Burnout defence is a constant panic mode. You’ve gone through an intense period that has caused you to burn out or even to have a break down. Then, with the kick in the pants that you needed, you’ve gone into recovery mode, sheltering yourself from all forms of stress in order to recover. This can cause a problem, however, when recovery becomes a permanent lifestyle. Suddenly, the slightest stress becomes unbearable.
You find it difficult to understand why you feel so anxious and panicky over things that you used to find easy or okay – things like dealing with people, going back to your day job, or picking up where you left off on your artwork. This is a sign that you’ve moved from recovery to defence – with your body alert for anything that could cause a relapse.
The truth is that without stimulation, we are unable to function beyond a survival level. It’s like a muscle that becomes weak from under use after an injury. After a certain point, it needs to be exercised slowly and gently despite some initial pain.
Get up earlier
It may sound like an antithesis of what you feel you should be doing, but if you’ve fallen into a habit of sleeping longer you may also find yourself tired and lethargic no matter how much sleep you are getting. It could be that your body has formed a habit out of the defence mode you put it in when you burnt out. Who doesn’t enjoy having permission to sleep in and take it easy? Your body doesn’t want to give this up, so it creates a constant state of tiredness to keep you in this comforting new zone.
Try it. Get up a little earlier tomorrow – it doesn’t have to be much, you can start with baby steps and eventually work your way up to a full hour earlier.
Now use your extra time to do something energising that you enjoy. Ideally you want to use this time for your creative art, but you may not be ready yet. You could spend it on exercise, going for a walk, catching up on reading, having a bath, or simply getting ready for your day at a more leisurely pace, enjoying the extra time available to you before you start your day.
Remember to take notice of the light outside at this new time of the morning. How is it different to your usual waking time? It should help to make you feel fresher and more relaxed.
Develop a routine
Routines make us feel safe. They can also take a lot of the hard work and decisions out of everyday situations and leave you free to concentrate on new ideas and opportunities.
Push a bit more
If you’ve been too soft on yourself during your recovery, you may start finding you’re not able to concentrate for as long as you used to before burning out. You may feel unable to sit still, you want to stop and do something different when you start working on one thing, and you can’t find the motivation to start or continue a longer project.
Again, you need to gradually stretch your concentration levels, as you would a previously injured muscle. Start with warm up exercises in whatever media you use. Time yourself for ten or twenty minutes. Then do a longer exercise for thirty to forty minutes. After two or three days, try to reach for an hour of work. Then build this up gradually until you are working at a length of time that feels comfortable.
This article was first published on BellaOnline in March 2006. © Elsa Neal