Have you ever experienced burnout? 

The pandemic heralded in a new kind of leadership, one that could support folx to navigate fast and scary change. One that was softer, kinder and more empathetic. I saw it in my own role; suddenly the things that had made me quite different amongst my leadership peers, were then the skills that were the most needed. It was an extremely confirming moment for me, in that I truly felt how much the kind of leadership I brought was needed. 

It is still needed. Not just from me, but from all of us. I’ll share more on that soon, but now I want to talk about the by-product of that shift. 

Those of us who carried more of the leadership weight, and frankly emotional weight were often womxn and folx that weren’t so great at having boundaries to begin with. What that meant was that many of us were left depleted and exhausted and, of course, likely still being paid the same. 

I want to talk more about the insidious grip of burnout, so that we can get better at seeing the signs, so that we can hopefully choose to act to change something before we get there. 

Here are the 5 stages of burnout. They build up incrementally, but can also easily creep up without you even realising it. 

Stage 1: You feel like you need to prove yourself

At first this feels like being motivated to do great work, especially if you are starting in a new role. As long as the feeling continues, you set a precedent for overworking, and then keep giving more. 

IDK who needs to hear this but I will say it: you don’t have to know all of the things. Trust that you have been given your role for a reason, and even though you might not believe it yet, you need to trust the folks that do. 

At first, I get that you feel you have to prove yourself, but I would encourage you to start to breathe that out as soon as you can, because that desire truly can be the first stage of the slippery slope that is burnout. 

Stage 2: You begin to neglect your own needs

The slippery slope begins, and you start to make trade offs with your own needs vs others. This won’t feel like a big deal at first, sacrificing a trip to the gym here, getting up a little earlier there… but before you know it, it creeps.

At first it might help you feel calmer, and ahead of your work somehow, but it quickly tips into the realm of imbalance. There will always be more work to be done (for most of us), so get peaceful with giving enough but not too much. 

Stage 3: You step away from your values

This might start as a feeling like something is off. We might not know what our values are explicitly, but our nervous system will notice when we step away from them. Perhaps you make excuses for behaviour that you see happening (from you and others) and find a way to justify it. 

Each thing that you do that feels out of alignment with you adds up, and sometimes we can feel a sense of resentment about it. These are all the clues we need to make conscious so that we can do something about it. 

Stage 4: You withdraw from your social life

Another creeper I am afraid. At first withdrawing will feel good, likely because you will be creating some space for you – perhaps to do more of stage 1 haha. Regardless, once we start to say no, it becomes a habit that is hard to break out of. 

I coach a lot of people who are aching for company, but are struggling to make plans to leave the house. There’s a good reason for that; our brain. The brain is working hard all the time to keep us safe. Relieving pressure from other areas creates safety and control, seemingly at least. The challenge with the brain is that the excuses that it will give you can appear super legit. 

This is where self knowledge comes in. The better we know ourselves, the better we will be at knowing what we need and when we need it. That means that even if the brain doth protest, you can choose to override it and see your people regardless, and live in a way that meets all your needs. 

Stage 5: You feel depressed, lost and exhausted

The final stage takes a while to figure out when it hits us, because we are so overwhelmed and exhausted. We really might not know what is wrong at first and we might blame other things around us. The only remedy to this is to create some space, some time for you. If you can do that, you may then create the space to figure out what isn’t working for you. 

Creating space for you honestly supports you at all the stages. Once we have some time to hear ourselves, we can figure out what we need to do next. 

Resilience, done well, is about creating a toolkit of resources that you can use at the times you need them, whether that’s practices you do, people you see or places you go. 

To anyone who is feeling overwhelmed right now, do what you can to create a little space and see what comes up for you. 

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