Burnout. It's a popular topic of conversation in a world that's seemingly always "on." From blurred lines between work and home life to growing financial, political, and health challenges – it's no surprise that burnout and stress are at an all-time high. It’s hard to know how to avoid burnout in today’s society, but it’s important to understand how to recover.
When ignored, burnout can lead to serious physical and mental health problems. Unfortunately, there's no quick fix. However, it is fixable.
WITH is a private wellness club, helping employers avoid burnout and boost morale. That means we have a community full of passionate experts that can help us illustrate the importance of maintaining your wellness and living well.
In episode 6 of Priorities, our health and wellness podcast, Bryan and I dig into the topic of burnout with the one and only Burnout Whisperer, Ariel Belgrave. Together, we explore ways leaders and employees can recognize burnout, prioritize rest, and reset.
This episode is especially relevant in answering our question: "In a world filled with ongoing high stress and tough demands, how do we begin to prioritize?"
Whether you're experiencing burnout or trying to coach an employee through a reset, you can walk away with actionable advice from Ariel.
Listen to our conversation here, or keep reading for a quick recap!
Meet Ariel Belgrave
Ariel Belgrave, also known as The Burnout Whisperer, is a health and fitness coach dedicated to helping high-achieving women live well. After a successful career in Human Resources, she left her corporate job in tech in March 2020 to become a full-time health and fitness coach for women.
The result? Gym Hooky.
Through private coaching, corporate wellness programs, and large events, she's helping women worldwide create healthier eating habits, lose weight, and feel energized - all while avoiding burnout!
Belgrave's inspiration for Gym Hooky came from her challenges going from a lifelong athlete, driven by structure and routine, to the corporate world, where it's more chaotic.
"I was an athlete who struggled with taking care of myself," she says. "I was working in investment banking, so it wasn't only not taking the best care of myself. I was working 80+ hour weeks. I had a gym membership, but I never used it. It was collecting dust."
After years of long, intense workouts, Belgrave had to change her mindset about working out. When she switched to 30 minutes or less a day, everything changed. She began sharing her routines on Tumblr, and Gym Hooky was born.
While Gym Hooky grew, Belgrave moved to the Bay Area and began working in HR at Facebook, now Meta. In addition, she was a sponsored Under Armour athlete traveling to compete and do photo shoots for the brand.
I was exhausted just hearing about it.
"I had gotten to a place where I'm like okay, I'm fulfilled," says Belgrave. "What about impact? You know, if I were to leave this earth tomorrow, what is it I want to be known for?"
For her, it was empowering women to feel the same fulfillment she did. So she took the leap when she gave Meta a month's notice, which happened to be the first day of shelter in place at the brink of the COVID-19 pandemic. A year later, Belgrave was officially dubbed "The Burnout Whisperer" – an expert on how to avoid burnout at work and home.
Once we heard about Belgrave's journey from investment banking to Silicon Valley to becoming an entrepreneur, we knew she was the perfect person to help us identify the signs of burnout.
When we asked her if she initially understood the signs of burnout, she admitted that she didn't recognize them at first.
"I absolutely didn't know what burnout was," says Ariel. "I knew what hard work was, and I knew if you feel sad or exhausted, you keep going."
And so many of us are programmed this way. We're first-generation college graduates with something to prove. We're women trying to hold our ground in a male-dominated field. We were raised with hardworking values. It's the "I'll rest when I'm dead" attitude that allows burnout to sneak up on us.
Belgrave defines burnout as chronic stress over a long period of time. And recovering from burnout is coming to terms with what aspects of your life are stressing you out, and making intentional changes around those stressors.
Myths of Burnout
Before we dig into recognizing the signs of burnout and Ariel's RESET Method, we need to bust a few myths that can be detrimental to your recovery.
"Instead of burnout, we say, "we're lit" or "we're on fire" – we don't talk about burnout," says Belgrave. "We're groomed for the grind."
But burnout doesn't have to be something you're afraid to admit or feel obligated to power through. The best thing you can do for yourself is to recognize the signs and lean into your recovery.
So what are some of those pesky myths Belgrave is battling?
Burnout Means You're Weak
"So there's a lot of shame [around burnout], and the reality is 80% of people have experienced burnout in their careers alone," says Belgrave. "This is not even including burnout that can happen from just being a parent or a caregiver, or whatever it is you do outside of work."
Belgrave says that admitting you have burnout does NOT mean you failed or are weak. It just means you need to take a step back, recognize that you're doing a lot, and set up strategies for recovery and prevention.
And remember, if you don't take the time to do it, your body will make you!
Burnout Means You Hate Your Job
"Burnout doesn't mean you hate your job, and the only option is to call it quits," she adds.
Belgrave is the first to admit it's easy to get into that headspace. People tend to push themselves to a point where they feel like they have to leave a job to escape the situation. There may be an endless list of things to do and a lack of resources. It's easy to think they'll have to call it quits, even if they love what they're doing.
Leaving isn't the answer! Instead, Belgrave works with clients to flip the script away from walking out and toward setting boundaries. There are ways to avoid burnout at work. It doesn’t have to be a death sentence to your job.
"You can still love your job and experience burnout – burnout does not discriminate by all means," says Belgrave. "But if you want to continue to show up and feel that burn, that fire, and get your creative juices flowing, you have to set boundaries."
So now that we're all unafraid to admit burnout, we can do the work needed to recover. And Belgrave's method helps it feel more achievable.
The Reset Method
So how can you recover from burnout when you barely have the energy to complete your daily tasks? Belgrave recommends the RESET Method:
- Recognize the symptoms
- Examine the stressors
- Set boundaries
- Establish healthy habits
- Take a break
During our conversation, Belgrave breaks it down even further as to how to accomplish these things.
R: Recognize the Symptoms
It's easy to blame exhaustion and irritability on general stress. But if you take a step back and assess your situation, you might realize there's something more to it.
Belgrave shares some signs she saw when her body forced her to take a step back and assess the situation.
On Exhaustion & Illness
"I knew I was tired, but I kept going. It wasn't until my body forced me to stop," says Ariel. "I woke up and didn't know where I was, and that's what did it to me. I was at a point of mental exhaustion."
Your body doesn't have unlimited resources to keep up with the demands we place on it every day. Often, when approaching burnout, we're eating poorly, losing sleep, and even when we get to sleep, we still wake up mentally and physically exhausted.
Belgrave shares: "I've heard where people kind of come to this realization of burnout after they've hit a major, major wall where their body is just physically like, 'Nope, not today and not tomorrow.'"
If you're feeling exhausted or ill but don't know why, it could be a sign of burnout!
On Lower Productivity
Lower productivity is another indicator that you could be burnt out from exhaustion or lack of motivation. You can see it in the work that you're producing, how you're getting along with coworkers, and a lack of motivation to get up and go to work.
On Conflict with Loved Ones
One of the biggest things to watch out for is sudden conflicts with loved ones. If you've been around someone for years and suddenly find yourself arguing with them or even having trouble getting along, that could be a sign that something's off with your emotional state. If this happens often enough, it could be a sign of burnout.
When you're overwhelmed, pushing your loved ones away is easy. But when you're in the middle of burnout, that can signal that you're feeling isolated and overwhelmed—which is not what you want.
On Decreased Motivation
When the brain is overworked and exhausted, it can become unable to function at its best. This can result in decreased motivation. Work that used to inspire you may start to feel pointless. In addition, you might take longer to complete tasks because you have trouble focusing.
These are all symptoms of burnout! If you pay attention to them before they become chronic, you may be able to avoid work burnout altogether.
E: Examine the Stressors
Belgrave says examining your stressors is about coming to terms with what your needs are: "It's taking a step back and assessing where you are; reassessing and rethinking what your priorities are."
And here's a bonus myth-buster: "You can't yogi your way out of burnout. You have to get to the root cause of what is causing the burnout in the first place."
Taking time off work, yoga, and meditation aren't quick fixes for burnout. Because when you go back to the spaces causing the burnout, the same stressors and symptoms will come right back.
Essentially, we have to "diagnose the problem before we prescribe the solution".
So what's causing your stress? It can be work or personal relationships. It can be anything. The most important thing is recognizing and coming to terms with it.
S: Set Boundaries
Once you know what is causing the stress, whether it's family, work, you name it - you have to start setting boundaries. According to Belgrave, these are non-negotiable ways you protect your energy.
"It's how you tell people how to effectively work with you, how to respect you, your time, your energy," says Belgrave. "It's so much more than saying no."
Clarity is key!
So how do you identify those things that drain your energy? First, Belgrave says to take notice when you're feeling resentful. If you're feeling bitter about a situation or interaction with someone, it's likely there's a boundary that needs to be set.
"Know that other people are gonna be uncomfortable when you set those boundaries," Belgrave warns. "But that doesn't mean you shouldn't be setting them!"
And remember to set boundaries for yourself. While you may need to change things externally, there are also things we can control within ourselves. Make sure you're not letting perfectionism or FOMO get the best of you when you should be resting.
E: Establish Healthy Habits
Once boundaries are set, it's all about establishing healthy habits. So, as you can imagine, this one sounded like Belgrave's favorite step as an athlete and health coach.
"We can't wait for our cup to be empty before we start taking care of ourselves," says Belgrave.
She challenges her clients to think about prevention. Self-care prevention can look like a lot of different things:
- Setting up a workout routine
- Spending more time away from your desk
- Healthy eating
- Better sleep
- Managing stress
She also makes a point to note that self-care is different from self-soothing. It's not having a glass of wine at the end of the day or getting a massage. "That is actually not self-care for prevention. That's self-soothing. You are making the decision to take care of yourself as a result of having a bad day."
The best way to move from self-soothing to self-care is by making these things a habit, not a reaction. Belgrave says to ensure you're planning for things:
- Schedule a massage once a month
- Set a routine where you workout 3 times a week
- Plan opportunities to take a break
Turning self-care into a routing is one of the many ways to avoid burnout.
T: Take a Break
I'm sure Belgrave has heard a lot of protests about this one. How can we possibly take a break when there's so much to do? Don't worry. You can start small.
Belgrave points out that micro-moments in the day can still have an impact:
- Go for a walk
- Take lunch with a friend
- Do a 10-minute breathing exercise
If micro-moments don't cut it, use your PTO. According to Belgrave, 50% of employees don't use their PTO by the end of the year! Take a mental health day or week.
She also says that if you're in a really bad place where you can't function, consider taking a month-long sabbatical or even a career break. However, if you do, you need to use that time to assess things.
"You need to make sure you have mental guidance," says Belgrave. "You should be seeing a therapist as well." Use the resources you can access to make the most of your time off.
Returning to Normal
Even if you follow all of the RESET Method steps, it will probably be intimidating to return to the same environments that caused your burnout. But this time, you'll be better equipped with strategies to avoid burnout!
Tips to Avoid Burnout At Work
We asked Belgrave how she returned to work, her mindset, and what kind of support system she had. She says it's all about understanding your values and communicating your priorities.
Belgrave recommends having a conversation with your manager to set priorities and boundaries. "What I learned through this conversation is everything that was a priority on my plate wasn't a priority for my manager," she says. You can uncover a lot of misperceptions by doing this.
Think of prioritizing and boundary-setting as leadership qualities. "As a leader, someone who's operating at the next level, you have a better understanding of your time. And that level of awareness also positions you to be able to know what you can handle, what you need to delegate, and what needs to be pushed aside."
And At Home
Work isn't the only place you need to integrate these life changes. So Bryan asks a really great question: "How do you navigate when both you and your partner are struggling and need help?"
Belgrave tells her community and clients a hard truth: people in our lives aren't always the answer or someone who can help us solve our burnout.
In her own experience, she and her husband focused on finding a balance. They make a point to communicate what they need clearly and set boundaries.
A few ways they do this are:
- Putting boundaries on when they vent about stressful things
- Being respectful of one another's schedules
- Going to therapy or a best friend
That last one is a good one. Unfortunately, not everyone can be their partner's therapist or life coach. So make sure you have someone outside your relationship to talk to when you're having a tough time.
(And we happen to know a really great life coach by the name of Ariel Belgrave!)
Beyonce Sets Boundaries Too
Did we mention we got to talk about how Belgrave got to attend Beyonce's Renaissance party? And hugged her?!
But the real scoop was Beyonce's boundaries to ensure she had the best time possible at the party. As guests walked in, they had to cover up their phone cameras with tape. There were no VIP sections, but because of the boundary she set, she could feel comfortable being herself the whole time amongst all of her guests.
And that's how Belgrave ran into Beyonce on the way to the bathroom and grabbed a hug. Of course, there's so much more to this story, but I'll let you listen for yourself.
Getting to the Root Cause
To wrap things up, we asked how people can start getting to the root of their burnout. How can people begin to uncover and assess the real cause?
The keyword: stress.
Belgrave says to explore your life stressors by filling up 3 columns:
Fill those columns by thinking about your life over the past month. Identify what putting your energy towards has caused stress before you even do it. Then note areas of resentment. This is how you can identify the areas of your life that need boundaries. Once you dig deep into what those boundaries look like, you have to communicate them to the right people.
Burnout is such a big topic; we could have talked about it for hours. At WITH, we're big supporters of self-care, communicating clearly, and working toward living your best life. Ariel Belgrave's advice is a great launching point for the vital work of recovery and prevention.
Take it from someone who attended Beyonce's Renaissance party: preventing burnout is a priority!
If you want to hear more about what Ariel Belgrave had to say about her experience with burnout and how she helps women examine their stressors, set boundaries, and establish healthy habits, you can check out the latest episode of our podcast on Spotify, Captivate, and Apple Podcasts.
Plus, you can check out more articles from us in our health and wellness magazine:
- How to Lead a Team: When When They Shouldn't Be a Priority
- How to Make Decisions, an Expert's Take
- What is Employee Wellness, and How Can Leaders Make It Happen?
P.S. Love the podcast? Want to get in touch with us? You can contact us here.