BURNT OUT? FOLLOW THESE FOUR SIMPLE TIPS TO COOL IT DOWN.
The alarm goes off in the morning, blaring in your ears. Your eyes open slowly and drowsily. Your gaze meets the ceiling. There's another day of training awaiting you. And the first thought is ___________________. If your first thought is “oh no” or “damn” or even “I don't think I can do it” – I hear you, I see you, and I get that that reaction can sometimes come from a place of deep exhaustion. In sport psychology words, people, athletes and performers who are faced with this experience each day might be characterized as experiencing burnout. Training, remaining motivated, and pushing yourself in or out of season can sometimes start to feel like each day gets heavier, but your legs aren't recovering. Or, it might feel like you really don't care anymore about the goals you once had a burning desire to achieve. Sometimes, it might also feel like the work you're putting in isn't even doing anything productive. This is burnout, folks. It doesn't discriminate, and it can be an enemy that we don't intuitively know how to overcome.
Burnout is a topic that I have spent the last few years researching, and I as I familiarize myself with burnout and continue to learn about the experiences of high-level athletes, I am more and more convinced that young athletes on the rise are being driven to burnout more often and earlier in life. It almost seems to be a normal part of the yearly cycle. Pre-season, season, post-season, burnout, off-season, repeat – at least for some. Right now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, you might especially be feeling a sense of burnout – training, but not knowing when or if your next competition will come. In the research literature, Dr. Thomas Raedeke found that burnout in sports tends to show up in three different ways: emotional and physical exhaustion, experiencing a reduced sense of accomplishment, and devaluing your sport experience. These each align with the feeling and experiences mentioned above, and could quite possibly describe some of what you are experiencing now or have in the past.
Knowing about and being able to define burnout in athletes and performers, a lot of different questions start to pop up. So, allow me to read your mind and answer a few. No, burnout usually doesn't last forever. Yes, there are things we can do to help ourselves get out of the rut of burnout. No, it won't happen overnight or maybe within a week or more. And, in my opinion, most importantly… No, you are not alone. You have people who care about you in this time, who can help you, and who want to see you bounce back. Practically speaking, this is something that you can absolutely start to address by utilizing Mindurance Now. Speaking to experienced professionals who can relate to what you are going through can immensely. Additionally, as you start to tackle this within yourself, here are some tips to turn your path from burning out to feeling recharged.
1. Practice daily gratitude.
There is a lot of emerging research both in and out of sport that shows that practicing gratitude can be a great way to reverse the negative effects of burnout and give yourself a boost of happiness, meaning, and connection. To practice gratitude, you can try starting a gratitude journal. Each morning or evening, take 5 minutes to open it up and write just 3 things that you are grateful for that day. It could be that you are grateful for circumstances about your day, other people in your life, or even simple things like the weather outside. In any case, make sure to write them down, and savor what you received that day.
Another way to practice gratitude that can yield profound effects is writing a letter of gratitude to someone in your life who you appreciate, but maybe have not told explicitly. It could be a coach, family member, friend, or the barista you see each day at the coffee shop. Write it up, deliver it to them, read it, and see how it can instantly connect you and the recipient, bringing a sense of belonging to your day.
2. Change it up!
I'm not saying that you have to pull a Michael Jordan here and switch to a different professional sport in order to inject some variety in to your life. But, research does show that changing up how, what, when, and who you train with can help jump start you out of being burned out. For example, if you have a daily routine of going to the gym, lifting, practicing skills, cooling down, and then eating a recovery meal maybe you can start to add in a fun, game-oriented warm-up. Maybe you can call a friend to go through the routine with you. Maybe you can take a week to train on someone else's plan and schedule. The more variation you can throw in to any rigid routines you have, the more you might enjoy the nuances of what you do each day.
Rest is quite possibly one of the hottest topics in sport and performance right now. But why? We all need rest. End of story. Right? Well, sure. That's right. However, while it is important to rest, it is also important to think about how we rest. Rest might be as simple as sleeping enough each night (7-9 hours for most adults). For others, upping the quality of sleep and physical rest throughout the day needs to be addressed, too. Here's a couple quick thoughts on rest and sleep. Turn off or ditch your phone and electronics 1 hour before bed. The blue light that your screens emit sounds the alarms in your brain to “stay alert and awake.” Not too helpful when you are lying in bed trying to sleep. Turn the TV off, too. Background noise might be comforting, but it keeps us from reaching the depths of sleep that we need. Lastly, invest in black-out curtains. Less light = better sleep.
4. Take a break.
Last, and certainly not least, you might consider doing what might seem unthinkable to some. Take a break. Don't train for your sport, competition, or performance for a week or two or more. Go run at a beach, hike a new trail, do a new yoga class, or bike a new route in order to stay active. But, contrary to what so many young athletes are told throughout life, taking time away from your sport can be healthy, necessary, and strategic in and of itself. Think of it this way. If you are burning out, you might be training at 60% of your maximum capacity. When you are fully recharged, you might jump back up to training at 90-100% capacity. I'm no mathematician, but I believe that training at 60% for a month (~30 days), you'll put out the same volume in just under 19 days if you were operating at 90%. All this math to say – in a month's time, you can probably take a 10-11 day break, if it will help you get away, recharge, and want to return to your sport again, and not lose any ground. Of course, consider the season you are in, where you are in your training cycle, and who your absence might affect. But remember – rest is strategic. We all need it. So, go get some!
These tips and strategies all have the research-backed power to help you get up out of that metaphorical bed, and get back to enjoying and valuing your sport and performance experience. And while these tips can help, I encourage you to never hesitate to reach out to the professionals, especially if you are feeling a little or a lot more bummed out than just ‘unmotivated.' There's a world of people who care and who have the tools to help you bounce back.
With that – keep in mind that burnout is normal. It's an all-too-common barrier that you will likely face more than a few times in your career. By practicing gratitude, variation in training, proper rest, and short stints away from your training domain you can be ahead of the curve in defeating burnout.