It hit me pretty hard last year, and I thought some readers might appreciate hearing how it affected me, and how I eventually got out of my rut and back to normal. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment.
Around the middle of last year, right after tying up a couple of big projects I noticed I was in a rut. I didn’t have my normal motivation or energy levels, and getting stuff done was a real challenge.
Living in Argentina, it was winter time, which meant shorter days and less sunlight.
For the first time ever, I just really struggled to get going, I struggled to find energy…
What I Was Feeling
- I normally run like a well oiled machine, but I had lack of motivation
- Everything was a bit of a grind
- No will power to tackle tougher jobs
SIDENOTE: My thoughts on will power…
- I believe that everyone has the same amount of will power
- It’s like a gas tank.. starts full, and as you tackle tasks, it gets depleted
- It recharges while you’re asleep
- People who seem to have more will power simply have better habits,
routines and structures… they’re ‘fitter’ (work/business fitness)
But in my rut, even at the start of the day, I just had no will power.
Signs You’re Burned Out
1. Feeling depleted after work, during work, or when you wake up. You’re wiped out, you don’t have the energy you normally have, or the ‘get up and go’ motivation you need.
2. Inconsistent Sleep / Sleeplessness. You wake regularly at night, or struggle to fall asleep. When you wake in the morning, you’re wiped out, it’s a battle to get out of bed.
3. Feeling liberated after work on a Friday. You feel relieved the work week is behind you!
4. Being cranky. A bad mood follows you around almost constantly.
5. Rarely feeling like you’re progressing. You feel like you’re just not making headway, no matter how hard you try.
6. Being cynical. You start seeing the glass as half empty, lots of ‘negative’ things start to happen… your mindset is all messed up. You’re complaining more than normal.
7. Constantly feeling overwhelmed. You feel like you’ve got Everest ahead of you, don’t know where to begin, LOADS you need to get done.
8. Constantly feeling low on energy, or drained, without any signs of higher production.
9. Dreading the work day ahead.
10. Procrastinating to avoid what you know needs to be done.
The flip-side of being ‘burned out’ is having an energized brain… feeling full of energy, and highly motivated.
Energized Brain vs. Depleted Brain
You want to be highly engaged, and energized… but sometimes you’ll become exhausted, it’s inevitable.
You can’t be at your best with depleted brain energy.
You brain burns 20% of your energy reserves each day… far more than any other organ in your body.
When your brain energy is depleted, you lose access to executive function of your brain. Your brain will keep processing all the automated stuff, like eating, drinking, surviving, etc, but you’ll lose ‘executive function’.
What An ‘Energized Brain’ Does:
- Focuses your attention
- Regulates emotions
- Notices connections
- Predicts outcomes
- Makes smart decisions
What A ‘Depleted Brain’ Does:
- Distracts your attention
- Reacts impulsively
- Loses the thread
- Can’t see downstream implications of actions/decisions
- Make unwise decisions
When you’re showing signs of a depleted brain on an ongoing basis, you’re burned out.
- It’s not a result of simply working too hard (it can be the case, but is still a major misconception)
- Unbalance – burnout results when the balance of deadlines, demands, working hours, and other stressors outstrips rewards, recognition, and relaxation.
- Sometimes there’s a chemical imbalance, for example, a lack of serotonin, which has been linked to depression… if you feel you’ve got more than just ‘regular burnout’, you should see a Doctor.
So how do you ‘fix’ burnout?
I’ll share how I did it in just a moment, and give you some ideas for things you can try, but first lets dive into a little bit of the science behind all this.
If the science bores you, skip forward to my 7 recommendations!
There are two key chemicals players…
Dopamine releases motivation, creativity, goal orientation.
If you’re unmotivated and you go and talk to a therapist, the first thing they’ll look at it is your dopamine level.
How to boost dopamine levels?
- Sugar-laden, fat-filled treats
These are all very effective at increasing dopamine levels…it’s true!
However, these things that provide a quick boost end up disrupting the natural dopamine production process resulting in decreased dopamine production in the long-term.
What are safe, healthy, natural ways to boost your dopamine levels?
Eat foods rich in tyrosine. In order to make dopamine, your body needs tyrosine which can be found in almonds, bananas, avocados, eggs, beans, fish, and chicken… generally speaking, in foods high in protein.
Exercise regularly. In general, physical exercise is one of the best things you can do for your brain. It increases the production of new brain cells, slows down brain cell aging, can increase your levels of dopamine.
Learn to meditate. The overall health benefits of meditation have been demonstrated through hundreds of research studies. Many of those have shown that meditation increases dopamine leading to improved focus and concentration.
Get a massage. It has long been suggested that one way to keep dopamine levels high is to avoid stress, which is nearly impossible in this day and age. To counter the effects of stress, research has demonstrated that massage therapy increases dopamine levels by nearly 30% while decreasing cortisol (a stress hormone) levels.
Sleep. To ensure that your brain increases dopamine naturally, you’ll want to make sure that you’re getting enough sleep. This includes setting aside time before bed away from the computer or TV screen. Lack of sleep has been shown to reduce concentrations of neurotransmitters, including dopamine, and their receptors.
Listen to music. It is no surprise that listening to music can increase pleasurable feelings, improve mood, boost energy, and help with focus and concentration. Research has demonstrated that much of this is achieved due to an increase in dopamine levels.
Get enough sunlight. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a condition in which people feel sad or depressed during the winter season when they are not exposed to enough sunlight.
It’s well known that periods of low sunshine exposure can lead to reduced levels of mood-boosting neurotransmitters, including dopamine, and that sunlight exposure can increase them.
Consider Supplements. Your body requires several vitamins and minerals to create dopamine. These include iron, niacin, folate and vitamin B6 (57, 58, 59).
If your body is deficient in one or more of these nutrients, you may have trouble making enough dopamine to meet your body’s needs
Serotonin is sometimes known as “the happy chemical”.
It gets released in a number of ways, one of which is when you make progress, achieve something, when you feel valued and respected… it’s that feeling of invincibility, and it leads to a feeling of self belief, confidence, self efficacy.
But a lack of serotonin is linked to depression, and on a much milder level, a feeling of being burned out.
Serotonin is thought to be a mood stabilizer and also produce healthy sleeping patterns.
What are safe, healthy, natural ways to boost your serotonin levels?
One of the key players here is the amino acid tryptophan. Serotonin is synthesized from tryptophan, so most of the foods we’re about to discuss are proven to help with the development of tryptophan.
Serotonin isn’t found in foods, but tryptophan is. Foods high in protein, iron, riboflavin, and vitamin B-6 all tend to contain large amounts of this amino acid. While high-tryptophan foods won’t boost serotonin on their own, there’s one possible cheat to this system: carbs.
Carbs cause the body to release more insulin, which promotes amino acid absorption and leaves tryptophan in the blood. If you mix high-tryptophan foods with carbs, you might get a serotonin boost.
The tryptophan you find in food has to compete with other amino acids to be absorbed into the brain, so it’s unlikely to have much of an effect on your serotonin levels. This differs from tryptophan supplements, which contain purified tryptophan and do have an effect on serotonin levels.
While they can’t compete with supplements — which you should not be taking without approval from your doctor — the foods we’re about to quickly run through contain high amounts of tryptophan.
Your best chance at achieving a serotonin boost without using supplements is to eat them often, with a serving of healthy carbohydrates, like rice, oatmeal, or whole-grain bread.
Eggs. The protein in eggs can significantly boost your blood plasma levels of tryptophan, according to recent research
Cheese. Cheese is another great source of tryptophan
Tofu. Soy products are rich sources of tryptophan. You can substitute tofu for pretty much any protein, in pretty much any recipe, making it an excellent source of tryptophan for vegetarians and vegans.
Salmon. It’s hard to go wrong with salmon, which — as you may have guessed — is also rich in tryptophan
Nuts and Seeds. All nuts and seeds contain tryptophan.
Turkey. Turkey is essentially stuffed tryptophan.
Supplements. The most effective solution, but seek advice from your doctor first.
So that’s Burnout Chemistry 101, I’m NOT an expert here… but I have done a fair bit of my own research into this kind of thing over the years, especially when I was going through my major burnout in 2018.
How To Hit Reset & Get Your Mojo Back
This is by no means a scientific approach, but it worked for me…
First I made a list of everything I had hanging over my head, waiting to be done. This gave me an immediate sense of relief.
Next I shared how I was feeling with Steve (business partner), asked for sanity check of what I was working on (was I working on the most important things?)
Then I created a high-level to do list, so my day-to-day work didn’t require too much thinking about what to do next.
I switched up a few things in my work routine, starting with often working from a café instead of my office… I found this motivating, getting out, seeing people, and being in another place.
Finally I got some downtime. Took the pressure off myself, and tried to just relax.
A staple diet of good Argentine wine seemed to help along the way!
What I’d Recommend You Do…
First, speak to someone, and if you think it’s serious enough, seek medical help.
Aside from that, I would recommend that you:
1. Don’t drink too much wine…
2. List your “Pending’s”, then start to delegate
- Make a list of EVERYTHING you’ve got pending, both work related and non-work tasks
- Delegate as many of the tasks as possible (the aim is to clear your plate!)
3. Talk to someone
- Tell your spouse or business partner how you feel so they can help (or at least understand why you’re in a rut). A problem shared is a problem halved.
4. Take Care Of Yourself
a. Diet – pay attention to what you eat and drink. Drink more water.
b. Exercise – Force yourself to get out and do some kind of exercise, even a long walk will help.
i. Stimulates the brain
ii. Strong correlation with reduced stress
iii. Aim for a minimum of 20 minutes or moderate exercise, 3x per week
c. Rest – Make sure you’re getting enough sleep
i. Lack of sleep can trigger all kinds of problems
ii. Research suggests losing one hour of sleep per night for a week causes cognitive degeneration equivalent to 0.1 BAC, which is greater than the legal limit to drive (which is 0.08)
For me the ‘BODY’ stuff above help get my mindset back in place. Other people may find meditation useful, or doing something that excites them.
5. Go And Do Something You Enjoy
- Take a ‘Disconnect Day’. Have a day off, go and watch a movie, hike a mountain, walk on the beach…
- Personal Note: Consider not telling anyone you’re taking a disconnect day, you might find it works better.
6. Disconnect & Take Breaks
- Turn off your phone for a while, don’t check your emails (your world won’t collapse!)
- Make a conscious effort to take a break regularly (until you’re feeling like yourself again)
7. Get A Change Of Scenery
- Could be as simple as working from a café instead of your office, or a full blown holiday… I went to Miami!! ☺
- The idea is to disrupt your normal routine, to shock your system a little bit.
It all comes down to BALANCE.
I think balance is the key.
After realizing what was happening to me, that I was burned out, and making a conscious effort to relieve the pressure somewhat by working on the seven recommendations above, I quickly bounced back to my normal self and got my mojo back.
Have you experienced burnout? What did you find worked best to get through it? Leave a comment below!
Until next month,