Burnout Recovery: A Personal Journey

Jan 12, 2011, Written by Sue Miley

 

Burnout Recovery takes family
Traveling the Path of Recovery!

When I talk to clients and they tell me they are working 50, 60, 70 hours per week I start to feel a tightness in my chest.  My immediate thought, that I lock into my mind and don’t let seep through my lips, is “You need to stop that NOW.  Do not pass go, do not collect $200.”

But I remember my 60-70 hour weeks and I would have responded to such a directive with:

  • “You don’t understand, no one else can do what I can.”
  • “It is just for now, once X, Y, and Z happens, then I can cut back.”
  • “I love my work…really…I want to be here.”

or, if burnout has already set in:

  • “I wish I could stop, but everything will fall apart if I do.”
  • “I can’t find anyone else that is competent or can get things done around here.”
  • “I know I need to stop, but I can’t figure out how!”

If We Could Just Listen to Others, The Pain We Could Avoid

There are many things, from childhood throughout life, that others try to lovingly warn us about.  They don’t want us to experience the pain that they did.  Or, they just can see it coming.

For me, that was burnout.  If you are reading this, for you, it may be that you also ignored loving friends putting their 2 cents in where you didn’t think it belonged.

It’s a painful lesson to learn the hard way, but sometimes it is the only way to learn.

So, after about 10 years of straight 60-70 hour work weeks, simultaneously earning an MBA and giving birth to three children (two of which are twins), my battery ran out.  Actually, I think it just exploded.

I was officially burned out.  And although if you read my post Warning: Burnout Ahead, you know I don’t believe that our rechargeable battery ever completely recharges after we have let it run completely out, I do believe we can come back to life.

I did.

It took time, it took rest, it took realignment.

Here is my summary of what worked the best.  These were my steps to burnout recovery:

  1.  Leave the all consuming job or make a fundamental, radical, and immediate change to reduce the stress and/or hours. You see, burnout isn’t about just working too many hours.  It is a combination of sustaining negative stress for a really long time.  When we have work that keeps us going for a decade of hours upon hours, and we add on to it the stress of natural business cycles, plus the stress of personal seasons, it can result in too much stress for too long (aka burnout!).

The only way to start the burnout recovery process is to stop the erosion of the life being literally sucked from you.  (I know I am a bit dramatic about this topic!)

In hindsight, the job that no one but me could do, the projects that were hanging in the balance, the people who I was leading, all survived without me.  Imagine that.

  1.  Let yourself sleep/rest. Personally, I don’t think there is any way around it.  Once you stop.  Once your body that is purely running on momentum and adrenaline, stops the all consuming stress or work, it is depleted.

I slept away almost 52 weekends.

Learned from a Pro!

Literally, every weekend after I stopped the stress, I just wanted to sleep.  I thought I was depressed.  I thought I was sick.  Anemic or something.

I was tired.

Slowly I started wanting to do things on the weekend again.  But, it took more time than, at the time, I could have imagined.

  1.  Re-assess and re-align your values. For me, becoming a Christian pushed for significant changes in my life.  Some of you may already be Christians.   Looking back, work had become an idol in my life.  My identity came from my career and accomplishments.

At this point I had an ever patient husband and three less patient small children.  Not that family should be idols either, but they should be up near the top of the list.

I had to look at my relationship with God.  I had to realign my relationships with my family.

Once I did a detailed inventory of my values and assessed my life in accordance with these values, big changes were ahead.

But, I have been thoroughly shown and now have hindsight, that once we align our values with God’s view, our stress is significantly reduced and we begin to rejuvenate in spirit and body

  1.  Pray. In all honestly, it comes down to the fact that we truly need God to recharge our batteries.  For some of us hardheaded ones, we have to totally deplete our natural resources before we acknowledge our dependence on God as the one and only energy source!

At times I was on my knees in prayer.

I prayed about my values.  I asked God if I would ever have the energy to be of any use to Him and His Kingdom.

I didn’t want to work a million hours anymore!

I wasn’t passionate about my job (it wasn’t 60-70 hours a week, but it wasn’t where God wanted me either.)

I prayed for passion….

God didn’t want me to replace Him with another idol.

I stayed in prayer (and slept) for that entire year.

  1.  Seek God. I was praying, but I was praying from my bed.  It wasn’t until I started combining my prayer with the study of scripture, sought a church community, and offered my time and attention to serving, that I began to have energy again.  I put God first in everything.  The background on my phone at the time was Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

I wanted to go back to school and become a Christian counselor, a 180 degree change from workaholic business person.  To some that may seem like another exhausting, stressful journey.  But, to me, it was aligned with my values, I prayed about it for two years, and God started to open doors.  A calling was born!

It has actually been about 10 years since this burnout RECOVERY began.  I still don’t let myself work as a counselor and coach full-time (Yay!) but I am getting close.  My kids are teenagers and that season is changing.  I have more time and God is leading me with projects and purpose.

Our Perception of Recovery May Take a Little Longer

But, even as recently as last year, I would make comments that I still only have about 50% of my old stamina and effectiveness.  That may be my warped perception though.

Others in my life see me as full throttle.  I have my practice, I spend much time with my family, and have been very intwined in serving, hosting and participating in events, small groups, and bible study in our community.

Leading Life by Design Groups

Too me it only feels like half time because doing life the way God calls us individually isn’t heavy, exhausting or stressful.  (as stressful!)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  Matthew 11:28-29

If like me, you feel burned-out and finished, turn to our God of restoration and life.

A Personal Journey of Burnout Recovery

This is not a clinical process for the recovery from burnout, it is just my experience.  One I want to share, in case you were like me and didn’t heed the warning signs and loving voices who tried to catch you before you fell into the fullness of complete burnout.

Please share with us your experience.

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This is the third post in a series on burnout.  I think it is a really important issue with small business owners.  I hope you will also check out the rest of the series:

Warning: Burnout Ahead

Burnout Prevention:  4 Steps To Keeping Stress Away

Burnout:  A Personal Journey to Recovery

New Life:  This Side of Burnout

Hopefully, you can start here, and catch burn-out before it begins!

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. AvatarHans Schoendorfer says

    Thank you for your excellent article on your personal journey of recovery. I found it encouraging.

    I too hung onto my job too long and burned out. For me, it was not so much the amount of work (50 hours/week) but the shock of discovery that the work I was expected to do actually had zero support in a distant head office. All that effort and pride in craftsmanship lost all meaning and “I” lost my purpose. The latter was my fault -I believed my worth was in what I did. No purpose=no worth! Not true but truly believed at that time.

    I am in month 4 of recovery and with the help of medication for depression and some outstanding learning with a psychologist, I get through my days of recovery. Part of my process was to retire early as I was able to afford that. Some days, now weeks I would say, I am happy for the first time in years. And then I have a week of discouragement. Every time I feel better I catch myself drifting back toward the working life and then in the down week I lose traction. I fear one dies earlier if one’s brain is not fully used. One impactful idea in your article is that one recovers IN TIME and it is okay not to be back at the first opportunity, if at all.

    I am not a practicing Christian as my scientific bent has always prevented true faith. I do fine mindfulness in the Buddhist sense to be of some help. Is it okay to be a skeptical Christian to start, I wonder?

    HS

    • AvatarS_Miley says

      Hi Hans,

      I am glad you have been able to get help in your recovery. And yes, I totally believe it is okay to start skeptical….I started out jewish and found Jesus through searching for a better way. He just wants us to look for Him and then He will feel in the gaps of our unbelief, or skepticism. I just kept praying for God to reveal Himself and show me the way. He is so faithful!

      Thanks for your feedback and for visiting!

  2. AvatarDonna Bengert says

    Just found your site, it is awesome. Read the burnout articles and relate to them. I have owned and operated a photocopy graphic design store now for 14 years and find I have lost my passion. I welcome new projects coming in but find my energy levels are not the same to handle them. I get as much rest as I can as I am also under great financial stress and have been for quite a while. It is taking it toll on me. Dangerous stress levels. Tried hiring a fitness coach, but can’t even find the time to exercise. There just is not enough of me left at the end of the day. Recharging the battery – just does not seem to recharge fully anymore like I used to. I have recognized this and have been asking God what do I do?

  3. AvatarShaheera says

    Dear Sue Miley

    Hi, thank you for sharing your thoughts.
    I found your article very encouraging for me.
    As a health professional, I was madly in career persuit, though opportunities were not very frequent in my path still I made it to as far as I could.
    Reading your article reduced my guilt of not having passion for my work any more, after giving countless years to my work.
    May be I will make a come back and may be at my own terms.

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Sue Miley

Sue Miley MBA, MA, LPC helps small business owners build successful businesses on a foundation of Christian values. After 20 years in business, and 10 years as a Christian counselor, Sue uses a combination of faith, business and psychology to help clients in business and in life.