Generally, I have a very blessed and wonderful life, but I’ve always been quite open about that fact that I suffer from depression. These ‘down days’ are always impossible to pre-empt, sometimes not appearing for weeks or even months at a time, but over the years I’ve been able to develop coping mechanisms in order to maintain some sort of functionality when a depressive episode strikes.
This year, however, the down days were increasingly more extreme and lasted for much longer periods of time. I was dealing with a number of negative and stressful situations in both my personal and professional life over a number of months and was struggling with feelings of pressure and de-motivation, but I began to find myself unable to complete even the most menial of tasks. I didn’t particularly want to go outside, my appetite increased and I began comfort eating excessively, I felt physically and mentally tired all the time but couldn’t sleep, I felt physically unwell, eventually developing laryngitis which took several weeks to recover from, I couldn’t concentrate to the point where I even forgot what I was saying mid-sentence. I even started to lose interest in the creative things that made me happy, becoming disillusioned with my own blog and the community. For me, feeling low was part of life that I had learned to accept and work with when I needed to, but when the bad days turned into bad weeks I knew that there was something wrong.
I was suffering with burnout. Rather than just feeling low for a few days, burnout develops over a gradual period of time, often triggered by prolonged and chronic levels of stress. It can also be exacerbated by lifestyle, lack of down time, the need to be in control and negative personality traits (I’m a natural pessimist). Eventually, continuing to blog at the intensity I had adopted over previous years became too much, and so I had to take a break – I had lost all sense of passion and purpose, and it was soul-destroying.
Are you suffering from burnout?
- Feelings of isolation and detachment.
- Being mentally and physically exhausted.
- Self-medicating with food, alcohol and/or drugs.
- Lack of motivation to do even the most simple of tasks.
- Constant feelings of negativity, cynicism, being disillusioned and overwhelmed
- Physical illness – colds, headaches, aches and pains, flu-like symptoms.
- Lack of productivity and interest.
- Decreased levels of satisfaction.
- Forgetfulness and inability to concentrate for long periods of time.
How to deal with burnout
Talk, whether it be to a trained professional or someone trustworthy. I was open and honest with The Bloke and a close friend with how I was feeling, and while they weren’t able to physically change my mental state, the fact that they listened, offered advice and supported me when I needed it actually helped me enormously.
Take an inventory of stressful factors within your life. This proved to be incredibly helpful – identifying all of the different elements that were causing stress, pain and/or frustration both personally and professionally. I categorised the results into two sections: things within my control and things I couldn’t. From the things I knew that I could change, I started to delete, remove and cut down on tasks that were taking up unnecessary time with little impact and causing me to feel disillusioned, particularly within my job. I stopped running my hashtag and Facebook group, left all but two other Facebook groups and removed myself from a whole bunch of Pinterest group boards. I stopped worrying about audience-centric content, going back to basics and focusing on topics that I wanted to write about as I did when I started blogging originally.
Focus on just one day at a time. The biggest hindrance to feeling better was the habitual creation of mega lists, where every little task would be written down at the start of a day. This would ultimately lead to immediate feelings of overwhelm, simply because I had set myself an unachievable deadline. I started to prioritise and realistically look at my daily task list, simplifying it to the core basics. I used the spreads and trackers in my Bullet Journal to keep on schedule with what I was doing. I stopped mentally beating myself up if I didn’t achieve everything I wanted to, preferring to be proud of my accomplishments instead.
Exercise. I forced myself to leave the house every single morning by going for a twenty minute walk regardless of the weather. It helped in the fact that we experienced a wonderfully warm and bright summer, and being outside in the sunshine at 7.30am immediately improved my mood, even if I’d had a poor night’s sleep.
Put the technology down. As someone who makes essentially a living from being online this proved to be difficult at first, but I now set myself a time to stop in the evenings and put my phone away. That way, I’m guaranteed that my evening won’t be ruined by an email.
Make the time for positive people. I text friends that I haven’t spoken to in a while, meeting some of them for a catch-up. It’s amazing how a few hours spent laughing with your favourite friends can boost your mood and motivate you to move forwards.
Create meaningful down-time. Not an easy thing, particularly if you’re responsible for a family, but even a small amount of designated time to relax is incredibly important for your mental and physical well-being. Meditate, read, have a hot bath, write, paint… find something, anything, that allows you to switch off. I find a long, hot bubble bath and a homemade spa treatment works wonders.
Organise. As I started to feel better, I developed a routine and organised myself in a way that allowed me to be more productive. It was a slow process, but streamlining how I lived was useful.
Make healthier choices. I changed my diet after watching Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead on Netflix and The Bloke and I worked really hard to eat foods that were sugar-free, dairy-free and non-processed. It wasn’t easy, particularly as I have a penchant for cheese and I had developed a routine of bingeing on whatever I wanted, but we both lost weight, slept better and generally felt more energised.
Start delegating and stop saying yes. This is an incredibly difficult habit to break, but it is one of the most worthwhile things I have learned over the last few years in particular, and I have made an extra effort over recent months to be conscious of the level of work that I agree to take on.
What about you guys? Have you experienced depression or burnout? What were your most effective ways of dealing with it?
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