Coping with a burnout and rediscovering the ‘Why’ in your life

Recently at a social gathering, I met the CEO of one of the biggest tech-ventures. As we talked, I was amazed at the growth and progress that her company had made in the last five years- especially when many others had been struggling at the time. Over the course of our conversation, we started talking about stress and overwork- and that is when the topic of burnouts came up.


Somewhere in the midst of everything-the funding rounds, endless meetings and corporate struggle, she lost touch of the ‘why’- the reason and purpose that drove her. This is exactly what a burnout is- a phase in our lives when we lose the motivation and the purpose that drove us to struggle and work the way we do. During a burnout, we lose our sense of enthusiasm-, which often leads to reduced efficacy, and greatly hampers the ability to lead.


For a CEO or any other high-ranking executive, a burnout is not just a personal issue- but is something that affects his or her team and entire company as well.  However- it is possible to cope with a burnout and come out motivated and ready for challenges on the other side. You just have to search for that ‘Why’ in your life and bring it back.


Identifying the burnout phase


Identifying the burnout is often the hardest task. At first, it seems like just another stressful phase. 16-hour workdays with just the occasional day off in 4 weeks (or even none at all) are sure to take a toll on our body and mind. While this may make you think that overwork and/or some short-term stress is what causes a burnout, it is not so.  


A burnout includes suffering from physical and emotional exhaustion. It could be due to long-term stress from your life or from being in a physically and/or emotionally stressful job for a long period. Confusing it with other problems is what causes burnout periods to stretch and linger on.  A few symptoms of burnout, including those that the CEO I talked with experienced, include:


·         A negative attitude with a ‘nothing will work out’ feeling

·         Lack of concentration or focus in everyday tasks

·         Inability to cope up with everyday basic tasks, such as eating, exercising and sleeping

·         A feeling of not having accomplished enough

·         Constantly being exhausted and low on energy

·         A short and irritated temperament

·         Frequently feeling bored and unmotivated


These are not all of the signs- but they do sum up the essence of what a burnout is in the most accurate manner.  These will give you an idea of what a burnout looks like, and why do we so easily confuse burnouts with common issues.


Identifying burnout is the hardest task of it all- for in most situations, one may have a problem with accepting this. As a high achieving individual, accepting that your career may be the reason can a daunting task. However- once you recognize the phase- you have already taken the first step towards taking control and driving your life on the road to happiness.


Undoing the effects of a burnout


Coping with burnout and undoing its effects is not a one-day job- you cannot expect to feel great about everything overnight. With acceptance being the first step, you are now ready to go ahead and do the rest. The good part about this all of is that as you begin making the changes towards recovery, you will find motivation coming back in your life. This change of time and situation is the much-needed catalyst in many situations- and as you roll it out over time, you will be able to get yourself on track.


Get rid of the source of burnout


The biggest part of making life changes is filtering out the relevant ones. At this stage, knowing the source of your burnout makes all the difference.


Whatever you think is the source of all that burnout- you need to cut it off. This does work in certain situations. However, when you reach a position where the enterprise depends on you- cutting it off is not a possibility.


You need to find why you came into the field in the first place. Think of the days of struggle- what drove you back then? What was the purpose- why did you put in all those hours and efforts?  This will help you get a hold of your real aspirations- and you can start by reversing the burnout. Find your ‘why’- and everything else will begin to fall into place.


Mix things up- be a little unusual


A fixed daily routine contributes to the burnout- it kills off the motivation to anything else except what you are ‘supposed to’. A few out of the ordinary tasks help in staying motivated- and these can be anything that is not in your schedule. If your job makes you sit on a chair for a large part of the day- get out and take a walk in the nearby park, or just go to the busiest market in town and browse around.


If you are working with technology for long hours- take a break and play a board game or cards. Sleep in when your routine makes you get up early every day.  You can always round up your employees at the end of the week and have an informal session with them. This practice is known as ‘All Hands’ in many organizations- and can be a highly productive stress buster. It will help you find new things and avenues to work on as well.


The bottom line here- this is the simplest and most effective way to feel motivated. Just reverse your routine, and you will feel refreshed.


Adopting a healthier lifestyle


A healthy lifestyle can solve a large part of our problems. With long working days- finding out time for gyms and similar activities everyday may not be possible. You can adapt Yoga instead. What makes this even better is that you do not need a special trainer- there are various Yoga courses and guides available online that can be followed.


Yoga is not just about staying fit- it is about replenishing your mind, body and soul.  An hour of yoga in the morning will help you gain energy, compose yourself and motivate you to take on the day ahead in a more positive sense.


Find someone relatable and talk to them


The thing about a burnout is that finding someone relatable to share with is not as easy. Many people still do not understand what a burnout actually means- and unless he or she has been in your position or at least understands it, sharing it with another person will be a useless endeavor.


You could talk to your high-school friend- the one who has been with you all these years. Or your co-founder or a colleague at a similar level. Your mentor, who has considerably more experience, may have experience in something similar during his or her time. You do not always have to open up all at once- try to gradually talk about it with them, and see what they have to say.


The importance of sleeping well


When you do not sleep well, it gets tougher to keep your mind straight. You are likely stay low on energy for most of the day and find it harder to focus. No matter how many all-nighters you may have pulled off at college- you need 7 to 8 hours of sleep every day. As mentioned earlier, burnouts are physically and emotionally exhausting. Take proper sleep and try to take naps whenever possible.


If you are taking some time off work, ensure that you spend a significant portion of it resting- it will do wonders for your mental and physical health.  Insomnia is something that affects a large part of the working population- you can try to get rid of it by taking some simple measures. Start reading a little before you sleep. Avoid any caffeine or alcohol around 3 to 4 hours before your bedtime. Using laptops and other technologies also makes the brain more ‘active, which means that you are going to have a harder time putting your mind to rest and sleeping.


Meditation can be a great substitute if you cannot nap during the day. Even 5 minutes of focused meditation with a clear mind and no disturbances will remove the negativity from your head. As you start with meditation, you will find it easy to stop thinking about those things.


Try to get your mind off of things


Your mind’s focus will stay on the source of the burnout- this is but natural. You need to shift your attention away from whatever the cause of it all is. In the fight against that thing, the most powerful tool that you can use is to steer your thoughts away.


Go out- check out that movie you never thought you would see, go out for dinners, and attend concerts and parties. This will not be as easy for everyone- especially if you are somewhat of an introvert. But by taking little steps at a time, you can get rid of the apprehensions within you and go from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can and I will!’.


You may not always be successful as you try new things- I was not able to enjoy the first party that I went to- clubbing really is not what I love. However, it did get my mind off the usual stuff- and I had something else to think about for the next few days.


Sustain those changes


On the road to recovering from a burnout, there will be a lot of new stuff in your life. As you settle into it- avoiding falling back into the same circle is also important. If you start sinking into that cycle again- you will need to identify and take control before it gets over you. Doing something that you do not fully believe in is impossible- and it is what causes the burnout.


If your current role is the reason- then simply a higher pay or more benefits will not be what you need. While these may uplift you in the short term-, you may end up back there, which is why you need a solution where you make sustainable changes. You need to find what is important to you and stick to it- never let your motivation and true purpose leave you- no matter what lies on the other side.


A break is the most helpful of things in such cases- if you think it is again getting too much- take a medical. Get a few weeks off and do things that you have always wanted to do. Take a trip; learn a musical instrument or anything else that helps you keep the rhythm going.


When you start gathering the strength to make the small changes- you will get the confidence to take charge and make those big ones. You can grab that fulfilling project, repair your damaged relationships and even move on from grief with enough effort.


Rediscovering your passion and true purpose is the key to it all


This entire episode taught my CEO Friend that the most important thing in our lives is not our job title, or our salary or anything material that we own- it is the purpose that drives us; the passion to do something. Often, as we succeed, we shift from our true purpose- the one, which motivated us to start, to something else.    


A burnout is the sign that what you are doing currently is not what you believe in- you may be doing something that does not define you or the fight that you are. Your regular day will be a blur of team meetings, calls and countless decisions- but you can only give them all your best when you know that it all is being done to meet the one purpose that you started for.


As you set out to find yourself back from all that hustle-, you are sure to emerge motivated. Armed with the ‘Why’ in your life- you will be able to work better, smarter and harder to win all your battles.



By Noelle El Saadany


Noëlle is a certified transformational coach who spent years guiding individuals and organizations to set themselves on the right path through corporate coaching, life strategies, holistic healing and other essential restorative modalities.  Having gone through a series of life-altering events, from her health to drastic career decisions, Noëlle  has drawn from her own experiences to help numerous people with training and advice on how to make practical real-life decisions. She aims to motivate people to excel in areas of health, spirituality, business endeavors and personal relationships.


Noëlle holds a Master’s degree in International Affairs from Paris VIII University with a focus on gender studies, minorities and cultural diplomacy. She has spent the last 8 years working for the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority, leading and being an instrumental part of an array of projects to help build the creative scene of Dubai locally, regionally and on a global scale.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *