Firstly, I’d like to give a brief definition of burnout: Burnout is a result of chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It can be characterised by feelings of depletion and exhaustion, feeling distanced from your work or even feeling negative and cynical about your work. It can start from regular work-place stresses that mount up and lead to chronic stress. It can feel overwhelming and affect your life in many ways beyond the workplace. Here is how it happened to me.
I was a year into teaching yoga. I was just making the transition into teaching full time after the hustle of trying to get regular classes at studios that wanted their teachers to have 3-5 years of experience first (that age old dilemma). I’d been teaching community classes and 1-2-1 private clients until then, and really enjoying it, but I believed the idea that if I wanted to progress as a teacher I’d have to start teaching in studios (I know this isn’t true now but with very little guidance and no mentor I took what little advice I got as gospel). So here I am; new studio classes, full of beans, raring to go and excited to finally have enough classes to make teaching full time a viable option, living in London. And at first it was exciting. The studio environment, new people, new ways of teaching and for the first time in my short teaching career, enough classes to think about getting rid of that hustle mindset and ‘lack’ mentality. This is what is often known as the honeymoon phase of the burnout cycle- when things are going great, you’re excited and feel hopeful for your future in whatever industry you’re in.
I wasn’t here for long before it started to crumble. I regularly ignored the early warning signs of burnout, the tiredness, the lack of enthusiasm, the procrastination. I hadn’t managed to leave this hustle mindset behind and so I was working a lot! I was regularly teaching 21 classes a week as well as dealing with all the other parts of self-employed life; training, taxes, admin, marketing etc. Now for some of you 21 yoga classes a week won’t sound like much, but let me tell you; teaching in London and often traveling 1hour to get to the classes plus the sheer energy needed to maintain focus and keep people engaged for an hour each time is a lot! I was easily racking up a 50-60 active hour week with maybe one day off. It was completely unsustainable but I kept pushing because as a self-employed person I received no sick pay or holiday pay and I was pretty terrified that if something happened and I had to stop working, I’d need a safety net of savings.
Ironically something did happen- stress became chronic stress and then became burnout. Now I’m not claiming that all of this came from my own work ethic because the reality is that burnout stems from a broken system. A system that encourages both self-employed and employed people to grind until they have nothing left to give because their value only comes from how productive they are. However, with the right education and new strong boundaries we can work to overcome our environment to some degree here.
For me, I slid easily down that slippery slope and right into burnout. It started out as not having much free time to spend with friends and family or to rest and play. Those times that we all really need, as humans and not machines, to offload that stress and realise that we are more than our productivity levels.
That stress grew and grew until I became tired, very tired, all the time. I would procrastinate to avoid that overwhelming feeling of working and I felt completely stuck. I had zero creativity and I couldn’t see a way past how I was working and the way my life had turned out. And then I became sick, feeling run down and losing my voice a couple of times before I finally listened to my body enough to take a break. Until this point, I’d experienced the whole burnout checklist: fatigue, check. Moody and irritable, check. Resentful and loss of hope, check. Inability to focus and procrastinating queen, check. Overwhelmed and riddled with self-doubt, check. The list went on and if left unchecked this type of burnout can lead to something known as habitual burnout. This is often experienced as chronic sadness, chronic mental and physical fatigue as well as depression.
For me, there wasn’t really a big moment where I realised, I was burnt out. That came much later. In the early stages of recovery, it was very much trial and error. Figuring out what work life balance felt like, how to set boundaries and create rituals that helped me separate work stress from home life. Most importantly, figuring out a way to really listen to my body’s warning signs and honour them. Over time, gradually I started to put the work in (and the rest in) to overcome burnout.
I’ll be writing a little more soon about how I overcame burnout and how yoga and yoga nidra really helped in part 2 of this blog, but until then if you’ve experienced burnout or feel like maybe you’re on the edge then get in touch and keep your eyes peeled for part 2.