How do you know if you’re just “tired a lot” or if you’re truly burning out and exhausted? What’s more, how do you know what to do about either? Being tired means that your physical energy is drained. If you prioritize your sleep every day for a week straight, you’ll quickly feel energized and excited to engage in your life. Being exhausted, on the other hand, is markedly different than being tired.
Being exhausted is more challenging to recover from because exhaustion is when your energy is drained on all fronts. Not only are you drained physically, but also emotionally, spiritually, creatively, intellectually. At this point, real restoration is in order. Why?
Because if you don't restore before you actually try to put forth the changes that you want to see in your life, this ends up being your eternal script:
In the morning: "Today I'm really gonna get my expletive together."
In the evening: "Tomorrow is the day for real."
You live in stuckness when you're burnt out. You can't gain real traction because your energy is constantly running thin. It's like continually trying to write with a a set of pens that are just about out of ink. Just to get yourself going, you have to get so hyped up (i.e. furiously scribble the pen on a scrap piece of paper until some ink shows up), then you get a little something done (maybe a sentence) and 10 seconds later you encounter the same problem. When you're burnt-out, all your energy goes towards trying to get started and then you have no energy left to actually do it.
Real restoration takes on many forms; one of those forms is going to therapy.
I notice many of my clients sometimes feel badly in a way for being in therapy, as though there's something that feels too indulgent about it. Being concerned about self-centeredness is certainly understandable and in a way admirable, we are living in the age of selfies, after all. But as anyone with a good therapist will tell you, therapy is the opposite of indulgent. Therapy is very real work. Therapy isn't the answer to everything, but it's a good place to start.
Regardless of how you choose to genuinely restore, your biggest challenge will be allowing yourself the time it takes to really step into holistic restoration (i.e. effective restoration).
It's just not practical to say, "I'm gonna start going to the gym everyday, eat only whole foods, be in bed by 10:30 every night, go to therapy and start painting again on the weekends (or whatever you love to do)."
NOT FAIR TO YOURSELF. NOT A GOOD CALL.
It sounds good when you list out all your ambitious, feel-good goals, but keep in mind, you're drained. You can't write a whole book with a pen that's running out of ink.
Here's the thing to remember: people who burn-out are people who like to do something 100% and really go for it. The hardest part about genuine restoration is that you don't have 100% to give to the effort of restoration. If you did, you wouldn't need to restore in the first place. In the beginning of the restoration process, you have to drop your baseline energy-output significantly in order to restore successfully. That looks like stopping and slowing down before you actually do anything. It looks like taking two personal days at work and sitting in your stuckness. It looks like getting for a babysitter a couple of days next week (yes, even if your child goes to daycare for part of the day) just so you can sit for a minute and collect yourself.
But I could also be doing X, Y and Z! That seems like a waste, a pity party, I'm not that kind of person. I want an action plan.
Feeling is an action.
It's an action that you can't see and don't get any acknowledgement for, but it's still an action. Anyone who has genuinely restored will tell you that the restoration was prefaced by a period of emptiness in which they allowed themselves to feel the disconnectedness and 'blah-ness' of their life. It's not that your life is necessarily bleak, it's just that you're going through the motions when you're burnt-out so it feels bleak. That empty feeling can be a good thing if you recognize it for what it is, which is a sign from life that's telling you: you're ready for the next phase of your life.
You cannot genuinely move through something that you don't allow yourself to feel, which is why you have to process the empty feeling before you restore. If you're finding it difficult to do that alone, consider reaching out to someone you trust and talking about how you’re feeling. Go ahead and ask for a little help if you need some. Many people wear their exhaustion like a badge of honor, but it’s time to find a new badge of honor. Consider feeling reconnected to your life as your new badge of honor. After all, genuine connection is the most restorative endeavor of all.