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Dealing with Burnout + Prioritising Wellness

Updated: Jan 8

Last year was an incredible year for Skin Ritual. We grew significantly, and hit a lot of milestones that had been a long time coming. The growth was amazing, and it felt like finally, I was reaching a place I had wanted to get to for so long.

The thing with growth though, is that it tends to come with a lot of stress - something I didn't fully appreciate until it was happening. I neglected to take care of myself through what was a very demanding year, and the result was ending 2023 in a state of burnout.

I have written about this experience in the hopes that it will nudge someone else to reflect on their own self-care and hopefully help others avoid the experience I had - or at the very least, make them feel less alone if they have or are experiencing the same thing.

I didn’t realise what was going on for a while; I couldn’t understand why I was feeling the way I did. I’d sit down at my laptop and feel totally incapable of concentrating for any length of time. I felt lethargic and sluggish despite living a pretty healthy lifestyle that should have left me feeling energised. I found myself increasingly negative, more irritable, and less patient with those around me.

I truly felt like I was being lazy. I felt I wasn't working enough, and when I was working, I wasn't as productive or efficient as I should be. It was frustrating and I felt increasingly unproductive despite my best efforts to be so.

Not only that, but I was beginning to feel the physical manifestations of burnout too (yep, turns out this is a part of burnout too!). I was more easily injured during exercise and performed worse. My sciatica came back. I had indigestion and bloating, even though I normally have a very healthy gut. I got sick more often. I couldn’t sleep, despite normally being a good sleeper. I felt like mentally and physically, my body was failing me.

At some point it occurred to me that perhaps, the stress I was under was related to the state I was in. I'd heard of burnout before and experienced it to varying degrees before. But my immediate reaction to that idea was, “but I’m not working hard enough to get burnout? I’m not stressed enough to get burnout?” 

The day after that revelation, I confessed to a friend how I was feeling - and he told me he’d experienced the exact same thing in his work (law), and friends of his had too. Apparently burnout is very common in law (and healthcare, of course).

I told him I felt like my work didn’t warrant burnout and he reassured me, “that's how everyone feels, you will never feel like you work enough to warrant it and by the time you do you’ll be in a pretty bad way, you just have to ignore that thought”.

I think self-assessing stress levels is very difficult for most people. Many times at the clinic, I've asked clients about their stress levels, to which they might respond "moderate" - and then recount to me their objectively highly stressful lifestyle and I mentally adjust their score to "very stressed".

This is what I've learned about burnout: you may never feel like it's justified/warranted/earned. That was something that was really helpful for me to realise.

The other thing with burnout is that it creeps up on you. You're fine, until you're not.

Sure now of what I was experiencing, I of course began researching what exactly burnout is on a mechanical/chemical level, and how to effectively recover from it.

Most articles and papers note that the time it takes for your body to recover from burnout is usually 3 months to a year.

There are a lot of different recommendations for how to recover, these are some of the ones I found:

  • Alert your support system: communicate where you are at with your friends, family, partner, even colleagues or manager/employer if you feel comfortable. If the people around you are aware of how you are feeling, they can help you.

  • Identify your major sources of stress: if you can at all remove or reduce these, do so - if not (and that will be the case for a lot of people), even just identifying the major sources of your stress can be helpful mentally.

  • If you feel overwhelmed, zoom in: sometimes when the bigger picture just feels like too much, it helps to zoom in on small, achievable things. Set easy task and achievable small goals that you can check off. This will give you a small sense of accomplishment and help to reduce feelings of overwhelm and hopelessness.

  • If you have access to a therapist, go: sometimes we need a little outside assistance to ease the load of everyday life. I didn't see a therapist for my 2023 burnout but I have seen therapists here and there at points in my life and found them to be very helpful. Sometimes all you need is 1-2 sessions to give you a different perspective on your problem.

  • Prioritise your wellness, in any way you can - no matter how small: this might be as simple as setting a goal to drink 2-3 litres of water each day. Buy a bottle the size of the amount you want to drink each day, fill it up in the morning, and all you have to do is empty it by the end of the day. If possible, something I found very helpful was going outside for a walk for 30 minutes each day, but figure out what will work for you in your current situation.

  • Short frequent breaks are more effective than long holidays in reducing burnout: If you are working in New Zealand, you should be entitled to four weeks of paid leave every year. I know many people use up two of those weeks over the Christmas/New Year break, but that still leaves two weeks remaining. Plan ahead, and book regular mini breaks - time them with public holidays so you can turn a 3 day weekend into a 4-5 day break.

  • If you can, book an appointment with your GP: explain that you are feeling run down, and you'd like to do some basic blood tests to check that you have no obvious deficiencies. You may have to pay extra to test for things like vitamin D (recommended), but a lot of things (like iron deficiency) are funded. You may discover that some basic supplementation for a deficiency can improve your wellbeing.

Everybody has different resources available to them, and different needs - so burnout recovery will look different depending on the person. For me though, these are the things that have helped me the most:

  • Maintaining a consistent sleep pattern (as much as possible) to support hormone balance, energy levels, circadian rhythm and mood balance

  • 30 minute outdoor walk first thing when I wake up (the UV index is usually low until 9:30/10am, so I don't wear sunscreen - just a wide-brim hat)

  • hydrogen water before breakfast for antioxidant intake, reducing systemic inflammation, reducing gut inflammation, supporting gut biome

  • protein-rich savoury breakfast (I just have 3 eggs, every day - I boil them, you can do whatever you want!).

  • Electrolytes daily (especially helpful in summer!)

  • Reducing screen time (I still use Instagram/TikTok, but I'm mindful of when I use them and how long for)

  • If I want to eat sugary foods (my #1 vice), I first eat fibre to reduce blood sugar spiking

  • Magnesium L-Threonate (Cymbiotika) every night before bed

Here’s the thing - if you don’t make time for rest, your body will force you to make time. And by that time, you’ll already be in a less than ideal state. This was my experience, but it is by no means a rare one. 

Every other day on social media I see other small business owners jokingly post about how many meltdowns they had this week. How many times they cried in their cars or had insomnia, or considered quitting. It’s so normalised to be in an unsustainable state of stress. 

I got to the end of 2023 and decided I wasn’t going to repeat this mistake. This year I will prioritise my health, mentally and physically - and I hope I can encourage you to do the same. 

As a part of this, I will be sharing more “holistic”content - ways to manage stress, and other wellness tips that I find helpful and hope you will too. 

After all - we only get one body, we only get one life - let’s look after it. 

Tools + Resources:

To begin your journey towards burnout recovery, take this scientifically validated burnout test to see where you lie.

  • Scores < 21 indicate low levels of burnout

  • Scores 22- 43 indicate medium levels of burnout

  • Scores > 44 indicate higher levels of burnout

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