Sunset at Secret Cove, Sunshine Coast, BC
I'm prone to spreading myself too thin & burning out. I tend to feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility for everything in my life, all the time. I take on a lot, 'I get it done,' 'I feel accomplished' but there's very little left of myself for me at the end of it all. I have a good amount of stuff on my plate, with a healthy awareness of it, and I have learned to pace myself over the years, to disconnect & fuel-up along the way. But this time something was different.
Side Note #1: By ‘getting it done' I mean, managing to complete hundreds of small to large tasks over the course of days/weeks/months, typically linked with pressure (on myself) & short-timelines, amongst a series of regular interruptions & endless high-priority distractions, while keeping a close eye on all parts of my work & personal life (which is comparable to circus-level plate-spinning, just praying that few-to-no plates are ignored to the point of smashing to the ground, gulp).
Side Note #2: By ‘feeling accomplished’ I mean celebrating by doing a momentary 'Mary Katherine Gallagher / Superstar Pose' then hoping to collapse into a deep coma-like nap for 3 days. Yes, it’s all very graceful feeling! #notsomuch
MY RITUALS + PRESCRIPTION TO MAINTAIN A BUSY LIFE
I've adopted an extreme practice of "Lazy Sundays" where nothing but pj's or onesies are worn around the house after a busy week of work/school/business/activities/errands (We have non-stop long + full days from Mon through Sat).
I book "personal time-outs" at least 2 evenings per week where the dishes & lunches get left until morning and I either go to bed at the same time my son (8PM), or I play soft music, have a bath relaxing essential oils & epson salts, light a candle, do some writing or reading, with no devices nearby. It's spa-like & really healing, totally amazeballs.
My aromatherapy game is strong; I douse myself in the essential oils that call to me that day/hour/minute. Those little drops of heaven go right to my brain & body cells, supporting my health in so many amazing ways.
I go to monthly Reiki/Energy Healing sessions where old, out-of-date energy, blockages and stressed out cells get moved around & released from body. Love-love-love!
I double-down on my vitamin C, turmeric & leafy-green smoothie intake. I increase my H2O consumption, and breathe deep breaths regularly.
I will YouTube some fave meditations, fall asleep to Insight Timer Meditation App or Moby's ambient playlist while mentally listing out all the ways in which I'm grateful. Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude always. (read: my version of meditating; horizontal & mostly asleep counts right? Yes. Yes it does.)
I "think" often about going for a run and to a yoga class (ok, so things get missed when I'm busy - and yes, there’s guilt at times. But progress over perfection!
Side Note # 3: About Lazy Sundays, I have a few friends that have experienced this ritual with us. They too must adhere to the pj/onesie rule. I've received a few post-lazy-Sunday messages, reliving the memory in all its gratitude & glory. The testimonials are always positive & we will not be giving them up anytime soon. A non-negotiable.
So lately these little sprints of chill-time were totally happening for me (as stated above) but hardly satiating what was seeming like a larger need for a longer disconnected downtime. One where my mind wasn't constantly distracted or "online" and thinking of my projects' deadlines, forgotten Slack responses, blocker issues, team health, budgets, release planning, late night India team priorities, overnight releases (read: jetlag for days), Exec strategy meetings, or worse: the never-ending nag of the gigantic clean pile of laundry (6 loads to be exact) that I was pulling my outfits from, but choosing not prioritize the folding of. Faakkk. (The avoiding-laundry-folding struggle is real over here people)
Side Note #4: Although the little bits & pieces of rest & wellness (mentioned above) weren't enough for me this time, I do believe they did prevent me from getting sick; not a cold or flu in sight for months now! *perspective alert* it could always be worse, I remained healthy through a very busy time, which used to never happen! So not all hope was lost.
WHAT DOES BURNOUT LOOK LIKE?
For me, it manifests mostly in some messed-up form of grief: sadness, loss, anger/frustration, negotiation, guilt, denial. Scattered throughout with vivacious randomness & showing up at the least opportune times: Think, negative self-talk with a secret desire to hibernate or run from the overwhelm of life's responsibilities. It's like 'depression-adjacent.' I can function, I'm not so low that I can't get out of bed but ya. I knew it was time for a break because I pushed on, I kept running on empty in order to accomplish what I committed to, but I lost so much sleep, I had an unexpected & lengthy ugly-cry after a "Love Season 2" episode (huh?), both my dry shampoo & adrenal gland usage increases, while my personal coffee grounds inventory & cortisol levels decreases. I limp on, I slap on the metaphoric bandaid and in full-exhaustion-mode, 'I got it done.' Then just days before my scheduled time-off (a.k.a. my finish line), in casually waltzes the light bulb. It hits me like a ton of bricks. "Shit, I've lost me!" Whoa. Deep/not deep. You feel me? It was there, in my body, mind and soul and I knew immediately that I was about 2-3 weeks overdue from a proper break from it all, and it was my denial & tunnel-vision of 'getting the job done' / 'needing to push through' that prevented me from seeing it sooner.
HOW DID I ‘GET IT DONE’ WHEN I DIDN’T FEEL UP TO IT?
Well, I come from a long line of "doers." It's generationally imprinted into my cells from at least 4 generations of women & men. I was taught at a really young age how to "buck-up & push through" any of life's events or challenges with little-to-no slowing down, so I'm pretty much a pro. (10,000 hrs of mastery, bitches!)
But what I was never taught - but have learned & have made space for deep practice after a series of stress-related health set-backs - is how to listen to my body first, my intuition second, then recognize when to slow down pre-burnout & before doing any long-term damage. I'm not yet a pro, but I'm getting much better at it. What used to take me years to figure out (then months to reverse), I've now whittled down to weeks & days. Booya. Always learning & growing.
So back to the original question, here's what I did: I wiped away my tears, I journaled about how I was feeling (always a release), I used Mel Robbin’s 5-Second Rule, (5-4-3-2-1 blast-off, it works) and got the f*ck up. I was tired almost always, but I re-framed those annoying limiting beliefs, created some new intentions that supported my confidence and belief in myself, stayed focused and danced onto the finish line for the sake of my chosen responsibilities. My eye remained on the prize:
getting these commitments completed at work/personal life before my time off, and
taking more than 2 days off in a row from work & life's responsibilities [aside from parenting] for the first time since summer (SUMMER!).
Just the sound of taking time off gave me visions of my [imaginary] boyfriend Chris Martin singing "PARA-PARA-PARADIIISE” softly in my ear, with the sun shining on my face and the wind in my hair. Freedom was my finish line; where I get to decide how I spend my time & energy for 7 days straight. It's more than a 2-day weekend, so YES PLEASE. I’ll take it!
Side note #5: My default love language is 'Quality Time' (my close 2nd is 'Acts of Service' - probs not a shocker if you've read this far) so I tend to obsess over "time." Did I get enough of it? Did I give enough of it? Where can I find more? Am I running low? Did I use my time properly? What will happen when I run out of it? If I cannot automate the frequency and effectiveness of something, I start to panic. Time & energy preservation vs. expenditure is my achilles heal. Um, why exactly did I get into Project Management in the high-pressure / deadline-focused tech industry 15 years ago again? It can be a real nail-biter / ulcer-starter for peeps like me, if not internally managed properly. The irony, I know.
MY TSN TURNING POINT
Meanwhile back in my personal life, our original plans of taking the full two weeks of Spring Break to drive down to California (Plan A) was no longer feasible due to new work deadlines, changing release schedules, training new hires, and some unexpected personal matters, so Plan B it was ... and if I'm honest, the new idea of less time-off but the fresh canvas of a new plan with zero schedule, & very little effort on my part, felt lovely & welcoming. Like a warmer, deeper pool of relaxation that was calling to me like an angel from heaven (dramatic, right? All real thoughts).
Quality over quantity was top of mind for me. So we chose a short ferry ride & a little drive to an oceanside carriage home on the Sunshine Coast. So instead of British GPS accents (my choice, remember Chris Martin?), I5 directions, truck stops, off-ramps, pee-breaks, US SIM cards, long playlists, sore butts (from sitting for 7 hrs at a time, silly) & car snacks ... we packed paint brushes, board games, books, chill playlists & journals. We did it. We got out of the city, away from the tasks, schedules, loose ends, errands, activities, chores, status reports and meetings which culminate and stack nicely into the tower of to-do's that are my days & weeks on end.
Side note #6: I love the hustle & bustle of my career, I love a good challenge and using my brain to creatively solve problems & collaborate within a team of brilliant & motivated minds, I love to help drive positive outcomes for cutting edge, good quality tech experiences. I love using my heart & intuition to support co-workers in making decisions & in doing their best work, recognizing & leveraging their zone of genius as an individual, and within a group .. I love partnering & connecting with charismatic and fun people who get sh*t done, and everyone is always killing it right to the end. We're in it together. The peeps I work with are courageous, inspiring & make my projects extremely fulfilling, all of which makes me so proud and it fills my soul in so many ways, really & truly. But my point really is that I've also chosen a career that takes up a lot of psychological and emotional energy. Well-worth-it energy that also fills me up, but still, everyone needs a break sometimes. Ok, you get it.
SO THEN, I ACKNOWLEDGE
By day 2 of our oceanside, extremely chill vacation & I chose to celebrate. I celebrated my morning lay-in reading, writing & sipping (3 of my fave things) with no deadlines & very few distractions (yes, I fed my child).
I thanked the Pacific Northwest rain & our extremely long winter weather for forcing a cozy morning in & for being the real [non-Moby-esque] ambient sound I had my longest, deepest sleep to.
I'm thankful for the time & space to have my adorable son lead me in a fun yoga practice he created on the fly (all poses inspired by Cosmic Kids Yoga, so cute!)
Thank you Universe/God/Loving Energy/Higher Power for supporting me & always delivering the lessons I need, right on time. Without the struggle I would miss out on acknowledging the importance of quality chill-time & what's good for our mental, emotional & physical health. I receive all of your gifts with honour & appreciation. *Namaste to you my friend.*
A NOTE TO MY FUTURE SELF (& ANYONE ELSE WHO'S LISTENING)
Push-Rest-Regroup ... Push-Rest-Regroup ... rinse & repeat as frequently as possible, maybe forever --with emphasis on the REST & REGROUP. There is grace in acknowledging every one of these steps and the transitions between them. Never skip over the rest & regroup, and always make a deep & serious time/energy commitment to each phase, or else ... #realtalk
Just pace yourself, ok? You're worth it.