5 ways to refill your tank post-burnout

teal-colored vintage gas pump

I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted. Between work, the heat, familial obligations, and my summer social calendar, I feel burnout creeping in at least once a week lately.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve tried to get better at slowing down, but it sometimes feels impossible to take a sizable break to replenish my energy. Instead, I’ve started coming up with ways to refill my tank with minimal effort. When you can’t take a vacation (or even a day off), try one of these five boosts.

1. Eat something.

YMMV, but for me, when I feel exhaustion or anxiety creep in, it’s usually a sign that it’s been too long since I’ve eaten. It took me a long time, but I’ve finally learned to listen to my body and figure out whether what I’ve identified as a mental issue is actually a physical issue. Nine times out of 10, a random and thorough sense of impending doom is actually just how my body reacts to hunger.

Now, whenever my mind starts spiraling, the first thing I do is stop and consider whether I’m hungry. 99% of the time, I am, and things start to feel under control again once I eat something.

2. Take a time out.

When I’m super busy, I struggle to justify spending time on allegedly frivolous things like, say, watching an episode of Younger or aimlessly scrolling through Twitter for half an hour. I’m always trying to be more intentional about where I spend my time, and those 30 minutes could be put toward a more-important pursuit that I’ll later claim I didn’t have time for.

And yet, when my brain is fried, sometimes doing something mindless is exactly what I need. Even just lying down for 20 minutes with the air-conditioning on helps me re-center so I can continue with my day.

refill your tank - portrait (centered).png

3. Turn off your phone.

I am at my calmest and most focused when my phone is in the other room, on airplane mode. In fact, as I write this, I’m doing a 24-hour phone detox to get some writing done. Sarah Von Bargen of Yes and Yes has written about her out-of-town Airbnb wifi-free DIY writing retreats. I tend to do mine in the comfort of my apartment in Brooklyn with my phone off.

According to an endocrinologist quoted in Business Insider, “notifications from our phones are training our brains to be in a nearly constant state of stress and fear.” It’s no wonder that unplugging makes me feel calmer and more in control. So let anyone who may need to contact you know an alternate means of doing so (email works for me), and power down for a few hours (or longer).

4. Grab coffee with someone you truly connect with.

A few weekends ago, I finally grabbed brunch with my friend Tenneille. We met five years ago, parted ways with promises to hang out soon, followed each other on social media, and… five years later we’d seen each other exactly once, by accident, at Creative Mornings.

Somehow, we managed to get our acts together. Despite the time that had passed — and that we’d only met in person twice before — T and I immediately cut through the bullshit small-talk that we both hate (is this a Gemini trait?) and were talking about the big-picture life stuff that often gets sidelined amid complaints about work, relationships, etc.

Saturday afternoons usually make me feel like the walls are closing in on me as it becomes clear that I’m not going to accomplish everything I’ve laid out for the weekend. But having a leisurely brunch with a new/old friend made things feel expansive in a way that made it easier for me to be productive throughout the rest of the weekend.

5. Do something new.

A couple of years ago, I noticed that doing new things improved my experience of life. Since then, I’ve tried to do one new thing every single day.

I thought it was just me, but this Lifehacker article gets into the science behind the association between novelty, motivation, and learning.

Your new thing doesn’t have to be anything big. Here are a few low-hanging-fruit ideas:

  • take a one-off class on something you’re a novice at
  • try a new cuisine
  • cook (or create!) a new recipe
  • take a different route to work
  • eat lunch with someone you don’t know that well

What do you do when you’re low on gas? Tell me in the comments.

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