How I Used Mindfulness To Recover from Burnout

Recent paintings

I’m not sure I ever felt burnout until Fall 2020. It was an unpleasant experience I hope I never experience again. I believe the first (mild) signs of distress started January 2020 (I experienced a lot of emotional stress a couple months before the pandemic) and when the pandemic began it intensified some of the distress. However, I kept “going” and focused on wrapping up the spring semester in one piece. Once the summer began, I continued with the same fast pace of work – lots of meetings, navigating the transition to online, lots of emails, and what seemed to be endless course prep for the summer and fall 2020! 

I knew I needed to slow down and yet I wasn’t sure how. So, I decided to turn inward to connect with what was happening within me. I tapped into my mindfulness practice to help me work through difficult times and emotions. Here’s how my mindfulness and meditation practices helped me work through burnout:

  • I was able to recognize what I was feeling, and I tried to label the emotions
  • I paused to pay attention to what the emotions were trying to tell me. I often asked myself “what do you need in this moment?”
  • I gave myself permission to feel what I was experiencing, even when it was difficult to do so
  • I identified where the distress was manifesting in my body and made note of what was happening (physically) as I processed emotions

I’ll share three other things I did to help me work through burnout:

  • I talked with my counselor about what I was experiencing: I have a great relationship with my counselor and felt comfortable reaching out to ask if we could increase the number of sessions each month. I was upfront and honest about what I was experiencing and let my counselor know how I believed she could support me.
  • I reconnected with the hobbies and activities that brought me joy: Since the pandemic made it impossible to go to a yoga studio (at least…I was not risking it), I decided to try virtual classes (this will be a separate blog post because I have some thoughts on this!) and did my own home practice when I felt motivated to do so. I also engaged in hobbies that I had not done for many years. I picked up painting (check the pic at the top of this post) and crafting again. I also found incredible joy walking around neighborhoods to find Little Free Libraries! I got outside for long walks, when possible, with my pup and I gave myself permission to be very flexible with my self-care practices! I changed things up very often and allowed myself to “go with the flow” most days. It seemed like each week I had to adjust my self-care practices and that seemed to work very well for me.
  • I set boundaries with others and with myself: At work, I hit pause on my research (I wrapped up projects and didn’t take on anything new) and any service-related activities. I also said no to any requests that were outside of my immediate work responsibilities. I focused whatever energy I had on course prep, teaching, and maintaining contact with students. In addition, I tried to be more intentional about who I communicated with and who I turned to for processing and reassurance. I realized that I needed to set these boundaries for my mental health and overall wellbeing.

These are just a few things that helped me work through burnout. Once I learned to accept that my self-care practices needed to change and that it was okay to slow down, I started to feel some relief. I also found ways to slowly re-engage at work at my own pace (more on that in an upcoming blog).

Have you experienced burnout? If so, how did you know it was burnout?

What did you find most helpful?

What coping skills did you use?

~ Karisse

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