A few years ago I found myself walking the Camino de Santiago to “regain my sanity”. If that sounds counter-intuitive, all will be explained.
Walking 500 miles from France over the Pyrenees and across Northern Spain to deal with burnout may seem extreme to some, but to me at the time it was the perfect antidote.
I had feelings of overwhelm, exhaustion, and hopelessness. I was aware that I wasn’t managing tasks as well as I thought I should be. Experiences of loss and bereavement had taken their toll.
I was in a fortunate position to be able to take 6 weeks off work and go on this long journey to get back in touch with myself. I was even more fortunate to have returned having learnt a few key lessons about preventing burnout in the future. Happily, you don’t have to walk 500 miles to turn your troubles around. A few simple changes can make all the difference.
Here are the best lessons I learned from walking the Camino, that anyone can apply to their life that will help to both deal with and help to prevent burnout.
The Basics of Eating and Drinking and Sleep
I know it sounds overly simply, and it is. But we forget about these things in the busyness of everyday life.
Walking 500 miles really brought my attention back to the importance of having the right fuel to be able to keep walking the distances required each day. Meals need to be nutritious and balanced to replenish your energy levels.
Water fountains along the route meant there was always plenty of water to drink. I realised how drinking sufficient water to stay hydrated effected my energy levels.
Are you mindful of what you eat? Is it the right fuel for you? Are you going to feel sluggish and bloated afterward, or energised?
Think about your hydration – are you drinking enough water or do you mainly drink caffeine and/or alcohol?
When we feel that time is always running away from us, that we need to keep working to meet a deadline or we are juggling family and work, it’s easy to grab the quickest thing to eat or drink. But by taking time to make healthier choices we give ourselves the best possible chance of keeping going in the long run.
Stop and recover
While walking the Camino I found there were times I needed to stop. Some wise advice was to stop every 2 hours and take your shoes and socks off to massage your feet and rest them, no matter how far you have left to walk that day. This was good advice as this meant my feet were fresher and happier to continue walking after a 10 to 20 minute stop.
Back in daily life I try to take 10 minute breaks, just to step away from the computer, let my eyes rest, my brain stop, and then come back refreshed. Sometimes it’s walking to get a drink, others to talk to a friend, and others just to breathe more deeply. But it is a definite stop, it is taking 10 minutes just for myself.
When we have responsibilities for others, whether that’s family or work, we tend to feel we cannot stop. Life can throw a curve ball and make us stop if we continue to ignore the warning signs. Do you multi task, running from one thing to the other and get to the end of the day exhausted? Or do you pace yourself and take time out for a rest, sitting for 10 minutes, taking time to just relax, breath and look around you? Stopping for a short time helps to refresh your body and mind.
Asking for Help
The Camino is well sign posted, there are usually very clear yellow markers. On one occasion walking out of a town, tired and wanting to reach that days destination quickly, I walked ahead knowing I had not passed a marker for some time. But determined, I kept going without checking or asking anyone.
After sometime an elderly Spanish lady took hold of my arm to turn me around, and together we walked for 15 minutes in the opposite direction to the way she was going. She went out of her way to set me off in the right direction.
It is not always easy to ask for help. In general we are happier giving advice, help and support than we are accepting it. So often we just keep our heads down and plough on regardless.
When we are feeling overwhelmed, lost, or exhausted we might think others don’t notice. But often someone we know has tried to offer help and we have turned away from it or not noticed or they were waiting for you to ask for help.
Think about who is on your support team. Be brave and ask, don’t wait until you are lost.
These are just some of the ways that we can each look to care for ourselves better every day and prevent burnout. Practice does make them easier, so where are you going to start today? Choose to make one change at a time, and be a little easier on yourself.
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Till Next Time
Mike gardner is The Time Doctor