The Losses That Come With Burnout

5 min read

The more I delve into working with others experiencing burnout, the more I hear the experience of loss. Loss of health, loss of job/career, loss of identity, loss of self-worth, and loss of abilities to focus, attend, and make decisions. They share that with this loss comes waves of sadness and, at times, a sense of helplessness when they look into their future.

I can relate.

When I was burnt out, I experienced waves of loss. For me, it was the loss of a future, career, independence, and joy. Experiencing this was excruciatingly painful. However, I was in the privileged position to know what to do when I felt these burnout losses. Due to my psychology training and experience, I was equipped with the knowledge and know-how to support myself each time a wave of loss came over me. But I know not everyone has this. I want to pass this wisdom on so you can ride the waves of burnout losses just like I did.

First, you need to know that burnout losses are tricky experiences. This is because they tend to stick around for a while. They do so because some take time to resolve (e.g., regaining health), and others may be unsolvable (e.g., career), and if you push yourself to recover the losses, it will only amplify your suffering. The only solution is to get comfortable with it. Here’s how you do just that:

Step 1: Lean into loss. Mindfully notice your experience of loss and be curious about this experience. Learn as much about it as you can. How does it appear in your body and mind? What feelings and sensations make up this experience? What urges, if any, do you notice?

It may seem weird to lean into your suffering this way, but it is vital. When we tend to our loss this way, we teach the mind that this human experience is safe. If we ignore, push away, or avoid loss, we teach the mind that this experience is unsafe—that loss is a threat that needs to be extinguished (a.k.a. fight-flight response). This never ends well because loss is not something we can ever fully run away from or win through fighting, only through feeling and tending to it.

Step 2: Acknowledge loss. Consciously allow what is in this moment, no matter how difficult. You do not have to like or want it, but allow it to be because it is here. You can do this by naming the loss experience and the components of it. Say quietly and gently to yourself, “Here is loss” and “Here is sadness.”

Step 3: Ground yourself. Engage in mindful grounding techniques through your breath, body, and senses. This will help you stay with the experience of loss, as you may experience urges to pull away.

You can do so by bringing your attention to what you can see, hear, taste, touch, and smell in your environment. Better yet, have several go-to sensory items that give you a sense of safety. Mine are looking out to nature (e.g., the sky), smelling flowers, tuning into the birds chirping, and patting my dogs.

You can also bring your attention to your body. You can move it in whatever way feels right for you (e.g., stretching) or be wherever you are at this moment (e.g., sitting). As you move and attend to your body, notice that there is a body here you can move in whatever way is needed that is supported by the elements around you (e.g., the ground).

You can also bring your attention to your breath. Slow it down and deepen it as best you can, allowing for the same rate in as out, finding a pace and rate that is soothing and rhythmic for you. You can send the breath to the parts of you where you feel the loss most intensely, imagining the breath coating the place where you feel the loss most intensely, like a hug from a friend.

Step 4: Let go of your thinking mind. Notice and let go of your mind’s evaluations, judgments, analyses, positive reappraisal, and other thoughts of the loss or anything else. Let your mind’s thoughts come and go like clouds in the sky.

This is easier said than done.

When emotions are triggered, our minds become overactive. They go into overdrive to find a solution to help you feel better. This is what the thinking mind is designed to do. However, in situations that are not immediately solvable, especially when your emotions are heightened, your thinking brain is unreliable. It is best not to attend or rely on its help at these times. Engage later when you feel more grounded.

Don’t try to eliminate or stop your thoughts, as it is impossible. Thoughts are automatic processes. They will go in their own time. Instead, shift your attention away from them—”Let them go.”

To help yourself let go of your thoughts, ask yourself, “If I attend to these thoughts, where will that lead? What impact will that have?” Or you can notice and name the thoughts: “I am having the thought that …” or “There goes my problem-solving mind.” Meditation is also a great way to help you learn to notice and let go of your thoughts.

Step 5: Show compassion. Tend to your burnout losses like you would a good friend if they were feeling the same way. It may look like allowing yourself to cry, talking it out, journaling, or going for a walk. Whatever the compassionate activity is, do it to relieve your suffering, not eliminate it. If it goes away on its own, that is OK, but if it stays around, that is also OK. Continue to show compassion.

There you have it. I hope this helps. Please seek support if you cannot cope with the burnout losses alone.

Take care of you.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

You May Also Like

More From Author

+ There are no comments

Add yours