Early september 2019, it finally happened.
I had been ignoring the warning signs for years.
Instead of pacing myself for the marathon which is a career, I sprinted, running ever faster, harder, better… only to fall on my face.
I had burned out.
As stated in the first post of this series, these are things which helped ME. This blog post is not a replacement for seeking professional help.
This week I will talk about one of the first tasks I was given by my psychologist in order to get back on my feet.
Recharging the batteries
Ever noticed how rechargeable batteries seem to regenerate a little bit after not using them a while? You always seem to be able to press out a last bit of power, even when you know the batteries are fully spent. The last weeks before the crash felt exactly like that… and so did the first weeks of being at home.
While you might be able to get a little energy out of them, those batteries will never fully recharge by themselves. Actions need to be taken to energize them again… and it’s not that different for humans. Unfortunately, for humans, it’s not as simple as plugging yourself into a charging station.
Remove the stressors
Doctors orders: the first step is to immediately remove the stressors from your life.
Stressors = Energy Consuming Factors
Work, by its very nature, consumes energy. While I love my job, as emphasised by the fact I am back at the same company after this period, it is still stressful. My main problem was I chose not to stop working. I was spending many hours after work investigating the latest Java features or a new architectural pattern. Going to meetups, writing blogs, I wanted to do it all.
So, in order to recover, I forced myself to do none of it. I closed my laptop and left it to gather dust in the corner.
I removed my work e-mail from my phone and uninstalled everything related to work from my home pc.
While working on myself, I needed programming and work to not exist for a while.
While working on myself, I needed programming and work to not exist for a while
As a developer who wants to keep up to date, I check my Twitter-feed quite often. There are many people I follow on Twitter who I admire.
Popular conference speakers, bloggers, teachers… and looking back, I realize I compared myself to them too much… all of them.
I wanted to be like them in my own way. This left me in an endless whirlwind of creative ideas and new endeavours I would put my energy into.
Energy I ultimately didn’t have.
I compared myself to (popular conference speakers, bloggers, teachers, …) too much
Needless to say, I did not have a healthy relationship with Twitter and Social Media as a whole. So at the very start of being home, I left Twitter. Not in an actual sense, I kept my account, but I logged out and didn’t check the platform for several months. As time grew, I realized that not having the constant influx of other people’s success stories and amazing adventures is quite liberating.
These were my two main stressors but not the only ones. Taking away work from the equation is an emergency action, not a permanent one. If you can permanently remove any of your stressors, kudos! Unfortunately, going through life without a job tends to be difficult for the average person. But just like you don’t fix a sink while the water is running, it is required to remove stressors to help the recovery process.
Enable the Boosters!
With stressors mostly gone, you got a lot of free time on your hands. Time best spent doing things you love, things which replenish that energy. This is the point where a lot of people feel like a fraud. You are sick, but instead of taking some pills and laying in bed coughing… the only remedy is having fun and relaxing.
Having fun and relaxing can be surprisingly difficult sometimes, especially if you have been “ON” for an unhealthy period of time. If there would be a relax-button, I hope I would have found it by now.
What did help, and is recommended by psychologists, is to make a list of your boosters. A list of your favorite activities, activities which provide you energy.
It could be anything, even things which you have never done before.
Boosters = Energy Providing Factors
Here is an excerpt of my list:
- A Picnic
- Listening to a podcast
- Playing Guitar
- Cuddle with <3
- Playing a board game
- Throwing Axes
- Getting a drink with friends
Whenever I am having a bad day, I look back at that list and just pick something… anything. The list essentially eliminates the hurdle of thinking about what you “could do to relax”.
When you are having a bad day, it’s sometimes difficult to break out of the negative spiral of thought. Having this list still helps me a great deal, even when I’m just bored, to find something which will replenish my energy. You know, instead of binge watching another Netflix series, or scrolling for memes…
And… turns out throwing axes is a lot of fun!
Having a clear view on Stressors and Boosters in your life can help keep you energized. It helped me then and those lists still help me now to keep myself in check. If I would have had these simple lists before and had I taken the time to use them as a guide, I believe I wouldn’t have ended up where I did.
This leaves me to question you, whoever is persistent enough to reach the end of this post: Have you ever taken a moment to list your own Stressors and Boosters?
You don’t have to wait until your energy is fully depleted to check-up on yourself. Take the time to reflect and make corrections in your life, before you push yourself too far and life forces you to do so.
In the next post, I will write about changes I made to my weekly schedule to keep myself balanced. If you have anything else burnout-related you would like me to talk about, leave a note in the comments or send me a tweet!
Take care out there and see you soon!