We’ve all heard the common phrase “it takes a village,” and never has that been more true than for someone recovering from burnout. It’s such a unique and challenging type of recovery, and has similar properties to depression, anxiety, and PTSD, but also has substantial differences, so it will take a special group of people to support you through this time. You may think, well I have an awesome partner, or well I have an amazing friend. Unfortunately, neither of those single helpers alone can lead you through a true recovery, and often it can cost you a relationship if you lean heavily on just one person as a source of all of your support. I’ve tried it, and it almost cost me mine.
Here are the five types of support systems you need to get you to the other side of what can seem like a daunting journey. It’s not essential to have every single one of these types, but it is important to diversify your support sources, as each will provide you with tips, tricks, and emotional support that you may not be able to get from the others. Among the five people you may need in your village are:
- A mentor
- A friend
- A significant other or partner
- A coach
- A therapist
Why five different people? So they don’t burnout on listening to you talk about burnout. Also, a variety of perspectives is essential, as one trait those experiencing burnout may have is being unable to listen to their own intuition, which can lead to following others’ advice in a dependent way. To prevent relying on just one person, diversifying your “village” is key.
Your spouse or partner:
For a while, I only relied on my husband, Mike. I realized much later that putting our marriage through burnout recovery with him as the only source of support was detrimental, and would take months to repair the damage, maybe years. I made him into my therapist rather than my husband, rather than someone with whom I had a romantic and friendship based relationship. We fought. I wasn’t the person he married, but rather a shell of a human. While he was incredibly supportive, in retrospect I realize I was wrong to not reach out to other supporters sooner.
When you are in the middle of burnout, you may not realize you are doing this. In fact, it may be all you can handle to simply exist and communicate your feelings to your spouse or partner. Your partner or another objective source may even be the one to tell you it’s time to reach out to someone else, like a therapist, for additional support. If they say that, it’s worth trying, and may be their cry for help as well. While it may feel like you want to isolate you and your spouse from the outside world, this is when you need others more than ever, as does your spouse or partner.
Sometimes the significant other is the first to notice you are going through something more than just a few “bad days.” If you aren’t engaging in housework, exercising, hobbies you typically enjoy, date nights with your spouse, time with friends, and other regular routines, you may be going through burnout.
Do your friends know what you are going through? If you haven’t communicated with a few trusted friends, you need to. Consider the types of friends you may need to get through burnout. Each can be beneficial to your recovery in a different way.
A trusted work friend
Carefully consider who, at your job, you can trust completely. This should not be someone who you aren’t completely sure won’t be able to remain private about your discussions, and also should not be someone who directly oversees your performance or position if possible, in most cases. Your work friend can be your sounding board to help identify factors in your work environment that may be contributing to burnout, if that’s the source of your stress. They can also be the buddy who covers for you if you need to take some time to take a drive, compose yourself in the restroom, or confide in someone.
Your oldest friend
Much of burnout recovery is about reconnecting to your childhood self, and who knew you better as a young person than your childhood, lifelong friends. These people can help listen without judgment, and can help you find your way back to who you were before, and also who you want to become post-burnout. Ask questions to these friends when you lose sight of yourself like “What did I love to do as a kid?” and “What did we always talk about doing when we grew up?” for some intel on who you really are.
A positive friend
Who is the one person who you feel is so enlightened, that you can’t help but learn from them when they talk? This is someone who spends more time radiating positivity than complaining, and doesn’t shy away from deep, philosophical topics. You know, the “woo-woo” stuff that starts pouring out after your second glass of wine. Invaluable stuff in your recovery. If you don’t have a buddy like this, look for one at your favorite yoga class or a church support group, depending on your belief system.
If you don’t have someone yet you consider your mentor, we have to find you one, and fast. This can be within the work walls or completely outside them. If you burnout is work-related, it’s helpful for the person to be in your field, but possibly not at your company (although that’s still an option).
They have to care about you for more than just the results you deliver at work, and have no vested interest in you being in “achievement mode” and producing profits. Luckily, many workplaces already have systems set up to match mentors to mentees, so start by asking your boss if there’s a process already.
My mentor was a previous work leader, and mentoring began unofficially and simply through text conversations. He reassured me I wasn’t crazy, and gave me invaluable tips on navigating the political atmosphere without sacrificing my career, especially regarding HR, taking leave, and managing outburst in a professional environment. He taught me how to decide when it’s time to get out of work to get control of my emotions, and how to manage the potential embarrassment that can come with anxiety attacks in a public place like the office.
Your therapist and a doctor:
Got a stomach ache? Increased migraines? Chronic fatigue? Yep, so did I. And I needed medical professionals to help me through the physical symptoms of burnout as much as the emotional ones. I started with my primary care physician who recommended a winning combination of medicine and therapy.
Tell your doctor what you are going through, and find a therapist asap. Your friends cannot substitute for true therapy, and Googling symptoms can’t replace a real doctor. Psychology Today offers an amazing search engine for finding a therapist by qualification, area, insurance type, and area of expertise. You can often even email the providers you find there if making a phone call is too big or too tough of a step for you right now.
Here are some things I’d never have learned without a therapist:
My burnout had developed into PTSD. I’d open an excel sheet and have a panic attack. I learned my triggers and worked through traumatic memories.
Frequent therapy works better than sporadic visits. I went twice per week and it paid off.
I needed to take a medical leave, and with my therapist’s counsel, I did.
My mind works in fascinating ways, as all of ours do, and I started to realize why I do/think/feel the things I do, which changed my trajectory going forward.
There are phases of recovery we need to move through, with a therapist’s help. They don’t let you stagnate.
A burnout or life coach:
Clients often ask me why they need a coach when they have a therapist or a friend, or a very supportive spouse. The answer is simple: because they’ve been there, overcome it, and have a new outlook on life now. Talking to others who have been through burnout is irreplaceable for this specific condition because it’s only recently been recognized by health officials, and many may not even know it exists.
I found myself educating my own therapist and friends at times as to what I was going through, but a coach who’s recovered from it already gets it. They know where you are, what it feels like, and what to do next.
What will a coach do?
Eliminate shame associated with burnout
Paint a picture of who you can be after burnout and how to get there
Connect you with a community of supporters, who are also going through burnout
Engage in introspection and communication exercises to get to the root of your burnout
Lead you through the stages of recovery
I didn’t have a coach when I went through it, and I needed one. So I started a company! Burnout Institute offers one on one and group coaching to those ready to start recovering. Start your journey by talking to me in a complimentary consultation today. Your future self a few months down the road will thank you for taking this first small step.
Written by Jessica Walther, CEO of Itivate