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8 Ways I Overcame Burnout And Regained Control Of My Life

Kate Schermbrucker is a British burnout and breakup coach. She supports men and women to cope better with any kind of burnout, breakup or divorce and go on to thrive.

 
Executive Contributor Kate Schermbrucker

Are you busy all the time? Are you stressed, overwhelmed and exhausted? Does sleep elude you? Are you successful at your job, but rather unhappy? Are you waiting for retirement?


 woman resting at home on couch, feeling exhausted after work

Since my own experience with burnout, I have discovered that lots of us feel this way. Four years ago I went from being a busy, successful educator to suddenly burning out. I had not noticed it creeping up on me but later realised that I had been swimming against the tide for quite some time.


This life-changing event forced me to make radical changes. Changes for the better. Why? Well, because I was required to unbusy my life, slow down and take care of my emotional health.


So, how did it happen?


The problem was, that my reaction to the daily, continual stress I was experiencing was, not to give myself a break, but rather to push on, even harder. Eventually, my brain and body could not take it anymore and the inevitable consequence was the freeze response, i.e. burnout.


The good news is that now I can honestly say I am completely recovered. “But how did you do it?” I hear you cry. Well, the answer is that I changed my life. And here are some of the ways how:


1. I got a dog


Now, let me make this clear. I do not advocate getting a dog unless you are prepared to completely change your life and make it the centre of your world. That is the whole point. That is exactly what I did.


The thing about owning a puppy is that you have to give it a balanced, healthy life and in the process, you give yourself a balanced, healthy life.


I learned that I had to be quiet at night because the puppy needed to sleep; so I might as well sleep. I could not lie in late in the mornings, because my puppy needed to go outside and do his business. I also had to give him regular exercise in the great outdoors, which meant two to three short walks a day. I had to provide the dog with regular meal times, so I ate at the same time. Soon my days naturally took on a more regular, balanced pattern, i.e. a much more healthy schedule.


I was not able to go out for long periods and leave him alone, so I started to enjoy getting cosy at home. Life became slower-paced, calmer, less busy and more home-centred. It was exactly what I needed for my recuperation. Plus, I now had the company of a cute, fluffy, funny, little, animal friend who has brought me a great deal of joy.


2. I took daily walks in nature


As a result of my daily walks with the dog, I started to notice the small changes in nature. I had burned out in early Spring and so I watched as the leaf buds formed and then day-by-day, as they gradually emerged and grew into fat, green leaves for insects to predate on. Next, the dainty, pink, blossoms appeared along with the sunshine and warmth in the air. Now birds became excited and began gathering materials to build their nests, ready to welcome their young chicks.


I began to appreciate and look forward to these tiny miracles of nature. I realised that previously most of these wonders had just passed me by. Why had my all-consuming job seemed so important?


Due to my walks, I got fitter, received a daily dose of Vitamin D from the sun and started to appreciate the benefits of Forest Bathing. Soon stress and overwhelm began to leave my body and my brain started to relax. Life was becoming a pleasure; not a mountain to climb.


3. I avoided stress


I had started to see a therapist and she advised, “You have to avoid stress, Kate.” She told me stress was dangerous for me in my current state. I took her words seriously but I wondered how it could be done. How can a person avoid stress?


I said that even the news made me feel stressed. She asked me why I was watching the news and I replied that it was important to keep up-to-date with current affairs. But even as I said the words, I realised that politics and world events were simply not my main priority. My recovery and recuperation had become my priority. So I deleted my news app and switched over when news broadcasts came on the radio or television. I had already, more-or-less, stopped using social media. So, I had no idea what was happening in other places and it made very little difference to my daily life. It turns out that ignorance is bliss.


How else did I avoid stress? Well, I took time off from work. I was in no fit state to go to my daily job and my boss agreed. I was living a simpler life; one of rest, healthy food, reading and podcasts, playing with my dog, meeting friends for lunch and not taking on too much. Which brings me to my next point.


4. I learned to say “no”


I had been working, full-time, for 20 years, up until the moment I burned out. I had been a dedicated teacher and headteacher, gradually taking on more and more responsibility. I was never one to have a day off work – and that was part of the problem. I used to work well over my allotted hours, but even my free time and social life were too busy. Why? Because when people asked for something, my immediate response was to say, “Yes.”


“Yes, I’ll go to your party.”


“Yes, I’ll train for a half-marathon with you.”


“Yes, I’ll take on that extra work responsibility.”


But, by saying, “yes” to others, I was saying, “no” to my wants and needs.


“No, I won’t rest this evening, even though I’m tired.”


“No, I won’t read my favourite magazine on Sunday.”


“No, I won’t leave work at a reasonable time.”


Looking back, I now see that I was giving away far too much of my time and energy. Often, no one even asked for my energy, but I gave it to them anyway, i.e. doing things that I thought I ought to do. It is funny how we kid ourselves.


The burnout forced me to prioritise. I suddenly became keenly aware of the body’s need for rest, recuperation, relaxation and sound sleep. I now know that these are not pointless activities; rather they are vitally important for a healthy body and brain. Even 4 years later, I still carefully consider what saying “yes” to someone else means I am giving up.


5. I simplified my life


I simplified my life in every way imaginable. At first, I had no option but to stop work and just sit, quite exhausted on my sofa and just be. Over the last four years, my energy has returned, but I remain strict about what is allowed into my life. I have no clutter, no alcohol, no over-exercising, no overworking, no commuting, little caffeine, regular sleep and wake times, regular gentle exercise, regular calm time with family and friends, regular work hours, fresh-cooked meals, time spent in nature and a much more balanced and intentional life.


6. I cook my meals using real, fresh food


I had always had a reasonable diet. I never ate junk food and I rarely ate takeaways. I drank only a moderate amount of alcohol and never consumed fizzy drinks or energy drinks. But when I burned out I became a voracious reader of books about health and well-being. Plus, I started to listen to podcasts, such as Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s excellent, Feel Better, Live More. I began to learn about the connection between the food we eat and our brain health. Later, I even took a course in nutrition and brain health.


I learned that the vagus nerve leads directly from our stomach to our brain and that the food we put into our bodies carries important information, including signals about our heart rate, immune response and mood. So if we are putting ultra-processed food into our stomachs, our brain and body get confused. Our system cannot ‘read’ ultra-processed food. What it does understand are the signals that come from real, natural food.


I did not give up any types of real food, but I did start to add many more diverse, organic, fresh plants to my diet. I began cooking all my meals from scratch. So, I stopped buying foods with more than five ingredients and those had to be items that I recognised – not dyes, flavour enhancers, emulsifiers, defoaming agents, etc.


Now I savour my delicious, fresh meals. Yes, it takes some planning (meal planning, reading recipes, making shopping lists) and time (batch cooking, freezing) but it is worth it. It is a pleasurable way to spend my evenings.


7. I took up gardening


Because I wanted fresh food with provenance, I decided to start growing my own. I had always been interested in gardening, but never really allowed myself the opportunity to do it. Why not? Well because I used to prioritise my job over almost everything else.


So, I bought a country house with a small garden. It just had a weed-ridden lawn, an ugly storage box and a tiny patio. Three years later it is a food-producing oasis. The lawn has gone – replaced with a potting shed, raised vegetable beds, compost heaps, a barrel pond and fruit trees and bushes. The space is small so I’ve had to train the fruit trees against the boundary walls – but they look spectacular.


I do not use any chemicals so I have had to learn about creating an eco-system that works to keep down weeds and pests, e.g. I encourage the birds in with feeders and nest boxes so that they eat the slugs and aphids. I have also learned about companion planting, e.g. marigolds and basil are beneficial for tomatoes, so you grow them close together.


Now my boring garden has turned into a buzzing, attractive, wildlife haven. I get to harvest fresh, delicious herbs, potatoes, chard, cucumbers, courgettes, lettuce, onions, garlic, strawberries, kohlrabi, beetroot, carrots, rhubarb and more. I also reap the benefit of a beautiful garden and a new, life-enriching hobby.


8. I got a coach to overcome burnout


Many of the things mentioned so far came about thanks to my work with a coach. With her help, I started to figure out what I wanted and needed for my life moving forward. My career in international education was wonderful and allowed me to travel the world, working in incredible countries, but with her help, I realised that this busy lifestyle of rushing from airport to airport, including changing school and location every few years, was no longer serving me.


Therapy was useful, but it did not help me with making practical plans to move forward with my life. I could not figure out how to return to the UK and set up a life there when I had been abroad for so long. The coach helped me break down all the different aspects of my situation and then create the type of life that would bring me real happiness and joy.


Not only did my work with my coach bring me a new type of life, it also introduced me to a whole new profession. With her support, I found the courage to leave my 2-decade career in education. I moved back to the UK. Then I studied coaching, got qualified and established my own online, coaching business.


My coaching life


Today I specialise in coaching clients from all over the world who are experiencing burnout, breakup or divorce. I am passionate about helping them design a life that works best for them. When they come to a crossroads like this, it is challenging, but also an opportunity to create something new for themselves. So I support them as they move forward to a more peaceful life with balance, a feeling of being in control, positivity and exciting new goals.


Free printable resource


To that end, I have created a free, printable document that you can access right now. It contains six impactful coaching questions that may help you gain insight into what is going on in your life. Just head over to my website, print it off, get yourself a pen and a cup of tea and start writing down your thoughts.


Read more from Kate Schermbrucker

 

Kate Schermbrucker, Burnout and Breakup Coach

Kate Schermbrucker is a British burnout and breakup coach. She uses her own life experiences and accredited coach training to support her clients through any kind of burnout, stress, overwhelm, breakup or divorce. With her one-to-one, online coaching they are able to gently recover, regroup and carefully plan for a balanced, empowered and happy life. She works with clients from the UK and all over the world.

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