So, I’m going to admit, I’ve been feeling some burnout lately. It sucks, I feel unmotivated, uninterested, and honestly just tired all the time.
What exactly is burnout you might be wondering? It’s a state of “emotion, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress” (helpguide.org). That stress can come from all kinds of things like work, travel, the state of the world, social engagements, an overly packed schedule, or pretty much anything.
So? What do you do? Dealing with burnout is already shitty, and can be shittier if you are a digital nomad and on the road. Not only are you trying to balance your work but you are also traveling which brings with it its own set of stressors.
In this post, I’m going to go over some of the things that have worked for me in dealing with burnout. I am by no means a medical expert, I’m just a digital nomad who has (and still does) deal with these kinds of issues, does a lot of internet research, and occasional talks to a therapist. Throughout this post, I’ll also use my personal experiences as examples because that is just what I know. If you can relate that’s awesome, but I’m just one person and everyone’s experiences are different.
Signs of Burnout
The first thing you need to do is notice if you are experiencing any of the burnout symptoms. We all have bad days or bad weeks here and there but if you are experiencing these things consistently you might be burning out.
- Exhaustion – You’re just tired, probably all the time.
- Uninterested – The things you generally like doing don’t hold any interest for you anymore.
- Unmotivated – Trying to do the tasks at hand seem impossible.
- Irritability – Everything and everyone becomes annoying.
- Detachment and isolation – You feel alone in the world and you physically isolated yourself.
- Physical issues – Things like headaches, stomach issues, and sleep problems can all accompany burnout.
Near the end of our around the world trip in 2016 we were in Tokyo and had gone to Disney Sea for the day, it was a ton of fun. It’s a beautiful theme park and we had a good time but at the end of the day we were starting to get a bit tired and something in my brain snapped. All of a sudden I just couldn’t deal anymore, not with the crowds, not with the differences in culture, not with the language barrier. I remember saying to Rob, “Oh man, I just had the strangest voice in my head saying ‘why is everything like this? Why can’t it just be normal??’, I think I’m ready to go home”. We’d been on the road almost seven months at that point and I was burnt out, the most recognizable symptom was irritability.
Identifying Your Stressors
From the definition of burnout, we know that stress is the cause so figuring out what is stressing you out and why is key. But, unfortunately, it’s not always just one thing. At least for me, it can start as one thing that then affects another part of my life causing another stressor. Here are a few common ones:
There are a whole host of ways work can be a stressor and lead to burnout. Some of them are:
- Lack of control – Over your schedule, projects, decision making.
- Unclear expectations – About your duties, your role, your authority.
- Workplace dynamics – Not getting along with your coworkers or boss, feeling micromanaged, miscommunications.
- Extremes in activities – If your job is really monotonous or really chaotic, either can drain you.
- Fulfillment – If you have no interest in your role, your tasks, or what your company does then you can hit burn out real easily.
- Lack of growth – When you can’t grow or move up in your job or company it can feel like your stuck on an endless loop.
What? But travel is so much fun! I hate to break it to ya but if you are a long-term traveler or digital nomad it can wear on you. Here’s how:
- Moving around too much – If you are in a new destination every other day that can be exhausting.
- Doing too much – When you are trying to see every major site in a given destination it can kind of take the fun out of it.
- Not taking days off – You need downtime even when you’re on the road, I know there’s just so much to see and do out there but taking time to recharge is important.
- Not being able to let go or adapt when things go wrong or plans change – If you can’t adjust when things go wrong or change you’re going to be angry and upset all the time.
Life in general
Sometimes being a human in this world is hard, there’s a lot going on all the time. Here are few life stressors to watch out for:
- The news
- Social media
- Over scheduling yourself
- Too much or not enough social interaction
- Domestic duties (like cooking and cleaning)
- Partner disputes
When we started our trip around the world in 2016 we were hopping around everywhere. We spent the summer bouncing around Europe, which was a blast, but we never spent more than three days anywhere. This lead to trying to cram as much stuff into each day as possible. This was also before we had figured out we needed to schedule workdays so we’d go out all days seeing the sites and doing cool stuff then come back at night and try to get a full day of work in when we were already tired. So how many stressors is that? Moving too much, doing too much, no rest days, not having time to work, missing deadlines… Uhhh five? Yeah, it was bad.
How to Deal
So you’ve hit burn out, or you’ve realized you are on that path. What do you do? Once you know what your main stressors are you can start to figure out what to do. Sometimes you just need a little time to reset and recharge, sometimes a few little behavior changes will get you back on track, and sometimes (but honestly not very often) you need to make a big dramatic change to your life. Regardless, it’s good to take a day or a couple of days off to slow down and figure out what you need.
Here are some things I have done to recover from a burnout:
- Quit my job and traveled around the world for seven months (so dramatic)
- Came home
- Took a break from a project and worked on something else/new
- Took up other creative hobbies like painting
- Said no to big group events and spent one on one time with close friends
- Took a whole day off to do nothing
- Worked with a business coach
- Canceled plans
- Excluded destinations to slow down travel
- Talked things out with a friend or partner
- Took a break from my phone
- Let go of problematic clients
- Talked to a therapist (I have used TalkSpace)
Ideally, we never get to burnout because we set ourselves up to be happy and productive humans, and by doing so prevent it altogether. It’s also important to recognize the signs early on so you can adjust before things get too bad if you do start to go down the burnout path.
Here are some of the things I do to try and prevent burn out in work, travel, and life.
- Work on things I’m interested in, yeah I know obviously. What I really mean is more like if I’m trying to write a blog post and the words just aren’t coming. Then I stop and work on something else. Sometimes I’ll come back to it and the words will be flowing and it’s great, but sometimes I have to come to the conclusion that that article was not meant to be written by me and I need to move on. Coming back to it over and over again and never being able to write it is both unproductive and maddening. So moral of the story, don’t try to force a project, a task, a job, a relationship that just isn’t in the cards for you.
- I am constantly looking for ways to improve and grow my blog and businesses. This one is so much harder than it seems because it’s so easy to get stuck in a rut doing what you’ve always done or what you know works. But there’s no growth in that.
- Work on my own personal development and growth. Just like you want to be growing and improving in your job or business you should want to be growing and improving as a person too. I tend to read and listen to personal development books and podcasts.
- Really short to-do lists. Seriously, I try to only put three things a day on my to-do list. When you have too many things on the list it’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like there too many things to do and not enough time and energy to do them. And too much stuff leads to burn out.
- Slow travel. Spend more time in one place so that you have enough time to see and do all you want and also have workdays and days off.
- Let go of mistakes, mishaps, and change of plans. Just know that the world will keep turning and you’ll figure it out whatever happens. A missed train or bad internet connection sucks yes, but aren’t the end of the world. It also just takes up so much energy to stay upset about little things, you don’t need to waste your energy on it.
- Tending to my introvert needs (does that sound dirty? It’s not). Here’s the thing, I’m an introvert but I do enjoy going out and socializing. But I know that if I am going out and socializing a ton and or in big groups it really drains me. So I make sure I have recovery and recharge time after a big event or I stick to smaller groups of close friends and one on one time for my socializing.
- Take days off, full stop.
You Got This
Burnout is a bummer, but it’s not the end of the world. There are ways to prevent it and come back from it. Sometimes it can even be a good thing, giving you that wake-up call that you need to make some changes in your life or behaviors. This year has been a rough one for so many of us, so if you are feeling some burnout right now it’s ok. Just take a step back and know you can figure it out.
How to Keep Routine and Structure on the Road
How to Work From Home or Anywhere
Where to Find Remote Work
How to Travel Responsibly (now and always)
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