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Two Necessary Steps To Overcome Burnout & They're Not What You Think

Written by: Ellyn Schinke, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


What is the single most important thing for overcoming burnout? Is it sleep? Is it self-care? Is it boundary-setting? What if I told you, it was none of those things?

In one of my last in-person speaking gigs, my clients threw me curveball right as we were wrapping up: "if you had to pick one final tip for overcoming burnout, what would it be?" It was one of those questions that I could not answer with my characteristic "it depends". I mean, that's usually what I would say to someone because, yes, it does depend.

It depends on you. It depends on your triggers. It depends on the type of burnout you're experiencing (and if you're not sure of your type, click here).

However, "it depends" felt like a cop-out in this situation. So, if I really had to get down to it, what were the most important tips I had for overcoming burnout? Fortunately, my gut didn't fail me, and I stand by this answer to this day: "the most important things for overcoming burnout are compassion and self-awareness."

Not what you thought I was going to say, huh?

Most burnout coaches would probably say something like sleep, a better productivity system, more exercise, meditation, or a number of specific hacks, and those things are helpful. However, I firmly believe that these are not the most important things we can do to overcome burnout. Compassion and self-awareness count more. Let me tell you why.

I say all the time to my clients that awareness is the first step. Why? Because how can you make the changes you need to make if you don't even know what the issues are? How can you overcome burnout and stress less if you don't know what the stressors are? You can't. It's not possible, yet it's the reality for so many of us.

Most of us are moving so quickly through our lives. We flit from one task to the next to the next and we don't even notice what our stressors are. For most, that's the issue: the speed at which we're moving. Our workdays are jam-packed with back-to-back meetings. Then we go home to jam-packed social lives of back-to-back commitments into weekends with back-to-back plans. If we're not folding laundry or taking out the trash, we're checking our phones, answering emails, or frantically rushing off to "the next thing" in our lives. It's the frenetic pace at which we live and, while it might help us get lots of stuff done, it shoots our self-awareness in the foot.

Self-awareness is built by creating empty space in our lives and by reflecting. I mean, when was the last time you just sat and did just that? When was the last time you didn't feel obligated to produce and do, but instead allowed yourself to sit in silence with no frenzy or need to get things done?

For most of us, it's been a while. Months even. So, that's my first challenge to you: get self-aware. Make some space to slow down and reflect on your life.

  • What things have you been doing that have been really helping with your stress?

  • What things have you been doing that have been adding to your stress and exhaustion?

They're simple questions, but the answers yield powerful data that can help us take back control of our lives, and that's a beautiful thing.

However, if awareness is the first step, compassion very well might be the second. Compassion has become a bit of a hot topic in my speaking gigs lately and for good reason. You cannot overcome burnout without compassion.

But compassion is two-fold. It's about having compassion for others, yes, but it's also about having compassion for yourself.

When it comes to compassion for others, this is crucial in building relationships. Social support is one of the most well-studied contributors to burnout management and recovery. In short, we need our people. We need someone who gets it. We need someone to talk to, and those life giving and burnout-healing relationships will wither and die if we don't practice compassion for others.

However, compassion for others is, arguably, the easier of the two. It's having compassion for ourselves that is the beast. I mean, there's a reason why they always say, "we're our own worst critics", right? Having self-compassion is not something that comes easily for most of us. Think of the last time you made a mistake. Maybe it was big and potentially embarrassing or maybe it was relatively small. How did you react? What did you say to yourself, whether it was your inner monologue or something you said aloud?

When most of us screw up, we say "God, I'm such an idiot/failure/fraud" or slightly more expletive versions of those statements. We would never say that to someone else, but, with ourselves, it's like a self-flagellation free-for-all (I know that doesn't paint a pretty picture, but it's true).

Self-compassion is talking to yourself the way you would talk to your best friend or child. It's giving ourselves permission: permission to be overwhelmed, to need a break, to be imperfect, to fail, to be burned out instead of constantly expecting ourselves to shove down our personal needs and grind through our exhaustion. That's why that compassion is so crucial for overcoming burnout.

It's only through compassion that we stop beating ourselves up. It's about realizing that, yes, you could keep working but that's no reason to pour yourself a 9pm cup of coffee and hustle when all you want to do is curl up with your significant other and watch the latest episode of Schitt's Creek.

It's about realizing that, yes, you could go to the gym and beat yourself up with another punishing workout but saying "no" because you're exhausted and all your body really wants is a hot bath and some light stretching.

Compassion for ourselves is about doing all those things we so easily do for others for ourselves, and it's crucial for overcoming burnout because it's only through recognizing and having compassion for your limitations and the things that aren't working that we change.

It's only through admitting that just because you could doesn't mean you should when it comes to overcoming your burnout. Compassion is necessary because you're not going to be honest with yourself about what you need if you're so busy judging and being an asshole to yourself to truly hear the voice inside yourself that's saying, "I can't. I've had enough. I need to rest." Burnout cannot be overcome without compassion. Compassion from others and compassion from ourselves.

Compassion and self-awareness truly do go hand-in-hand and, from my perspective, they're the two most crucial things you need to overcome burnout.

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Ellyn Schinke, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Ellyn Schinke is a former scientist turned top coach and international speaker specializing in burnout and stress management. After burning out while pursuing her Ph.D., Ellyn was sick of all the cookie-cutter, BS burnout tips online and sought out the real, tangible tactics that would actually make a difference in her life. As a result, burnout when from being her lifestyle to her passion. Now, she's focused on helping corporate professionals and businesses free themselves from burnout and take back their lives. Ellyn is the founder and CEO of Coach Ellyn LLC, one of the top burnout coaches on Google, host of the Burned Out to Badass podcast, and more. Her mission: Make burnout a choice.



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