Have you ever felt so exhausted and stressed that getting out of bed feels impossible? When you do manage to crawl out, sending a simple email seems extremely painful. Your commute to the office feels like a marathon you’ve been forced to participate in (and have definitely not trained for).
I know that feeling. As a recovering burned-out entrepreneur, I’ve spent the last two years creating Happy Not Perfect. I wanted to create a platform and brand that allows people to get off that emotional roller coaster, and be happy in the long term.
It’s ironic, I know, but for many years I took my energy for granted. I had no boundaries. Work was my priority and everything else came second. If someone wanted to organize a call for midnight, I’d be on it. If the business required a deck by Monday, I spent my weekend building the deck. And often, I still do.
But it all came together when I realized that sacrificing my own inner peace and happiness to “keep up” was taking its toll. My enthusiasm and energy were draining, and I was forced to slow down. It was then that I realized that if I wanted to be happy in the long term, I couldn’t keep operating at that pace.
Here are the practices that I’ve made non-negotiable to keep burnout at bay.
1. I start my day with a happiness workout (on Happy Not Perfect)
I love meditation, when I have the time or the patience, that is. If I’m honest, this doesn’t happen often.
I know I’m not the only one who thinks like this, which is why I created a “happiness workout.” It takes less than five minutes, and you can complete it anywhere, on the go, with your eyes wide open. It consists of a positive daily ritual made up of science-backed exercises from positive psychology, neuroscience, and ancient methods. You see, our brains are like plastic. We can reshape and rewire them to feel happier and more balanced despite the challenges we’re facing.
Unlike meditation, this approach allows you process thoughts and emotions and equips you with the tools that you need to deal with what’s going on. You don’t need to sit still or count your breath. You just do the exercise, and it feels like a bio-hack for the brain.
2. I walk it out whenever I need
Human beings evolved by being physical creatures. Back in the day when we experienced stress, our instinct would be to move away from danger and find a safer environment. Today, we experience stressors and spend all day glued to a desk. According to one study, we now spend 5 hours or fewer outside in a week. The lack of movement and Vitamin D can have many negative consequences, so I try to at least complete two 20-minute walks. This may mean I take a morning/lunchtime walk, have a walking meeting, or whenever I begin to feel a little anxious, I get up and walk around.
3. I make exercise a non-negotiable part of my week
I used to book a yoga class but would cancel as soon as someone asks me to meet at that time. That was a terrible mistake. I’m a better work colleague, friend, and girlfriend if I prioritize my exercise of choice. I’ve found exercise to be critical for my mental health. The dopamine and endorphins it gives me operate like a meditation is supposed to, and that helps my mind to stay focused on one thing.
4. I find a community like-minded people
I would have never recovered without like-minded friends around me who encouraged me to keep going. We all have different friends for different reasons, and not all of them are great for all conversations. Finding, prioritizing, and nurturing those friends who are in a similar scenario have really helped me process my emotions, and learn from their coping strategies. Research shows that having strong communities builds emotional health. When you surround yourself with happy, uplifting friends, your motor neurons catch onto this, and help you create more happy hormones.
5. I prioritize sleep
It’s amazing how quick we are to sacrifice sleep. Before my burnout, I used to email into the night and drink enough coffee to hide my extensive fatigue. But time and time again, research shows that sleep deprivation decreases your productivity, memory, focus, and creativity and can even increase the chances of serious health issues. I now do whatever I can to ensure I have at least 7 hours and I focus on creating healthy sleep rituals. For me, this entails another happiness workout, and one of our sleep meditations.
I want to stress that there will still be days when everything feels hard. That’s the time when I dig deep, and remind myself that I’m building a company because I want people to have the tools to get through the bad (inevitable) days and not let stress dictate their happiness. It’s an ongoing journey, and I’m not going to pretend that it’s easy. But it has allowed me to prevent burnout from taking over my life, as it once did.