Three Critical Steps to Avoid Total Burnout

Most people don't realize they are burned out until something detrimental happens. They get fired, they end of in the ER, or even worse, become someone they don't even recognize. 

Are you feeling: Overwhelm. Fatigue. Loss of Desire. Grouchy. Avoidance. Heightened Emotions. Loss of sleep. Disconnected. 

If these are common daily sensations you have, they are signs that you are on route to burn out. Especially, if you have been feeling this way for a while. Your body and mind are trying to tell you to slow down, reset, and recharge.

In know you are asking, "How can I when I have so much I am responsible for?"  When you are capable or conditioned yourself to perform under pressure, it is really hard to realize you have surpassed your limits and have overextended yourself. In this past year of over-extending yourself to "survive", feeling this way may have become "the norm", it's hard to see the dysfunctional way you are showing up in it all.

Here's the deal, just because you can, doesn't mean you should. I say this with arms wide open and lots of love, especially if you are an overachieving people pleaser. These are the words I had to repeat to myself when I got carried away with over-extending myself. It led to one health crisis after another because I would not listen to my body, and subconscious telling me to stop saying Yes to things that would put me in overwhelm. I was more afraid of being judged for not being able to do something, than I was for saying yes to something I knew I didn't have the time for.

Just because I can, doesn't mean I should. Saying this to myself gave me permission to pause and leverage the steps I share with you below. 

(Feel free to download the image above and share it, if you need it as a reminder to filter what you are saying yes to. Tag @kareenwalsh on instagram)

I share this mantra with you because I have had multiple calls with clients this week on the verge of a breakdown and uncertain on how to get out of their pressurized circumstance of over-extending themselves and afraid to ask for the help they need. They are blinded by all the responsibilities they have and their integrity to follow through on what they said they would accomplish, the result of pushing so hard is now affecting their health. They are also caught in an internal dialogue that if they say something to their bosses, clients, and/or team, they will look weak and unable to perform. They will be judged and not called upon again. All of which is not true. The strongest among us, generally suffer the most on the inside if they don't take the time to release and relax.

Note to leaders: Please make sure to share the steps below with your strongest team members who always step in to assist and make sure they are doing it in an aligned way. The MVP of your team might need permission to pause and check in to make sure they are not on the verge of burnout. If they haven't taken a vacation or time off for more than 4 days straight, make it mandatory to book something in the next 6 weeks. Trust me, they need it.

Twice this past week, I received a crying call from two different badass fierce women that shared all they wanted to do was quit, run, and hide from the world for a while. For one, the tears were flowing from the disappointment of being so exhausted that she could not follow through on all she had said yes to. The other was trying to navigate a way out that was controlled risk taking to make sure whatever she chose next was the right move. Both needed help. Both needed permission to pursue other options. Both needed to feel comforted and empowered to make their next move. Both wanted to make sure they were not alone on their journey.

When my clients approach me with the need to change things up and choose another direction, I hold space for them to navigate the best next step for them to take, so it doesn't create more overwhelm and helps them realize they are in control of what feels uncontrollable. I thought you might benefit from this too, in case you are feeling this way but don't know how to approach the healthiest way to move through it.

When someone comes to me with burn out energy and questions how they can change things up right now, here are some of the common questions they ask:

  • How can I ask for time when I already said yes to the assignment due date?
  • How can I put a pause on the life I have built without burning all my bridges and feeling ashamed that I couldn't hack it?
  • If I quit right now, what will it do to my career reputation?

Instead of working through hypothetical questions, I like to jump into reality so we can make a clear next step that helps you move through the overwhelm and into action. Here are the steps for you to leverage in order to avoid burn out. 

Three Critical Steps to Avoid Total Burn Out

Step 1 - Purge - List out all that is on your plate

We can not navigate what to do next, if we don't have a clear picture of where you are now. So first step is to purge all the things out of your head and onto paper. By doing this, you realize where the overwhelm is coming from and how best to delegate, prioritize, or simply stop doing. I know this sounds like yet another task to add to your plate, but if you do this before anything else, you will start to feel better about what choices you need to make right now to reduce your stress and start taking aligned action.

Personally, I like to list things in a spreadsheet which each activity is it's own row so I can organize and sort it with ease once it's all out of my head. Notebooks and large post it's work too. Use what you are most comfortable with! Just get it out of your system.

Step 2 - Assess what's possible

Here are some key Questions I ask to assess where my clients are on their path to burn out and navigate what is possible:

  • When you look at what you have on your list, what can be delegated, or simply postponed or cancelled to create more space and less stress on what you have to accomplish? (Use a D for Delegate, P for Postpone, C for Cancel next to your listed item.)
  • Have you asked for help from your team or management to take on some of the tasks, or prioritize what needs to be done?
  • What would it feel like to say NO to the next request that comes your way?

Now that they are categorized, you can group them and start deciding on what you need to do next.

If you are like me, you have high integrity and take responsibility seriously. Meaning, when you say yes to something, you follow through. If you are a people-pleaser on top of that, you can get into a lot of trouble saying YES because you are capable, and also forget in the moment of that Yes, what else you already said yes to. This is where you need guardrails, boundaries, a graceful NO! (Check out my short coaching video on saying Yes, with a Request.) The only way to way to build up this muscle, is to know you capacity for all the things you WANT to do, and see where the things you are obligated to do fit into that. 

Step 3 - Know Your True Capacity

This is a bit tricky, especially if you are addicted to overextending yourself and have not taken the time to assess what time you truly want to commit to the demands of others, and the time needed for self-care, relationships, creating new experiences, and living the life you have earned. What would your boundaries be if you incorporated all areas of your life into your capacity plan.

Here's how:

  1. How many hours do you need to sleep a night to feel recharged? (6-8 is the average amount, in case you don't know, start there.)
  2. How many hours are up obligated by your employment agreement to work per day/per week? If you run your own business, how many hours do you want to work a day? (suggestion, do not make it more than 8, if you want to have a life outside of work.)
  3. How many hours do you want for your primary relationship? Your family? Your Friends?
  4. How many hours do you want devoted to self care? 
  5. How many hours do you want a day to be open to opportunity, something to learn, do nothing, flexible time?
  6. How often do you want to take time off and for how long?

Now that you have your ideal day mapped out with time blocks, looking at your list of to dos, what is your true capacity to get it all done? Somethings got to give, and trust me it can not be sleep, self care, and your relationships. You can find ways to do your work-life better that aligns with the life you are trying to build. You deserve a more integrated lifestyle. It's time to get resourceful. 

With this new found clarity of what you have on your plate, what is possible to make it different and where you want to be spending your time, you should now feel a little more organized in your overwhelm to take aligned action. Your first point of action should be to plan your next vacation/time off.

It should be easier to articulate to those who have demands of you what is possible on a given day, week, month or even within the year. You should have blocked times on your calendar for nothingness/recharging events, so it can be easier to step into the more challenging times where you have to fire on all cylinders. The goal is not to be firing on all cylinders at all times 365 days a year. As much as we want to be recognized for our achievements, we should also be recognized for the way we take care of ourselves to accomplish them. To me, this is what a high performance life demands. Do not neglect the messages from your body and your subconscious telling you that it can be different. Trust me, it can be better, you just have to decide to act with your best interest first. 

If you are looking for more tips or support on how to up-level your career life, check out my book Be A Badass: Six Tools to Up Level Your Life and learn more about my journey of going from people pleaser to career development leader. 


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