You are currently viewing Just Relax!

Just Relax!

I CAN’T relax!

Why is recovery from burnout so difficult? “Why don’t you just take a break? Just relax!” One of the most difficult aspects of burnout is the double bind:  People describe two opposites: a feeling of exhaustion accompanied by a nervy compulsion to go on regardless.  Burnout involves the loss of the capacity to relax, to “just do nothing”. It prevents us from embracing the ordinary pleasures of life – uninterrupted sleep, long baths, strolling in the woods, having a coffee and a long chat with a good friend  – that induce calm and contentment. It can be counterproductive to recommend relaxing activities to someone who complains that the one thing they cannot do is relax.

The thought of stopping, stepping off the treadmill of their life, can bring up enormous fear.  Often the hardest thing is admitting that we ARE burned out – it’s not a weakness, it’s not just something that happens to other people. And often the thought of starting to do things differently, is all too much. People often wait until everything has fallen apart – health, relationships, job – before they act. 

The toughest and most important step in recovery is therefore: 


  • Admitting (at least to ourselves) we are burned out.

We can’t get better if we don’t acknowledge that our current situation needs to change. This can be immensely challenging, especially if the thing that’s burning you out — a job you love, a job you know you are good at, where you make a difference for example — is important to you.

What are the next steps?


  • Time and Distance 

 What that means will vary based on your situation and resources. “Time” could be something small like half an hour to go out for a walk each evening, leaving a partner to mind home and children. And seeing this as essential, not a luxury. “Distance” could be as significant as quitting your job or taking some sick leave. 

  • Shifting Priorities

We tend not to notice the slow creeping up of exhaustion and burnout and are well able to run on empty for a long time – stopping to refill the tank will not necessarily come easily to us – again it may be something small like going to bed one hour earlier each evening or letting go of perfectionism in the way we clean and organise our home – the shift is towards doing whatever helps us feel like ourselves again.

  • Re-evaluating Goals and Values

As our health starts to improve, we may be able to start to consider the situation that led us to burnout. What am I not getting that I need to be happy? (e.g. getting outside in nature, spending time on a hobby we are passionate about) Is my mindset helping or hurting me? (e.g. overwork) Are my priorities in sync with my values at this point in my life? What’s most important to me now and why?

Then once we start to feel a bit more energised and ready (and not before!):


  • Exploring alternative paths and opportunities. 

Once you have a sense of what needs are being unmet in your life, it’s time to do something about it. What concrete change(s) could you make to improve your situation? Maybe you need to leave a relationship that’s no longer serving you … or maybe you just need to get a night to yourself once a week. The changes don’t necessarily have to be big to make a meaningful difference in your daily life. And finally….


ACTION: Once we’ve figured out what we need, we have to actually do it. That’s not always easy, but it is vital to the recovery process.

For More Information     for the Burned Out, Fried and Exhausted    Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski Ph.D. and Amelia Nagoski, D


Book a counselling session today!


See also: Warning Signs of BurnoutSelf-Care isn’t the Answer!Tools and Strategies for Burnout Recovery