Burnout and Rest


Burnout is more common than you might think - for some it can take the form of complete breakdown emotionally, not coping with anything. But more predictably, the lack of physical rest (that is, the turning off of our stress response) results in chronic health concerns, pain and poor immune system function. It can affect our hormone balance, the performance of our key systems like digestive, endocrine and reproductive systems, and it can diminish the performance of our liver, kidneys, heart and respiratory system.

When we aren't taking time to rest properly, it doesn't take a PhD in physiology to know that burnout is coming.

But if we don't ever take the time to rest deeply, to learn how to rest better, to put rest into our schedules, we may not realise that the rest we are getting is not sufficient. 

Detecting burnout through rest

Resting practices are a great way to detect burnout because once you start to rest you'll easily see the signs of burnout. 

"All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone"

- Blaise Pascal

Simple resting practices for burnout detection

Being able to sit quietly, alone, is a great indicator of your ability to relax, to get your nervous system into a place of rest. If you can't still mind (at least a little) and body (no fidgeting or twitching), then that's a big red flag you're system is stuck in stress response and you would do well to work a little at developing a resting practice.

Sit in a quiet and comfy spot, take some deep breaths and ask your body what it needs to rest right now. Sit patiently if no answer comes immediately. Repeat to your body that it can suggest anything at all - you can't promise you'l be able to do what it suggests, but you want to know anyway. Note to new resters: the answer might be "sleep" for quite a while. Most of us are chronically under-slept and that's going to affect all other resting.

Walk to a nearby park, or even into your back garden, on a sunny day, when you have time enough not to think about the time. Sit in nature...sit on the ground if you can, or remove your shoes so your feet are on grass/soil/sand. Allow yourself to sit in nature and enjoy it - notice what sounds you hear. Notice how the sun and air feel on your skin. Notice the light and shadows. This is mindfulness and it's a great resting technique.

If your days are normally spent at a desk or computer, move. Go out and walk, not for cardio but for change. Walk gently and easily for half an hour at lunch time. Resting the body from stagnancy can be hugely restful. For greater levels of rest, yoga, dancing, or any activity that you find fun will be great for mental and physical health, as well as de-stressing (as long as you're not pushing hard...that kind of exercise has its place and its value but it temporarily raises stress, which isn't the point here).

Deeper resting practices for burnout repair

Meditation of all kinds can be hugely restful, so find a form that you enjoy. For general meditation, learning some counted breathing techniques can be easy and powerful. For a deeper experience, try a guided visualisation. And for rest specific or stressful situation specific meditation, try my Accept and Allow meditation, Dan Howard's resting meditation or a yoga nidra.

My tiny course Relieving Chronic Pain with Meditation has many easy meditations, useful for reducing stress and increasing rest, whether or not you're living with chronic pain or illness.

Screen-free days or weekends can be super powerful. Switch off the home wifi, grab a zigsaw or a great book, or go away somewhere with not much "to do" and lots of opportunity to sit, enjoy others, watch sunsets and look at nature. I have friends who live in a country area, and once a year I go to visit just to sit for long conversations over rambling meals, to sit around the fire with a lovely drink at night, to walk or visit local wineries. People, nature and pleasurable food/drink is hugely restful.

Review your life for unnecessary stress. This is for serious stress reducers and those looking to repair the affects of burnout on their bodies, psyches and lives. Living a rest-based life is about more than just making sure you get enough sleep and don't work 24/7. Rest is vital to our ability to enjoy life, to love others and self, to thrive. Rest should be a priority for us all. And for that to happen, we need to review how we make choices in our lives. This can mean doing less in your spare time, it can mean changing jobs, it can mean sacrificing lifestyle in order to live on less money to have more ease time*. 

*NOTE: I recognise being able to consider making these choices is a priviledge not everyone has. Often there are still be lifestyle changes you can make even if money is tight. But if money is tight for you, that's its own stress. And it raises the issue of systemic issues in our society that work against rest and toward increasing stress through poverty, racism, sexism, and more. It's everyone's job to understand how our social, political and other systems are weighted against offering a fair playing field to all, so that everyone has the opportunity to build a free and comfortable life. So, in reviewing your life, I urge you to review the broader systems around you and their effect on others, including who you vote for, whose voice you listen to, who you advocate for and how well you understand the experience of those whose lives look different from yours.

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