Lisa, I have it all. I know there are people who want what I have created and wish for it. And I feel like an a-hole because I’m so burned out and just want to quit it all. I am exhausted and I can’t continue on like this much longer.
My client, a successful woman who had created an amazing company who helped so many people, was telling me this on the phone. I could feel the strain in her voice as she tried not to break down crying as she admitted this “shame”.
She’d worked with another person before who told her to do more “self care” and to take full days off. Being the woman she is, she did this homework with her full commitment.
She spent a whole day watching her favorite TV show on Netflix instead of working. She added things, like massages and time outside, to her schedule. She started going to the beach by her house more often.
But after months of trying this, she felt no change at all.
What is wrong with me?, she mused out loud over the phone.
Of course, there was nothing wrong with her.
I had a hunch I knew exactly what was going on.
So I asked her, how does it feel when you take this time off for yourself?
Do you enjoy it? What feelings does it bring up for you?
She answered exactly as I suspected.
Honestly, I spend half the time feeling like a piece of you-know-what. I feel lazy just sitting there watching Netflix for 6 hours. When I’m at the beach I relax a little bit and then I feel restless after an hour or two because I’m worried about what might be falling through the cracks while I’m not on my computer.
Aha! I knew it.
So you’re not actually fully enjoying this time, I said to her.
Part of you is worried while you’re taking this time off, which doesn’t actually allow you to fully enjoy it. And if you don’t fully enjoy it, you’re not being nourished by it in a way that can help to end your burnout. Do you get it?, I asked.
Yes! That’s exactly it!
Holy sh&t! I never thought of it that way before!, she exclaimed.
Have you ever felt like the woman above?
You’ve done the self care, you’ve done the time off, the “relaxing”…
but it’s not really working.
It’s not working for two reasons:
First, if you feel guilty every time you do self care or take time to relax, you are actually not getting the full benefit of relaxing.
Instead you’re in this weird “in between” where you feel partially relaxed and partially stressed. You’re unable to fully let go and you miss out on the powerful nourishment that comes from fully relaxing.
It’s almost exactly like what happens when you eat while you’re stressed.
Your brain actually has a chemical that tells your body you are full, when your stomach reaches maximum satiation. But when we eat while stressed or distracted, your brain never actually releases that chemical that says I’m satisfied! We can stop eating now!. So we overeat and then feel not-so-good afterwards.
You think you’re relaxing, but you’re actually not.
Instead you’re doing the equivalent of eating while stressed — you’re relaxing while stressed — which is an oxymoron.
This means your body, mind and soul don’t feel fully “satisfied” in the relaxation department and that is why you don’t recover from your burnout.
If this tends to happen to you, I highly recommend working with a coach who can help you flip those beliefs that make you think you don’t deserve that time off or that make you worry. Maybe you need to hire people to support you that you trust to handle things while you’re off the grid every once in awhile.
Find the root of your worry and see what you can do to relieve some of the worry that prevents you from getting the full benefit of your time off.
Second, allow me to blow your mind a little bit: very often, when you think you need “relaxation”, what you actually need is more time to be creative.
It seems counterintuitive, like you’re just adding more work to your plate, but before you start yelling, Seriously Lisa, you want me to fill the only time I have off with MORE stuff to do????!!!, just know that’s not how creativity actually works.
Remember when you were a kid and had all the time in the world to do creative things that you loved to do? Remember how you could spend hours finger painting, playing soccer or writing a play? Remember how filled up, nourished, relaxed and happy you felt afterwards?
I used to spend hours creating elaborate “books” that I drew in, wrote elaborate, dramatic stories in and hand sewed the pages together. Or I wrote songs and played the piano. I always felt so relaxed and happy after I did that.
That’s because creativity uses a different part of your brain. This part of your brain, when stimulated by creative acts, actually releases feelings of relaxation and happiness in your body.
The best part is that these feelings of relaxation & happiness that come from being creative, then also create the state in your body that actually helps you become MORE creative.
Essentially, creativity not only cures burnout, it actually makes you more productive and even more creative. You get to relax AND increase the amazingness of the work you do in the world, all in one shot.
While I’m a huge fan of an all day binge-fest of Game of Thrones and I need daily walks in nature away from technology to stay sane, very often I feel MORE relaxed spending the “time off” that I have doing something creative like writing a song on the piano, learning crocheting or making someone a fabulous meal that I truly enjoy making.
As for my client, she tried this piece of homework I gave her.
Within a week she told me she felt more rested than she had in months.
So yeah, it works. I’ve assigned this homework to clients for 7 years and it always works.
Maybe what you need is not more “relaxation”.
Maybe what you need is to fill that “time off” with more creativity.
Not only will it relax you, it will open up your best ideas and make the time you do work more productive and enjoyable.
Did you like this post? If so, I would love to hear from you in the comments below. I read every one of your comments and love hearing what you think.