How Not to Burn Out

and what to do if you already have

Anna Mercury


Photo by Ryan Snaadt on Unsplash

This past winter, I burned out. Boy, did I burn out.

I don’t know if it was the pandemic, my unhealthy mind or one too many shitty Tinder dudes, but by Valentine’s Day I was existentially toast. Burnt toast, to be exact, the kind you have to scrape the char off of to make it edible. I quit my job, left all my lefty organizations and spent months hiding in my aunt’s spare bedroom, trying to find where all the life in me had gone.

I know I wasn’t alone in this experience. Between all the ways the world is crumbling down and all the new fuckery it props itself back up with, it’s no wonder we’re living through a veritable burnout pandemic, too. We’re a planet of people exhausted, dispirited and running out of reasons to keep trying. I read an article a while back that said that what we call burnout is often simply grief. Ours is a culture that doesn’t accept grief, doesn’t give us space and time to pause, listen to our negative emotions, and do the slow, hiccuping work of healing.

But we must heal. It’s the most important thing we can do. So, this is an overview of what I’ve learned so far about how to do that healing.

First, it’s important to remember that burnout is a symptom. It is indicative of an internal imbalance. When you are burnt-out, the relationship between you and your environment has turned destructive to you, pulling you down to a bedrock of exhaustion and despondence. That relationship needs to change in order for you to return to a state of balance. Note that I didn’t say, “The environment needs to change in order for you to find balance.” The relationship is what needs to change. You can’t always change your environment, but you can always change how you relate to it.

In order to keep your relationship with your environment healthy, or to realign it once its fallen out of balance and caused burnout, you must slow down long enough to assess how and why it dragged you off course. To do that, I’d recommend checking in with yourself about the following five things:

1. Over-saturation

If you’ve burned out, then the relationship between you and your environment is off-balance. As you would with a diet that’s making you sick, the first…