I’m a fan of lazy days. Just ask my husband and kids — we usually have one or more days every week where we do absolutely nothing. Now, I’m not going to talk about those days, because those days are good for you. It’s good to unwind, unplug, and get a little break from all the going and doing that we all seem compelled to engage in these days.
I’m going to talk about the darker side of lazy days, the lazy days that start as a single escapist day and wind up spiraling into an abyss of nothingness that seems impossible to climb out of.
This post isn’t about depression — though it could be a mitigating factor in your lazy day-turned-into-something-more. For what it’s worth, anyone who feels keenly unmotivated to do anything at all for days on end should evaluate their mental health, because depression could be the likely culprit for this lack of motivation.
But this post is really about burnout, that word that is used so often but rarely understood for what it really is. Burnout is defined as a physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress. Not every person who gets stressed out or overworked will develop burnout. Heck, you don’t even have to have a job to get burned out. But a constant struggle with anything can sap your energy and lead you into burnout city fast.
Burnout isn’t just the inability to carry on with something challenging. It can also be a lack of motivation to start new things. And the cause for this particular type of burnout may be related to any of a number of things, from depression to stress to a lack of good decision-making skills. But the result is the same — spinning wheels, frustration, and no real progress in what you’re trying to achieve.
I work for myself, which means that if I don’t hustle, I don’t earn money. This can have a negative impact on my family in several ways. It puts more pressure on my husband to support us financially. It lowers my self-esteem when I can’t find financial success at what I do. And it puts a stress on the whole family when money is tight and we can do the things we want or even sometimes need to do.
As an author, burnout is always a topic of conversation among the folks I hang out with online. Authors can burn out fast and hard, and sometimes, we don’t even realize we’re burning out until we’re little more than a pile of smoldering ashes on the sofa, surfing Netflix for the eighth hour of the day and wondering how we’re going to explain why we didn’t get anything done that day.
Authors are also good at making excuses for why we’re not able to work. We tell ourselves that we need to refill our creative wells (which may be true, but not all the time), that we need to ruminate over our plots (which also may be true, but not always), or that we just deserve a break from the tedium of creating worlds from nothing and the solitude of our craft. This last part could be true, but most writers who aren’t suffering from burnout actually enjoy what we do a great deal.
Side note: it isn’t just people who work from home that get burnout, obviously. But it can be hard for lots of people to realize that burnout is what they’re experiencing. If you spend your days off from your job just lazing about with no real motivation to do anything, you might need to ask yourself if you’re in burnout. It might be time for a change, but you’re the only one who can assess that.
So how can you get out of burnout? Honestly, I’m not an expert on the recovery aspect of burnout. I’ve experienced it, both mild cases and more severe, and my escape plan included taking stock exactly how I was feeling. Why was I avoiding work? Why was I avoiding starting new projects? Was I depressed, suffering from executive functioning issues, overwhelmed with a to-do list that was just too unrealistic? Once you understand how you found yourself in burnout, you can create a map that will lead you out.
I’ve personally battled depression and mild executive functioning issues most of my life. I know what it feels like to find myself spinning my wheels, unable to break out of the rut. But I also know what it’s like to finally figure out how to get out, too. What works for me may not work for you, but it might lead you to something that does. Here are some tips for finding your way out of burnout and getting back to a happier, more productive life.
Check your mental health. Are you suffering from depression? Are you stressed from working too much? Depression isn’t always a chemical thing — situational depression is way more common than most people realize.
Check your physical health. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating well? A lack of sleep or a crappy diet can lead to hormone imbalances that make you feel depressed. This can happen suddenly or it can creep up over the years, but it is just as devastating emotionally each time.
Make a list of SMALL STEPS that you can take to make progress. If you’re burned out from trying to write 3000 words every day, just set a goal to write 100 words every day. If your job is causing you to experience burnout, look at ways you can change the job. Can you apply for another job? Can you change the way your job is done? Or maybe you could change your work environment in some small way that will help you deal with the job better.
Each step should be small, achievable, and something that will cause an impact that you can see or feel. When I get in a writing burnout, just getting in a few hundred words is something that is concrete — an achievement I can see and feel. When I worked outside the home, I experienced burnout in a customer service job. I found that searching for other jobs both within and outside my company helped me discover that I really wanted to do something else for a living. This led to a career change that made me happier, healthier, and less prone to burnout.
Changing careers may not be the answer to your burnout. Maybe talking to a therapist, a friend, or a relative could help. Just looking at your situation in a careful, analytical way can sometimes trigger the changes we need to move through the burnout and find happier times.
Lazy days spent in bed or on the sofa with the remote control in your hand can be bliss, but if you feel like you’re having too many of these days, take a step back and look at what’s really going on. You might find that you’re actually avoiding dealing with something much bigger than you realize, and if you catch it early enough, you may not even wind up completely burned out at all.