No matter how much Vitamin D I imbibe or how much I commit to making this year different from the last, there’s always a period of time in this January/February segment of each year where I start to feel a little burnt out.
And that’s nothing compared to most of my clients, who tend to be truly exhausted in the post-holiday period. If you’ve found yourself dying to curl up under a blanket for a two-day nap, or pissed off and crying in your office (or, for that matter, in your coaching session), trust me, you’re not alone.
So, this week, I’m sharing my top five strategies for combatting seasonal burnout. Here they are.
1) Take an unplanned day off.
You read that right. Call in sick, opt in to a personal day, or use a vacation day to get a day off from work. Spontaneity works best here, because if you plan for it, you’ll inevitably plan your day as well, and that’s not what we’re after here. If one morning you wake up, and you just can’t face going to work for one more minute, that’s your day.
(And for those of you who would feel guilty doing this, I’m giving you permission to do it anyway. So there.)
Once you’ve made the call or emailed work to tell them that you’re not coming in, you’ve got two options. You can either play hooky Ferris Bueller-style and line up an awesome day of indulgence for yourself– a trip to a museum, a decadent lunch by yourself at a four star restaurant, or a drive out of town to reconnect with nature– or you can stay home, sleep, take a hot bath, cuddle your pet, nap, and read a good book.
Either way, by the end of your day, you should feel rejuvenated and like you’ve gotten away with something truly delicious. Burn out gone.
2) Get a massage.
Often, when we’re burnt out, it’s because we’ve been living too much in our heads. Getting back into our bodies, particularly in ways that are designed to work the stress out of our muscles and toxicity out of our lymphatic systems, is a really good way to shut off the mental chatter for at least an hour or two and get back to feeling energetic and revived.
Back when I was practicing law in DC, I remember having one particularly brutal winter season where I was completely miserable. After two solid weeks without a day off, I took a friend’s recommendation and booked a massage with a therapist who was rumored to be the best in town.
By the end of the session with this person, I was blown away by the difference in my body and in my spirit. Not only did I feel like a new person physically, but I had the amazed response that I could actually pay someone to make me feel emotionally better almost immediately just by working my muscles, deep-tissue style.
I’ve been a sucker for the rejuvenating effects of massage ever since.
3) Get some exercise.
Now, this may sound counter-intuitive, I know. The truth, however, is that exercise often serves us best when we least feel like doing it.
Even a quick run, or a twenty minute yoga practice, can up our energy when we’re feeling particularly rotten. Getting started can take a big self-kick in the pants, but once you do it, you will feel a million times better.
4) Nourish yourself with good food.
This is a big one for all of you out there who tend to let your eating habits slip when you’re under stress. Filling your body with junk when you’re under pressure or exhausted only makes matters worse, as anyone who has crashed from a sugar high can tell you.
Make a point to eat healthy, and to eat with the season in particular, when you’re feeling burnt-out. And cultivate your experience of eating so it’s a beautiful one from start to finish. Shop at farmers’ markets or stores that are pleasing to the eye. Cook foods that fill your home with delightful aromas (my husband is a professionally-trained chef, and there’s nothing like some garlic sauteed greens this time of year to make our home smell amazing). Pay attention to presentation on the plate and where in your home you eat.
Make the experience of feeding yourself a sensual one, and see how that changes not just your experience of eating, but also how you feel in your body thereafter. Good, thoughtful self-nourishment can pull you out of burnout overnight.
5) Make your home a sanctuary.
Back when I was working 90 hours weeks as a lawyer, my home was far from a sanctuary most of the time. I’d roll into my apartment at 10 p.m. or later most nights, turn on the TV the second I walked in the door, order takeout, toss the work clothes on the floor, and park my rear on the sofa in front of CNN or Jon Stewart until I zoned out. It wasn’t the best strategy for restful sleep, nor for combatting stress.
Over time, I learned there was another way. I started cultivating my home as a refuge.
So, for example: On a really bad day, I’d make a point to pick up some flowers on my way home. And once I got there, rather than turning on the TV, I’d light some candles, pour a glass of wine, and put on some music. Maybe I’d get in the bath. Some days, I’d meditate the second I got in the door for about fifteen minutes to let go of the events of the day.
What I found was that it was much easier to go to sleep earlier, and to sleep more restfully, if I engaged in these practices rather than trash TV and takeout.
Now that I live with others, I continue this strategy by doing my best to live by the rule that “nothing which is not beautiful” enters our home. (It isn’t always easy, especially when you’ve got a kid who wants a singing glow-in-the-dark Elmo, for instance, but I try.) And after a particularly busy day, I’ve been known to ask my husband for a massage, keep the lights low and curl up with a book.
Making your home a continual place of refuge is a surefire way to combat against the pressures, noise and overwhelm that we experience in our working lives. Create space where you feel you can relax, let go, indulge and be yourself, and you’ll be on the fast track to recovery from burn-out on a daily basis.
Winter is a season where we all go inward to some extent, just as seeds go dormant in the earth until the spring. Taking time to care for yourself, nurture your body and spirit, and surround yourself with kindness makes all the difference to getting through it.
In the comments below, I’d love to hear your best strategies for coping with seasonal burnout. What works best for you?
Thanks as always for reading. Wishing you a week of energetic self-care!
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