chemicals). Which makes watching comedies an underrated form of self-care.
There’s no shortage of material. You could search for comedy on Netflix. You could find comedy podcasts to listen to, or even search your local comedy clubs for a fun night out.
Boundaries are a form of self-care. By having healthy boundaries, you can avoid feelings of bitterness, resentment and anger that build up because your boundaries have been crossed.
To have healthy boundaries, you first have to understand your limits. What are you willing to say yes to? What do you want to say no to?
Healthy boundaries are about communicating what is and what is not okay for you.
Having a strong support network is a vital component of healing from burnout. Supportive social connections provide comfort, alleviate stress, and can even enhance self-esteem.
So make time to connect with friends and loved ones and cultivate those positive relationships.
But make sure that the relationships you’re building are reducing your stress level, not adding to it. Pay attention to the people that leave you feeling inspired, full, safe and loved.
Spiritually healing from burnout
Purpose outside of work
Having a meaningful career is a recent phenomenon. Traditionally people found purpose within their communities, families and faith.
Of course, you can find purpose and meaning within your work, but work isn’t everything.
What else brings fulfillment to your life? Where else can you feel connected to something bigger than yourself?
Evidence shows that helping others can have a positive effect on your own mental health and wellbeing.
So who is less resourced than you that could use your help? What social justice issues are important to you? And how can you become more involved with them?
Awe is an incredible antidote to stress and burnout. Research suggests that awe can make you feel happier, healthier, more humble, and more connected.
Spending time in nature is a fantastic way to cultivate awe. But according to a few studies, even watching awe-inducing videos can improve your mood and wellbeing.
Burnout sucks. Literally. It drains your energy leaving you feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.
But by recognising your humanity, and acknowledging your need for rest? By taking small soothing steps to care for your mind, body and spirit? You can recover and heal from burnout.
And by regularly practising restful self-care you can prevent burnout from happening again.