I want to talk about burnout – those times when we burn through our attention, energy, physical capacity, and emotional labor faster than our systems can replenish these finite resources. One of my clients calls this “feeling crispy,” which illustrates perfectly how burnout can leave us feeling like withered, ashen shells of our formerly energetic and vibrant selves.
When I feel burned out, I feel a sort of dead, numb flatness, as though my body has shut down its normal operations to in order to deal with crisis mode. My rhythms feel out of whack, the things that normally give me energy feel lifeless and inaccessible, and my creativity, art, and spiritual practice lose their vibrancy (actually, they probably don’t, but in my state of burnout, I just can’t access it in the same way).
Burnout can show up in all sorts of ways and for all sorts of reasons, but in the end, it all comes down to giving, spending, and burning past the point of regenerative flow, balanced wellness, and baseline okayness.
And this is hard. Because often, we simply do not have enough energy to do all the things we want or need to do (or that others around us want or expect us to do). We have finite resources, and there are all sorts of factors that determine what we’re starting with in terms of energy and fuel.
And because we have limits and because life sometimes feels more like a flash-fire of frenetic fury than a peaceful stroll in the park, it can be useful to have a safety-wellness plan at the ready to address the hazards and realities of being an active, busy, engaged human in the world with limited stores of energy.
So here are some practices - through the lens of the four elements - that have been helpful for me in managing burnout and restoring my energy, groundedness, and vitality in active and fiery times.
1) Welcome watery flow (both literally and figuratively). Water has a calming, soothing quality. Drinking water, relaxing in or near water, watching the waves, rapids, and rain, or sharing space with the vastness of the ocean can all bring this energy into our lives and alleviate some of the rigid, arid, crispy feelings that come with burnout. Allowing the watery flow of our emotions is also a supportive practice. How might you welcome whatever is flowing through you? How might you make space for feelings of frustration, annoyance, grief, and confusion? How might you invite fluidity and flow into your being? In a space of burnout, it can be super helpful to keep our life force moving and flowing however we can. Sometimes this means resting, crying, free writing, taking a walk, or talking it out with a friend - anything to stay connected with the aliveness happening inside us through our emotions, movements, and energies.
2) Get earthy. Part of what burnout does is disconnect us from the slower rhythms of our earthy, embodied selves. Engaging and tending to our bodies through movement, meditation, stillness, or nourishment are all ways to bring the earth element back into balance. Other practices might include walking or sitting in nature, planting a garden, doing yoga, talking to the trees, or spending some time with your dog, cat, or houseplants.
3) Embrace empty space. One way to invite the air element is to create spaces of openness and emptiness where things are allowed to be unformed, unstructured, and unsettled. Open, empty space in our schedules, our homes, our minds, and our lives allows us to rest, restore ourselves, and welcome a new possibility. Here are some ideas: look up at the sky, feel your presence in the vastness of the Universe, schedule times to do nothing. How might you give yourself space, clear out the clutter, and let yourself rest in the open, empty mystery?
4. Engage fire in a sustainable way. If you’re struggling with burnout, you may feel ready to be done with fire (and all things hot and burning) altogether, but fire is an elemental quality that offers essential energies for a balanced life. So how might you burn the fires of your passion, creativity, effort, and movement in safe and supportive ways? (also being mindful of the fuel you need to support it.) What sparks of interest, adventure, and curiosity want to become more and are worthy investments of your energy?
So I would encourage you to check-in with yourself. Which of these elemental frequencies would be most supportive for restoring balance and flow in the midst of burnout? How might you make space for what you need in times when you feel depleted?
To support this process, I created a meditative visualization to guide you through welcoming each of the 4 elements (with a bonus element too) as a way to discern what would be most supportive to you right now, which you can find here.