Burnout is defined as “a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.” Warning signs and symptoms include fatigue, lowered immune system functioning, feelings of failure and self-doubt, isolation, procrastination, and taking frustrations out on others. (Helpguide.org)
I was thinking about this yesterday as I berated myself for not getting out of bed at the crack of stupid to get in an hour of swimming, dry off, change, and THEN do an hour of personal training. See, I had planned on doing that. I had also planned on swimming Wednesday morning AND doing spin class at night. I had planned on swimming Tuesday morning AND doing Group Core and TRX Flexibility after work. I bailed on swimming every morning, in favour of more sleep, and getting some household chores done. I haven't gone climbing yet, even though I just purchased a membership at the indoor climbing gym. Despite getting at least an hour of exercise in every day this week, I still feel like a failure because my intent was to do far more.
But is it a failure, really? How much can one person do? I've cut myself some slack on this, because I've also come across a few articles this week about over-training and exercise addiction, as well as blogger burnout. Must be a sign. Life is telling me something. There isn't enough time to do all the things we want to do, let alone what we have to do, and to ignore that is to risk burning out.
Let me clarify: I'm not burnt out, right now. Not like I was at the end of the summer, just before vacation. Work and life have returned to a normal routine. Sometimes in life, you gotta just push through, knowing that the to-do list is long because everything is coming all at once, but that there is an end in sight. I know the work cycles and peak times that are likely to lead to feeling burnt out. Understanding why you're burning out, though, doesn't make it any healthier. And it certainly doesn't mean I need to add to my stress by creating unreasonable or unrealistic expectations about what I can do. After all, the effects of chronic stress on weight loss - those elevated levels of cortisol and ghrelin - are well documented.
But, you know what else can lead to feeling burnt out? Obesity, itself. Being fat in a world that expects you to be thin, and the pursuit of weight loss; each one can be stressful. Each is exhausting in their own way. Each one wears you down. Messages are relentless, and not only from the media or companies who profit from us feeling bad about ourselves. That's not being negative; acknowledging that it's something fat people have to deal with takes away some of the power of the pressure. I just need to admit that it's tiring. It's tiring fighting to live a healthy and active lifestyle when it doesn't come naturally to you. It's tiring pointing out incidences of weight stigma and fat shame, to reject the anti-obesity messages if you choose to. If you choose not to, and you work to change yourself, it's tiring making time and finding money and expending energy to work out daily and prepare food and stay on top of the extra laundry created by sweating on a regular basis. It's worth it, but it's tiring.
Feel the Burn? Feel the Burnout.
And THAT is where I've been this week. Emotionally tired. I know I've hit the point in the Fitness-Fight cycle where I'm getting close to burnout when the thoughts creep in: "What's the point? I don't care. Is it really worth it?" I used to worry about these thoughts. Now, I can recognize that they are simply part of the cycle because in a long, drawn-out effort (which "lifetime" definitely is), you're bound to get tired of it at some point. You're bound to question whether it's worth the effort. I think I was stuck in that point of the cycle for about a decade, giving up and giving in because the fight to be healthy seemed too hard. In recognizing the cycle, I no longer even need to voice those thoughts out loud.
But I still need to deal with them.
So, that's why I'm letting go of the guilt for not swimming as often as I said I would this week. Let's call it what it is: burnout prevention. I caught up on sleep. I got some cleaning done. I had time with friends, to listen and to be heard. And because of it, the melancholy "not sure it's worth the effort, I want a cheeseburger" thoughts were pretty short-lived.
The good news is that there are things that we can all do when we recognize that we are feeling burnt out:
* Remember why you chose this path. Think about what has continued to inspire your passion and energy.
* Find out who your supports are, and if they're not positive or helpful, find some who are. Avoid negative or toxic people at this time, even if you can't remove them completely from your life.
* Slow down. Take a real break. Say no to things. Cut back whatever commitments and activities you can.
It's worth taking those breaks and stepping back, to get out of that burnout point as quickly as possible. Because then you can get back into the fight, or back into routine, feeling motivated and happy again. Ignoring the thoughts and feelings of wanting to give up, of "is it really worth all this effort?" can only lead to a longer climb out of that downward spiral.
For more information about recognizing signs, prevention, and recovering from burnout, check out HelpGuide.org. The page also breaks down the differences between stress and burnout. Worth a read, because we are all affected at some point in life (several, probably) by each.