Many of us have probably heard about or even experienced Burnout, which is a common occurrence in this day and age. It is a topic many people struggle with, and in many places, it is still a taboo topic to talk about. Being a high-performing professional running multiple online businesses for the past few years, I have had my fair share of burnout phases. Gladly, I have found some ways that work for me to avoid burnout, which I am going to share with you in this article.
Table of Contents
- Why do people Burn Out?
- But what should I do? I want to be successful!
- There is a way out, but it's not going to be easy
- The methods that have helped me to overcome Burnout
- Help with Building Habits
- A Note on Discipline
- Resources Mentioned in this Article
Why do people Burn Out?
There is no better example of this case than the year 2020. Many people, while working remotely from home due to COVID, have seen the opportunity to become a Content Creator or start some other kind of side hustle next to their full-time job. Now, if you already have a stressful full-time job and start creating content on the side, this can quickly add up and become too much. Add family and social life to the mix, and you are setting yourself up for trouble.
But why do people burn out? Because they don't balance their work & life. I personally learned this the hard way.
A typical day for most of us high achievers looks something like this:
- Wake up.
- Go to work.
- Come back home, and on a good day, throw in a 30-minute workout that you hate.
- Spend an hour or two with the family.
- Get back on the computer and work on our content or personal projects.
- Maybe throw in an hour of watching Netflix or TV, or maybe you are a Streamer with a regular schedule, which makes it even harder to get in enough sleep.
- Hit the mats directly after consuming or putting out information while staring at a screened device.
Looks familiar? Then it is time to change something.
If you read through the points above, you probably see that you have zero time for self-care. I personally don't see my daily runs as self-care because I mostly end up contemplating stuff that I still have to do in the rest of my day.
Self-care is a time when you slow down your mind and when you are conscious of your thoughts. Most of our days, we react unconsciously to each thought as it comes in.
But what should I do? I want to be successful!
What are success and money worth if you are unhappy? For me, nothing. Realizing this is your first step to avoid burnout. You can have all the money in the world and be unhappy. People always say: "Yea, but money helps with peace of mind". It doesn't, for most of us at least.
The more money we accumulate, the more money we spend on sh*t we don't need, which at the same time enslaves us and ties us in deeper and deeper, raising our standard of living and making us want more and more.
Once you buy a house, a car, and a lot of other stuff, all this stuff needs to be maintained and comes with running costs. Everything you buy creates a sense of false freedom and makes you "happy" only for a brief moment while at the same time putting another bar around you, creating a prison that you are building around yourself. You don't own your things, your things own you.
There is a way out, but it's not going to be easy
It took me way too long to understand this. I ignored the signs for way too long, and I paid the price in 2020. I was severely burnt out and sick to my stomach (literally).
I decided to quit my well-paying Job as the Head of IT of a successful startup to completely turn my life around. I decided to make my health my top priority, putting it number one and everything else behind it.
Being a certified Yoga Teacher and having a wife who is also a Yoga Teacher, I knew all the methods that are probably going to help me, I just didn't use them. I always told myself, "there is time for that later".
Like most people, I only started changing things once I was affected by sickness.
Now, this is not a universal solution for everyone, this is just what has helped me. If you can cherry-pick one or two things and implement them in your own life and it actually helps you, you can go from there.
I believe everyone needs to find his or her own way and needs to find methods that work for them to avoid burnout.
The methods that have helped me to overcome Burnout
All of the things below are things I started including in my life once I realized I had burnout. I knew I should have done those things before getting sick, but I didn't.
There is no particular order. On some days, one method will help you more than the other and vice versa. The important part is that you also make your health your top priority. Regardless, I want to put emphasize on Meditation, our first point below, above everything else. I believe Meditation is the single most important factor on your way to happiness.
As long as you see your personal well-being as something secondary, it will be exactly this, something secondary that you easily skip on days where you don't feel like it.
One more thing to add to that before we dive in: 1 Minute is better than none at all. Just remember this for the rest of this conversation.
Now you think, "Oh yeah, here we go again", but hear me out.
Meditation is the key. The key to happiness, the key to health, and the key to success, the key to avoiding burnout. Once YOU get to be the one who decides what to do instead of your subconsciousness, you see things start changing.
And believe me, I understand. Meditation is the single hardest thing I have ever tried to do. As someone with ADHD, anxiety issues, and general difficulty concentrating on anything for longer than 5 minutes, I get it. It's hard. It's very hard. But it's so worth it if you force yourself through the initial failures.
Let me pull up a quote from quadruple amputee Kyle Maynard on that note. (Who climbed Mount Everest and became a National Wrestling Champion)
"I don't think failure is sometimes part of the process - it always is. When you feel you can't go on, know that you're just getting started."
Make this your mantra.
I did not take any meditation courses, I don't use apps, and I don't use guided meditations. I just sit down and try to be quiet. I mostly use some kind of meditation music or mantras (The Meditative Mind YouTube Channel has some great stuff for that).
I learned a bit about meditation in my 200-Hour Yoga Teacher course, but not nearly enough that I would say that has helped me become a better meditator. The Focus of the 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training is more on alignment, anatomy, philosophy, and general teaching techniques rather than on meditation. The 300-Hour Teacher Training goes way deeper into meditation.
What I can say is that I definitely can feel the difference on days now when I skip my meditation practice. I am way more out of balance, and it affects my whole day. When I meditate, I am a better human all around.
One of the resources listed below is from one of my teachers that I had the pleasure of working with during my Yoga Teacher Training, Ali Choi.
She is a very advanced meditator and is also giving Meditation Teacher Training. The beginner class below is donation based, so if you enjoy it, make sure to either share it or let a donation come her way. I highly recommend checking out her content.
There is also a great "How to Start Meditating - 8 Easy Steps" guide she has put together. Both of the resources come highly recommended.
A couple of things for you to try:
- How to Start Meditating - 8 Easy Steps by Ali Choi
- Guided Meditation for Beginners by Ali Choi
- Sam Harris Waking Up App
- Calm App
- Headspace App
- Tara Brach Meditations on YouTube
- Meditative Mind on YouTube
As I said, most of the time I meditate, I either sit down in complete silence or, mostly when I need to blind out external noises (Family), I use meditation music or mantras with my earphones.
Listening to someone talk and guide me through something while I try to think of nothing at all somehow defeats the purpose for me.
I can't tell you how to meditate because everyone works differently. I can just share the resources that have helped me become better at it. The best time to meditate is directly after waking up. Maybe you have to join the 5 AM club to find some time for quietness. Find a quiet place where you don't get interrupted or use earphones.
The later it gets in the day, the higher the likelihood of you skipping your practice will be. Trust me, I speak from experience. It is also very important that you don't overdo it. Many people like to start with something like, "I will meditate every day for 30 days for 10 minutes!". No, you won't. Start with one minute per day for one week. Then do 2 minutes the next week and do this for so long until you find your sweet spot.
Before you know it, you'll look forward to sitting down in quietness.
You could also make it a family habit. We sit for meditation every evening before bringing our son to the bed. Sometimes he can sit still for 30 seconds, sometimes he can manage a couple of minutes. We want to engrain a healthy habit into him from the get-go and also teach him that it is important to spend some time and reflect on things that had happened over the day. We already look forward to meditating together every evening now.
There is a ton more I could tell you about meditation, but it would make this article way too long. After all, we want to talk about more things that help you to avoid burnout.
In case you are also dealing with a health condition (physically or mentally), I highly recommend Joe Dispenza's book "Becoming Supernatural: How Common People are Doing the Uncommon".
I guess you can tell how important and how much weight I put on meditation after reading this section. Let's move on.
Of course, I have to mention Yoga. Yoga, for me, is everything. Before attending my first Yoga class, I had the same false expectation as most people I know who haven't tried it: "Yoga is a Women's thing, and it is boring".
They quickly changed their mind after visiting an actual class, including me. Also, this Video by a fellow Yoga Teacher, Dylan Werner, might convince you otherwise.
Now there are a gazillion ways of getting into Yoga, the one I recommend would be joining a beginner class.
A lot of people nowadays start with Online Yoga. The problem with this is that there is nobody to correct you in your poses, which eventually will lead to you learning things the wrong way and ending up hurting yourself while trying to do something good for yourself.
Also, unlearning something that was wrongly learned is very, very hard.
But I know most of you will be like: "But everyone will laugh at me". No, no one will laugh at you. The Yoga community, for the most part, is very friendly and welcoming to beginners. Everyone more advanced knows how hard it is to start.
If you don't want that, I understand. If you must start online, there are a couple of channels and websites I recommend you check out, which are beginner friendly and very popular.
- Yoga with Adriene (Very beginner friendly and very popular)
- Fightmaster Yoga
- Stefan Rows Yoga
- Yoga Pose Mastery
Yoga Pose Mastery is a good website to learn more about the basics of Yoga poses and how to practice them safely. I created this website together with my wife, and we keep adding beginner-focused guides weekly.
Another option, "thanks" to Covid, is simply attending an online class at a local studio using Zoom. That way, if you get a good instructor, they are able to direct you via video. Almost all studios offer Online Classes at this moment, so this is a good option.
Look out for classes labeled as "beginner" or "introduction".
For the most part, Yoga nowadays is used as a tool to stay in shape. There are a lot of different styles of Yoga, yet there is just one Yoga. I won't bore you with the philosophy, but for me personally, Yoga is much more than that.
I use Yoga to tune it with my body and prepare myself for my meditation practice. Practicing Asanas (Yoga poses) helps me to get in the zone and focus on what's to come.
I also use Yoga as a tool to listen to my body. My body tells me when something needs more attention, and I always try to follow that calling. I am a firm believer that Yoga is a tool to cure many diseases without the need for medication or surgery.
Getting into a Yoga practice is a great way to avoid burnout. You should definitely find a good Yoga Shala (a Yoga Studio) near you for your first couple of classes. Here are some benefits of practicing in a Yoga Studio.
I highly recommend the book "Light on Yoga" by B.K.S Iyengar for anyone dealing with health issues.
My first profound experience with breathwork was through the Wim Hof Method (See next point). After using his breathing method for the first time, I already knew I was onto something. At this moment, I had no prior contact with Pranayama (The Yogic breathing technique), but I knew I had to dig deeper.
I found the excellent book "Breath" by James Nestor. James is a researcher who has struggled with breathing problems his whole life. He made it his mission to discover everything there is to know about breathing. The book really is fantastic, I loved reading it and have already read it 3 times and gifted it numerous times to friends who struggle with health.
It became apparent to me that breathing is the key to many health-related issues. If you implement a regular breathing practice into your daily routine, you will see a quick overall shift in your mood. You can breathe depression away. As with meditation, this is not easy to learn and requires discipline.
Simply sitting down and just breathing sounds easy, but try doing it for prolonged periods - as with everything else, we lose interest if we do not see quick results.
There is only one resource I can share with you because it is the best resource I know. It's a full-on 5-week Pranayama Course that was made by my Yoga Teacher, Johnny Nasello.
I have had many Yoga Teachers throughout the years, but after taking one of his classes, I immediately knew that this would be my teacher. I took his 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training back in 2019 in Koh Phangan, Thailand.
Johnny spent a month in India practicing nothing other than Pranayama (Breathing). So you can be sure that everything he teaches comes from a deep understanding of Pranayama. He has led more than 20 Yoga Teacher trainings and has thousands of hours of experience with Yoga.
There is a free intro to the course called "The Breath of Yoga" which helps to get you started with the basics. If you feel like you need more, you can take on the full 5-Week experience "Learn Pranayama Online". I took the course, and I loved it.
I highly recommend getting into a breathwork practice if you are looking to avoid burnout.
The Wim Hof Method
Ah, now the fun begins, cold water! Everyone loves cold water, right? With cold, I mean ice cold. No, seriously. I have practiced Wim Hof's breathing method and cold water exposure since around 2015 on and off.
I go swimming in frozen lakes in the midst of Winter, and I love it. It makes you feel alive, and it feels absolutely great when you've done it. There is a lot of science around Wim Hof's method. The best thing you could do is grab his newly released book "Activate Your Full Human Potential" from 2020 and see for yourself.
There is a lot of evidence that this method can heal serious depression and illness. It certainly was life-changing for me. The same goes for cold water exposure in general.
The best you can do is join a local Wim Hof Method Workshop near you, they happen around the world regularly now. Or simply check out this introduction video from Wim himself. The Wim Hof Method is a great way to avoid burnout.
I really hope that in this day and age, we are past the stigma that was attached to psychological therapy. In the past, it was frowned upon if you admitted you had mental problems. Seeking therapy is an essential step if you want to avoid burnout.
In this fast pace world, but especially in our fast-paced jobs where our brain is under overload for the majority of our waking hours, it comes as no surprise that we develop mental health problems.
Do I need to mention the bombardment of information we get every day through our Smartphones?
Just know this: The human mind is not used to consuming this insane amount of information daily, the result for most of us is: that we burn out and feel overwhelmed.
Unfortunately, this also cultivates mental illness. You may not consciously realize it, but watching other people's seemingly "perfect life" (which is mostly fake by the way) makes you compare your own life, even on a subconscious level, to those people, which is not exactly healthy.
I see taking therapy as no different than going to the doctor because you have a cough. You are ill, you go to the doctor. Simple as that.
My recommendation is to find a therapist as soon as you have the feeling something is not right. If you feel sad, tired, or a general lack of motivation, it is time to talk to someone.
The longer you let those negative feelings linger without taking action, the harder you will have it to get back on track.
Referencing Joe Dispenza's book I mentioned earlier, you can literally conjure up diseases entirely with your own mind. (Gladly, you can make them go away again, too, using the right techniques).
In the best case, the therapist will tell you you don't need therapy and recommends you something to do instead. Or you get treated early and will be over it in no time.
If you take away anything from this whole article, let it be this: don't be afraid to ask for help.
Journaling is one of those things that could help you to avoid burnout. It certainly did a great deal for me.
Let's just say the year 2020 hasn't been the best for me, and leave it at that. In one of the darkest moments, I picked up journaling. I remember reading about it in one of the numerous self-help books I have read throughout the years.
I said from this moment on every time I will feel sad or unhappy, I put some thoughts down in my journal. I quickly realized that everything started shifting for me when I picked up the pen and wrote out my thoughts. I realized that some of the thoughts I had were absolutely irrational and bullsh*t when I brought them to life.
I made it a habit to pick up the pen every time I fell off the wagon and write out the sh*t that was going on. It helped.
I moved on from doing that to writing a journal at the end of every day. Now there are people who like to journal first thing in the morning (same as with meditating). While I get why they do it, it isn't for me.
You have to figure out what works for you in that case. For me, struggling with sleep for a couple of years, it is better to write out my thoughts before hitting the mats. This helps me to reflect on my day, and it also helps me to get those thoughts out of my head.
I certainly feel there is some benefit to that, and I have a better night's sleep every time I journal (which is almost every day now).
I can't give you a ton of advice other than: Buy a cheap notebook, start to write out your thoughts, and see what happens. Journaling is one of the things that can definitely help you to avoid burnout.
Physical Activity / Sport
Another method to avoid burnout is Physical Activity. You have probably heard this before, but if it isn't obvious yet, we are not made to sit. Most of us sit most of the time. We are made to move. If we stop moving our meat vehicles around on a daily basis, we start dying. It literally translates to: You stop moving - you start dying.
Also, sitting around the whole day and not giving our body the movement it needs makes you depressed. This has been proven in numerous studies (which I am far too lazy to include here).
Moving makes you happy! Being outside in the fresh air makes you even happier, it is key to get some nature time when you want to avoid burnout.
Every single time I don't want to go for a run but convince myself otherwise, I feel better afterward. The same goes for other sports. I mostly don't like to do any sport unless I convince myself that I will feel better afterward, and I always do.
As I have mentioned above, running does not help me to shut off mentally. It's just not hard enough for me.
What I have found is, and I am sure some of you will belong to this category (If not, you have to try it!), that very physically draining sports or activities help me to shut off my brain for a brief moment.
I learned this when I was practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu 5-6 times a week when I was living in Prague, Czechia. At the end of every class, we would do sparring for 3 or 4 eight minute rounds. This is full contact ground fighting.
There is honestly nothing I have ever tried that depleted me more physically than trying to survive against a shark on the floor for 3x8 minutes straight. I sometimes vomited after class ( I was not the only one).
But what I have learned from that experience, which was probably part of why I liked it so much, was that within those 8 minutes of struggle, my brain did not work as usual. There was no time for thoughts, there was only time for reaction. Automatic muscle memory. A state of complete nothingness and flow.
This was probably my first contact with "meditation". It worked for me. I also recognized how much it was missing in my life when I had to stop training due to moving to another country and starting a family. I was angrier, imbalanced, and just generally missing something.
I just realized much later that what was missing was probably not the physical combat part but the quiet time for my brain in those 8 minutes of full contact sparring.
I had similar experiences in other sports like Crossfit, but never to an extent as in BJJ.
Long story short, give something hard a try to avoid burnout. Try something that is completely depleting you and doesn't allow you to think. A couple of things I'd recommend are listed below. If you have any health conditions or are completely new to sports, I don't recommend doing any of those.
- Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
- Muay Thai
- Kettlebell Training
- High-Intensity Workouts (HIIT)
- High-Intensity Cycling
- Insert any completely exhausting sport here...
Oh, sleep. I hope by now everyone understands how important sleep is, especially to avoid burnout. I won't get into a lot of sleep science, but I read a lot of books on sleep so I can share what I have learned. I can highly recommend the book "Why We Sleep" by Matthew Walker, PhD. By far the best book I have read on sleep and by far the one with the biggest influence on my sleep.
I have struggled with sleep my whole adulthood. I now have it under control, thanks to the daily rituals and practices I implemented in my life.
I really do not want to bore you with a ton of science because there is so much. I rather give you a couple of key points that have improved my sleep the most. I talk from years of experience and trying literally everything there is, including a pricy 3-Nights stay in a sleep laboratory.
I try to give this somewhat of an order to make clear what helped me the most, but I don't think it has to be the same for you. It can be any of those things.
- Proper Sleep Hygiene (No screens 1h before bed, go to bed at the same time every day, do your sleep ritual before going to bed, which can be any of the above-mentioned methods)
- Meditation and Breathwork before bed
- A weighted blanked (this seriously had the biggest influence on my sleep that I can remember, it's also scientifically proven to work). Do your own research on quality/brand. I live in Germany, so I can't tell what is good in the US. I use the Gravity Blanket.
- CBD Oil 10%+ (Expensive, but it works)
- L-Tryptophan (I can't recall where I came on this, but this also helps to relax you before sleep, it works for me, especially in combination with the CBD Oil)
- Earplugs (I generally sleep with Earplugs and have had lots of success with getting better sleep because I have a kid at home and generally wake up from every fly's fart)
- Whoop Strap (I use a Whoop strap to measure and optimize my sleep, while not directly improving my sleep by itself, it definitely helps you to find out what works and what doesn't. It was a very worthwhile investment for me)
- Reduce caffeine intake (Caffeine has a half-life time of 3-5 hours, let's assume you consume a Monster Energy drink which has 36mg caffeine at 3 PM. That leaves you with an astonishing 18mg of caffeine at 8 PM and still with half of that 5 hours later. If you are sensitive to caffeine like me, this messes up your sleep big time)
I think those were the most important factors in improving sleep and to avoid burnout. See what works for you.
Now, I won't go into the topic of a diet very deeply, and I certainly won't tell you what to eat but just know this: you are what you eat.
If you stuff yourself with low-quality, highly processed food the whole day, you will feel bad. I won't say which diet is the best, because that highly differs from person to person, there is no one fit all. I personally follow a mostly vegetarian diet with as few processed foods as I can.
Think: Does it have more than 1 ingredient? Don't eat it.
On most days, I eat 90% unprocessed foods and 10% processed. Sometimes less. I try to avoid sugar and any kind of stimulants like caffeine or alcohol. Of course, there are exceptions, but I generally try to avoid those.
There is too much to say about diet. If you take one thing away from this: the least processed, the better. Stick to natural foods and if you can afford it, go all organic. I have tried almost every popular diet over longer periods of time (1 month to several years), and I have found that sticking with the simple principle of "least processed, lots of different veggies" works best for me.
Having your diet in check when you try to avoid burnout is key.
There is an excellent book by Paul Chek, whom I deeply respect. It's called "How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy". If you have no clue how to start your diet journey, buy this book.
One last tip: Don't follow any fad diets or any "lose fat quickly" diets. They never work and are not sustainable or healthy.
Help with Building Habits
Building sustainable habits are very hard. Gladly, there is a great book about that. In fact, it's one of my all-time favorite books. "Atomic Habits" by James Clear.
James tells you his own incredible story and how he turned his life around after having a (near-death) accident. I seriously haven't found better advice on building habits in any other resource I have studied.
James makes it so easy for you to implement new habits. Here is a little bite-sized piece of his work.
I have gifted this book to numerous friends, and all of them loved it. It is definitely worth checking out on your journey to avoid burnout because all stands and falls with the building of a habit.
A Note on Discipline
I want to emphasize that not a single one of those techniques will give you quick success. I know how we work, we want it all, and we want it now. But this is not how this works.
Everything mentioned above needs time. It needs time to cultivate. You can't reverse 20 years of bad habits or a long history of bad health with a week of Yoga. You need to understand this, I did not understand it from the beginning, and I was very frustrated at some point until I started accepting that those things need time, and that is ok.
I encourage you to start with small steps. As with everything in life, consistency is key.
Start small, start with a minute a day and slowly pick up the pace until you find your sweet spot. If you set too ambitious goals with those things, the only thing that will happen is that you give up and bounce back to a worse state than before. (Diets, anyone?)
To avoid burnout, cultivating some discipline is definitely helpful.
While I feel like I could go on forever on that topic, I have to wrap up this article not to make it too long and too complicated. I can give so much advice about how to Avoid Burnout that I could write a small book about it.
I believe in allocating a certain amount of time daily to your self-care routine. If that means you have to join the 5 AM club, so be it, but do it! For me, it's the opposite, I stay up late until everyone sleeps to do my routine in quietness. I dedicate two to three full hours to self-care every single day. On most days is like 2 hours for Yoga, Meditation, and Breathwork and around 1 hour for sport.
I am very involved in the Twitter InfoSec and Programming community, and I see posts about people burning out daily. Going through all of this myself, I want to help people. The people in this community usually earn a solid salary, so they should be able to get the help they deserve to continue being the best at their job.
I hope this article helps you to Avoid Burnout and to find direction. Take it easy and stay healthy!
Resources Mentioned in this Article
(Includes affiliate links)
- Becoming Supernatural: How Common People are Doing the Uncommon - Joe Dispenza
- Light on Yoga - B.K.S Iyengar
- Why We Sleep - Matthew Walker PhD
- Activate Your Full Human Potential - Wim Hof
- Atomic Habits - James Clear
- Breath - James Nestor
- How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy - Paul Chek
- Sam Harris Waking Up App
- Calm App
- Headspace App
- Tara Brach Meditations on YouTube
- Meditative Mind on YouTube
- Yoga with Adriene (Very beginner friendly and very popular)
- Fightmaster Yoga
- Stefan Rows Yoga