The Positive Energy Workplace

How We Create Our Own Burnout and What to Do Instead

“Am I truly burnt out, or do I just need a nap?”

I love the conversations I get to have with people about where they’re at in their leadership journey. This comment came from a group I’d worked with last year. We’d been discussing burnout, overload, and mindset. And after taking a minute to get away from everything and getting truly present to what was what in each person’s life (personally and professionally), one of the participants posed this question.


It was a solid question. Was she really burnt out? Did she just need a minute? How might she be contributing to it? What did she need? And how could she start helping things go well for herself — right now — so that she didn’t feel so chronically overwhelmed?


Ahhh… the magic and power is in PAUSE and the awareness it creates. (And then, of course, what we do with that awareness.)


The truth of it? Yes, tons of stuff going on. Lots of responsibility and demands and to-do’s, a task list that would NEVER EVER end, sweet kids and a partner that needed her, a staff that followed her, and a boss and colleagues that hounded her. (Not to mention the desire to stay fit, get any “me-time” in, and also cook dinner.) Lots of fatigue and frustration. Legitimate stuff going on. Listening to her download, I felt myself get tired.


And here’s another thing I noticed. With all the stuff happening, there was also a lot of “story” and talk; talk about being busy, exhausted, overwhelmed, and yes… ultimately burned out. This person realized she’d told her same story about being “fried” to four different people the day before she came to this session. As she shared back, she realized each time she’d told her story, colored with more story, detail, and (in her words) “drama,”  the storytelling only added to her depletion.


She’d gotten into what I call the energy suck vortex of “bragging busy and overwhelm.”

It’s so easy to do. It’s also one of the biggest contributors I notice to creating exhaustion in ourselves.


When I asked her to STOP and just notice what was HERE now, did she feel exhausted? She said no. She actually felt free. From this place she could see some of the ways she’d been contributing to her own burnout, and she could also see some of the boundaries, requests, and changes she needed to put in place to take care of herself. The biggest one was mindset — it was making the decision to take a stand for her own self-care and well-being and that instead of expending energy while talking about it unproductively, she’d tend to it.


This is not uncommon. I see this all the time. I have my own version of it. I think it’s a pretty human thing. We get busy, we get overwhelmed, we lose our space, we forget we even have our own space, we complain and brag busy about it, and then we are overwhelmed and on our way to burnout.


I see burnout in different stages, there’s (1) proactively preventing it, (2) approaching it and flirting with it, (3) there’s navigating it, and then there is (4) being flat out knocked down by it and needing advanced medical/therapeutic attention or a bigger intervention. I offer you these words especially if you are in stage 1-3. If you are in four, I offer these words as well, and trust you are getting the support you need. Wherever you’re at, may these words serve you as you wish.


So, let’s get in front of it…


How do we create our own burnout?


There are absolutely things outside ourselves that contribute to burnout; workload, others’ demands, toxic work environments, bad bosses and team dynamics, ineffective systems and processes, chronic interruptions, that launch you just have to push push push and hustle for, etc… And, here’s how I notice we often contribute to our own burnout as well… ready? (Because to truly “heal” this epidemic, we have to address this from all angles; the external factors and our own internal ones.) See where you are in these — we’re usually all somewhere in this dance.


First, culturally, we’ve been building and celebrating burnout for years. How? By making “busy” and “burnout” badges of honor that “reflect” our care and commitment and are often even “competed for” to show ones’ worth, devotion, and importance in their lives.


By prioritizing work and hustling over sleep and self-care, even proclaiming “We’ll sleep when we’re dead!” (I literally just heard an executive say this yesterday.)


By not sleeping, eating well, making time for exercise, hydrating, managing boundaries, saying “no” to the wrong things, staying intentional with our time, and asking for help.


By pushing the edges without a “time-out” for recovery or celebrating wins (and failures/learning), by hustling relentlessly, giving up weekends and evenings to work, saying “yes” when our soul is begging us to say “no,” by trying to please everyone.


By staying in soul-sucking relationships, doing the work of three humans, multi-tasking, overcommitting, overfunctioning, trying to have it ALL (without even half the support to make that even a little feasibly possible), and by taking on “just one more thing” over and over again until we’re exhausted and either burning out, or flat out cooked.


By talking and complaining about it repeatedly, getting juice out of people feeling sorry for ourselves when we do complain about it (“oh, you poor thing!”), and by continuing to repeat the story of how we can’t get out of it — without actually doing anything about it and becoming author of our lives and situation. (This is big.)


These are just some of the things we hear about and watch ourselves, loved ones, and colleagues do that contribute to burnout. Are any of them yours?


Here’s what to do instead.

I find that awareness is 70% of the battle in navigating leadership, self-care, impact, and burnout. So if any of the above resonate for you, and this means something to you, replace it with a new behavior. You don’t have to do all, pick one to three to address right now.


You are the best for determining your specifics that will be congruent and sustainable for you, and here are three high level areas to focus on:

  1. Prioritize Self-Care. No matter what. Take care of you. Put your “oxygen mask” on first so you can show up well for yourself and those you lead. You must decide that this means something to you in order to prioritize it. Once you’ve decided yes, tend to it in a way that will serve you most: food, exercise, sleep, time-outs, self-talk, self-kindness. Your call.
  2. Stop bragging busy and overwhelm. Every time you catch yourself starting to go down that path (as you pay attention, you may start to feel this feeling in your body as contraction), STOP. What is your intention for bragging busy? What is it you want to accomplish from telling this story, complaining, or just dishing again? Is it to get help, feel important, procrastinate or avoid doing the thing that would actually change the game, or is it just a bad habit? Catch it, stop it, redirect.
  3. Work your intentions and the boundaries to support them. Get clear on your intentions for what you want to create in your life, who you want to be, how you want to serve. Get clear. Breathe. And ground that intention. Once you’ve got this, hold the necessary boundaries to support your intentions, say YES when you mean YES, and NO when you mean NO. Honor your time integrity. Create more space and grace for “deep work” in your life so you can actually be productive and hear yourself think. Surround yourself with people who are life-giving, not soul-sucking. You get it.

You know best what you need. The first step is to be quiet enough to hear yourself ask for it, and then to honor and love yourself enough to follow through. Not only does this serve you, the people you love, lead, and are responsible for get served too — because when we show up, take care of ourselves, hold our space, and are clear on our intentions we are positively and powerfully contagious and better able to serve others.


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