Keeping Your Butt in the Chair and Out of the Fire

After sharing my experience with burnout, I thought it might be wise to talk about the more common symptoms and how they manifest in most people.  Again, symptoms are always unique for each of us. But having said that, there are some signs we need to watch for.  Especially those of us who are in the trenches working with our creative juices and still trying to meet all the other demands on us: families, work, craft, responsibilities, and isolation.

When we are working as hard as we can, but not making noticeable progress, we are susceptible to burnout.  How many of you have submitted and submitted and submitted without landing an agent or a deal?  How many times has your agent submitted without landing a contract? How many times have your kids, spouse, or family asked you to do something but you’ve declined because you have to write (paint, draw, model etc etc). And still you are not seeing the external rewards of your effort.

How many times have you tweeted, facebooked (is that a word?) or blogged with no change in sales? Are you an introvert but forcing yourself to participate in a group: online, face to face or at conference.

When we work in an environment where we have little control, we are at risk for burnout.  Are any of you free of this risk? Are you blogging with limited reach?

Are you working too much and too hard with too little time away?

Are you the victim of others’ high expectations of you?

Are you shorting yourself on sleep?

How many close, supportive, understanding relationships do you have? This can be critical if your closest relationships don’t ‘get’ the creative life.

On a personal level, do you tend to be a perfectionist, always striving for more?

Do you see the world and your role in it as half-full or half-empty?

Are you willing to hire the help you need, accepting you can’t do it all?

Have your activities lost the fun they once provided?

Physically, common symptoms include exhaustion, and anger (whether expressed or not) at those who are making demands on your time. When you meet those demands, do you criticize yourself? Are you irritable?  (I call it itchy, twitchy and bitchy). How about headaches and tummy problems that are relatively new. Have you gained or lost weight recently without the decision or action to make that happen? Are you more susceptible to colds, the flu, or headaches?

The list is long and it’s easy to ignore several of these signs, because we’re busy, loving what we do and involved in life.  But I can’t encourage you enough to give burnout the respect it deserves.  I was lucky.  Six weeks away gave me the time I needed to figure out what was going on, to replenish my energy and to consciously plan how to manage my life when I got back in the saddle.

My work isn’t going to change for a while. My family is unchanged. My staff and I seem to have come to terms with our loss.  I have made some firm decisions about what I can and cannot do and when I will do it. Most of all, I’ve recognized that just because I’m single; just because I live alone, just because my life is good doesn’t mean I can live like Lucy in the cartoon.

It will if I push…is a fallacy and one that takes a toll on all of us.

If you have a chronic health problem, you’re at even greater risk for burnout to happen even sooner.

What are you willing to change to ensure you don’t burn out? What relationships need to be nurtured and which ones need to be curtailed? What about your activities? Step up and let us know how you’re doing. I know we can learn from each other and I’m looking forward to it.

About Louise Behiel

Author, coach, therapist, mother and grandmother. I'm on a spiritual journey and consciously work to grow every day.
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69 Responses to Keeping Your Butt in the Chair and Out of the Fire

  1. Left-Brained Business for Write-Brained People says:

    Good points here. As a full-time freelance writer and wife and mother and pet-owner and everything-else-to-everyone-around-me, this is something I focus on all the time. Boundaries are critical. I also sit down each night before bed and write five things I’m particularly proud that I accomplished that day–some are big things, some are small. Size doesn’t matter, but the closure does. Look forward to reading more of your blogs.


    I invite you to visit my writing-business blog at

  2. jadwriter says:

    I think it is a good idea if you can recognise the signs immediately and act on them. I have serious health problems and get tired each day. So, once I have done what I want to do with my writing for the day, I go and have a rest on/in my bed for a while. It recharges my batteries.

  3. I’ve been feeling a bit burned out lately too, and your posts couldn’t have come at a better time. Between my day job, freelance editing, and my own writing, there barely seems time enough to do much else! And I’m one of those that has to be careful not to get overtired, as I do have a chronic illness and it can knock me on my ass if I overdo things. (and I’m a single girl, too, which means that all housecleaning and such is mine–there just aren’t enough hours in the day!)

    My favourite way to recharge: read a good book, play with my kitties, and make sure I’m getting enough sleep. 🙂

    • Totally agree, Alyssa, although in the midst of burnout, sleep didn’t help. Didn’t matter how many hours I got, I still could sleep anytime. Exhausted all the time.

      Glad you’re taking good care of yourself.

      • I read your previous post, and definitely if I had crumbled and succumbed to temptation and eaten wheat/gluten, I probably would have felt as poorly as you did. Amazing how one little thing can make such a difference.

  4. Wise words, Louise. I’m guilty of much of this, but one thing I do daily is take time for physical exercise. It is often hard to pull myself away from the computer, but I’m always better afterward.

  5. Joan Leacott says:

    When I retired, I thought I’d have loads of time to write. Nope. Parental demands took up time (bad) and I started to take piano lessons (good). Then my husband retired with his own set of demands on my time. Fast forward two years and things have settled down some. But still I wasn’t getting my desired word count. So I tweaked my daily schedule and enforced it with my husband. I love him dearly, but he sure does love to talk! It’s only been a couple of weeks but I put down 10K in those two weeks! Hopefully, this will stick. I know you’re a GIAMer, so I’ll add a link to Amy’s AEMS website where you’ll find an article about my process for time management. Brava on figuring out your life, at least for now. 😉

  6. I’m letting go of email lists I belong to, but rarely read. I need to pare down my inbox. I’m also letting go of the idea that I write four books a year. I don’t. At least, not at this point in time. And even though I thought I let go of perfection years ago, I find it has a nagging hold on me. So I’ll shake it off again (and again, and again) until it leaves me alone.

    My friends list has already pared itself down; some things are just like that, lol!

    Thanks for the wonderful post.

    • LOL good for you for paring down. I skim and am very good with the delete key. If I know others have the same info I’ve got, I don’t bother replying – too much to do, too little time. But i love the info on some of those lists.

      Perfectionism is a sneaky little stinker, isn’t it? crops up in the weirdest places. Stay well.

  7. I can so relate to this. From my experience burnout will effect the weakest part of your body, with dire consequences. It is good to pull yourself back and take breaks, smell the roses a bit, take care of all the parts of you – and life will be better.

  8. Ginger Calem says:

    Great advice as always, Louise. I seem to go in phases of burnout. And I admit to having many of the symptoms you describe. I am frequently angry, frustrated and impatient over things that should not effect me as strongly as they do. I’m working on not allowing other people’s actions/emotions/issues become my issues/problems to deal with. I think my biggest problem is that I feel compelled to live up to my own over-inflated expectations of myself.

    The biggest thing, and I’m sure you won’t be surprised at this, is for me to stay on-track with my nutrition to fuel my body so that I can do the other thing I NEED to keep my mind/emotions in check and that is to work out.

    • I gave up sugar 32 years ago. And wheat about 5 years ago (where I got fussy) but those darn non-gluten, grain based carbs did me in. I’m so glad I learned and stopped. Now i can tell if the smallest morsel enters my system because I’m exhausted right away. It is so weird. but there it is — in my face. i’m moving to Paleo but i need to start cooking more than roasting chicken – that will get tiresome pretty quickly.

      take care

  9. Lena Corazon says:

    Oh boy, Louise, you’ve just summed up my entire life for the last few years in a nutshell. I am frequently anxious, cranky, and crabby (I am feeling a little sorry for my family for having to put up with me). I am convinced that I am not accomplishing enough, fast enough, even though everyone else keeps telling me that this is false.

    Of late, I’ve been trying to remind myself that taking a couple hours each day to nap/have some downtime isn’t going to put me farther behind as far as work is concerned (in fact, it might make me *more* productive). And I am also trying to be more realistic with my goals — can I really finish this paper in a week, or will it take two? I’m also pushing myself on journaling more often, because it is my way to diagnosing the cause for my irritation and crabbiness.

    • Journalling is a good tool for so many people. It doesn’t work for me – just becomes another thing “I have to do”. but if I can talk my situation out with someone I respect, then usually I hear myself say what I need to hear and can move forward. I really thought that at this stage, I’d have things like this nailed and gone. darn.

  10. Itchy, twitchy and bitchy — I love it! Definitely also amongst my signs of burnout. And I’ve been too close to the edge for too long. I’m supposed to be retired, for pete’s sake. Two things I’ve started doing that I used to but hadn’t been doing for awhile (along the lines of a couple other comments here): stop and feel good about the day’s accomplishments, even if they are small ones (yesterday I patted msyelf on the back for setting up a new answering machine, whoopee) and stop at some point during the evening and read a novel just for fun for the rest of the night.

    Also exercise is definitely a big piece. Went to Zumba class yesterday for the first time in three weeks. Today, because of doing these three things, I feel better than I have in a couple months. The one thing I still need to get on track with is a better schedule, so I don’t spend so much time dawdling with social media (such a tempting little vice).

    Thanks for following up some more on this important theme, Louise, and it is so good to have you back!

    • Thanks for sharing Kassandra. It’s good to be back. exercise is the piece i neec to add back. I haven’t yet – it feels overwhelming but I will. I’ve also realized that I write, do social media, email etc all from my laptop on my big chair. So there’s no getting away from work. I used to write in my office and then leave and shut the door, but i haven’t been doing that. So my laptop is on my lap or at my side all the time. I don’t know how i”m going to change that but I will.

  11. Oh wow – that’s a really long list! I have burn-out but it’s from working in the same legal field for so long. Being a paralegal for a family law attorney is the most thankless job in the world. No one is ever happy. Our clients are always frustrated, angry, confused and other such things and I get to bear the biggest brunt of that. But, I also need a job and this one pays really well so I keep at it.

    What I need is more vacations. I love to go on vacation.

    Thanks for sharing this post.I’ll be on the look-out for recurring things and try to make some changes.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  12. susielindau says:

    This is such a great post and honest comments! For me, having a clear idea of what I need to accomplish keeps me going. I am a creature of habit, so cutting down to two blog posts a week really freed up the time I needed to keep up with my rewrite. I am recovering from a tennis injury which has really slowed me down and I am taking advantage of the time. Some days are better than others. At the same time, I figure that if I don’t get out and experience life, there will be none to write about!

  13. Jill James says:

    Louise, this hit close to home. I needed to hear this. I was feeling burnout and didn’t even know it. It is hard to be doing all the things we are told to do for our writing and seeing no reward. I need to step back and see the reward of getting the book out there. Anything after that is out of my hands.

    • Me too, Jill. I kept pushing that cooked spaghetti uphill and wasn’t making progress. (I wonder why?). Now I’m working on a plan to pull it uphill. Much easier to do.

      take care of yourself. This is a hard business.

  14. Coleen Patrick says:

    Thanks for these posts Louise. In the past couple of months I’ve slowed down the blogging and social media, but still feel a bit on the edge of burnout. It doesn’t help that I’m dealing with health problems, so I try each night to list my priorities for the next day. Night time is better because I’m already tired and it’s easier to be realistic about what I can accomplish. I do know what’s important health and my family, but sometimes guilt about work can really put a lot of pressure into the mix.
    I really appreciate your posts–thanks Louise 🙂

    • I’m sorry you’re not feeling well, Coleen, but good for you for taking steps to manage your life and the demands placed on it. That’s what we all need to do – review and analyse and take care of ourselves.

  15. This was great, Louise. I love “itchy, twitchy and bitchy.” I’m totally stealing it! I hit burnout this summer through a combination of things, both good and bad. I really need to admit my limits because when I get overbooked, I tend to shut down on everything. I’m getting there, but still a long way to go. Food and exercise definitely make a difference, but somehow they’re haven’t reached the top of my subconscious priority list yet, and only occasionally on the conscious list!

    • Jenn, it is always amazing to me that I didn’t recognize the signs when I stopped delivering on commitments, instead goofing off playing games. weird. But that’s how it was. After some time away I feel good again, although I’m going to pay more attention going forward. It’s funny how it took me so long to recognize the food thing. I thought i knew better than to ignore the fuel I put into my body, but apparently not.

  16. Debra Kristi says:

    I am supposed to remember to live in the moment, but those moments have been getting away from me lately. That’s why I, too, stepped back over the summer and assessed what I was doing. I can’t always rest when I want to because of the kids and I tend to push myself into the late hours of the night since that’s when I get some alone time. I know it’s not good. Things need to change. They will and they are. There are some good ideas, even in the comments.

  17. great ideas in the comments, aren’t there Debra. What is this propensity we have to push and push and push? we’re all at risk for burnout, I think, in the writing world because we want it so badly and are willing to work so hard and so long to get it. take care of yourself.

  18. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, so watching for this is a must. I just pay attention to my limits and make sure I’m still enjoying what I’m doing.
    “Are you the victim of others’ high expectations of you?” – I used to be guilty of that one. No more!
    I’m still a perfectionist though. 😉 Thanks for this post! We can all use a good reminder here and there.

  19. +1 for burnout. You read my blog today, so you saw it. “Not making noticeable progress” = key words, right there. That’s what had me so frustrated in my day job project. So I finally buckled down and asked for help. Wow, what a load off! (Why is that so hard to do?)

    And you are soooo right about the writing and submitting and not getting anywhere. I went through that a couple years ago and got so disheartened by the whole process that I pretty much stopped writing for a year and a half, spending my time coordinating contests for two RWA chapters instead. Being able to go directly to readers gave me my writing back! That whole control thing again. Thanks so much for this blog – and reminding us that we are not alone!

    • Jennette, our stories are so similar except I quit writing for years and years. I had to get that first book up. if i’d waited i’d have avoided the mistakes and the frustration but it was so important to get it done and up. Dumb, but it is what it is. and i’m glad I’m beyond that step now. I have made a few dollars but more importantly, I have a book out there. I’m with you.

  20. Stacy Green says:

    Oh lord. Short on sleep is me for sure, along with irritability. I have so much up on my plate right now with the debut, the second book, and planning the series. Before I visited my friend in MN, I was absolutely running on empty and feeling very frustrated. Part of that was the end of summer stress, too. It helps me to focus the weekends on family and me time, and to have lists. If I stick to them, I feel more in control. Good luck!

  21. I love you so much, Louise! Itchy, twitchy, and bitchy. I need to tell my husband that this is a real condition. 🙂 I know you have a blessed life and it makes me so happy to know you’re coming around from your burnout. I especially like that you’ve taken what happened to you and are sharing it with us so we can see the signs. Maybe one or two of us will be able to avoid burnout in the future. I hope so! Thanks so much for all your amazing advice.

  22. Great post, Louise. The unfortunate part about burnout is that we tend to repeat it over and over again. We start feeling better, having more energy, taking on more, doing more, because that’s our nature. Then before we know it, we’re right back where we started from. (smacks self on forehead) I think I’m finally getting smarter, recognizing it earlier so I can pull back and regroup. I suffered a really devastating burnout about 19 years ago. I spent several years following the advice of a naturopath before I recovered and could live a “normal” life again. I think that was the start of the real turning point for me. I learned I have limits and although I still push them, I’m much more aware of when I’m about to push myself over the edge.

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  24. Another fantastic post, Louise! I’ve learned that rest, relaxation and sleep are crucial to starving off burn out. None are my strong suits, but staying creatively happy and functioning mean too much to let one suffer.

    • A couple of people have mentioned sleep and I totally agree. But I discovered, in the midst of this time, that it didn’t matter how much sleep I got I was still tired. Part of that was the nutritional aspect of this perfect storm, for sure. But I wonder if sleeping but not resting could be one of the markers of the onset of burnout? I’m no expert, but I’ve heard that comment repeatedly, so perhaps it’s a sign to watch for. good to see you August.

  25. denisedyoung says:

    Louise, I went through the same thing this year. I’m trying to learn to take it easy and take care of my body, but I’m also the family hero, so perfectionism is second nature to me. When I learned how poorly I’d been caring for my body, it was a wake up call. I’m trying to do better, but I have to remind myself that my health is more important than my goals. Great post. Thanks for sharing your story and your advice. Take care! 🙂

  26. Karen McFarland says:

    Louise, just from reading the comments today from your post I find it interesting how many people are at the verge of burn-out, or have burn-out. Wow. Years ago, was there even a name for this? If we felt tired, we took a vacation. But it seems that even now a vacation doesn’t cut it anymore. More and more people are bombarded every single day with non-stop problems and frustratiions coming at them from so many different angles. How does one catch their breathe? Is everyone expected to cope with the aid of Xanax? LOL! This a hot topic for sure Louise. Glad your regaining your strength. Take care! 🙂

    • thanks for stopping by Karen I find it interesting that I felt so alone in this time and yet I’m with a large number of nice people. We are all striving to do too much. writers for sure but life in general has us pushing. must stop pushing so hard. stay well.

  27. There’s SO much important and thoughtful content in this post … well, in all of your posts actually … but this one really hits home with so many people. I’m so glad to see you have come out the other end of this experience and know others are going to benefit from your words here. Thanks for your candid observations and please know you are most definitely not alone. Be well!

  28. dogear6 says:

    Louise – I think a lot of this has been going around the blogging community recently. Part of it is we all started blogging at the same time and it was time for a break. Some of it is busyness and for those of us in North America, the warm summers and opportunity to do something else besides be inside.

    I wrote about my own go around with this here In the very first post, Where Have I Been, all of you did a great job of leaving me comments and gave me a lot to think about.

    Several things really helped me (and I wrote about them too):

    Stop being so perfect. I can’t do it all.

    Stop worrying if my blog will get too ordinary. I don’t mind it on everyone else’s blog – I love stories on the kids, dogs, what you read, and where you went. They never get old or tired for me. Why would I think you guys mind it on mine?

    Why am I blogging? And number one – is to record my life. For myself, to share with friends and family, and to share with my blogging friends. I often write note to casual friends and acquaintances and part of what I do is to give them links to something in my blog I think they’d like, from pictures of my daughter (old friend that I lost touch with) to the recent goldfinches (long-time secretary to an attorney I use).

    I blog more on the weekends because I have more time and am more rested. I’m not consistent how often I blog, but I’m sure enjoying it again.


  29. Sandy says:

    Louise, I’m tired all the time, and I have very little energy. The energy I do have I use to do things with my hubby. We are older, he’s 76 (will be 77 in December), and I am 68. Both of us have health issues. I keep thinking if I dropped out of social media and just wrote I would be able to write, but I’m not sure even of that. I haven’t even gotten my website up and running completely. I keep blogging in the hope I’ll return to writing soon. I just hope burnout isn’t permanet.

  30. I’ve struggled with burnout so much over the past few years, but I’ve spent time trying to figure out what I can do to avoid it. Getting rid of my ‘tunnel-vision’ is a big key. No matter how into a story I am, or the marketing of it…neither one of them are my WHOLE life. I have to keep it all in perspective and take care of my other needs…family time, fun time, relaxation, naps.

    I’ve also learned to delegate. My kids are plenty old enough to start taking more responsibility than they have been, and while they may not like it…tough cookies. I can’t…and won’t…do it all anymore.

    So that’s how I’m handling it. But I think one of the biggest keys for me has been to step back from responsibilities and learn to have fun again. Life isn’t supposed to be a constant grind.

    Another great article, Louise. 🙂

    • I think you have the key, Kristy, although I thought I was doing that fun thing LOL. apparently not enough. so I know there are a few steps I need to take. 1. I’m giving my house a good cleaning. I Know that sounds silly but it’s awful and I’ve done nothing most of the summer. It was way down my list of things to do. and already I feel better. 2. I’m limiting blogs, twitter and fb. just my reality – I don’t have enough time. 3. writing is taking a higher priority. it comes first. 4. I’ve changed my diet. 5. and once I get organized a bit, I’ll start exercising again. stretching at a minimum. and of course I’ll continue to shop with my granddaughters, paint their nails, play their games and take them to the park. all with a light heart and a delight in my step.

      so take that burnout. I’ll beat you yet.

  31. Sandy, I hear you. You’ve had a busy, busy year and health issues abound. My concern is that if I drop out of social media, I’ll probably just play games on FB. LOL so I hang around and keep trying. But what I learned is that I have to stop forcing myself to do things. And to only do those thing I enjoy. Eventually, I got some energy back and now I’m trying to ensure I don’t overwhelm myself again. I’ll keep you posted on that. By the way, since i’m 62, I don’t consider you older, but my age.

    • Sandy says:

      Louise, you’re six years younger than me, and I guarantee you I felt better at 62. I agree with you about social media, and I won’t drop out. I would like for you to keep me posted on your energy levels. Vanessa, on our GIAM2 group has fibermyalgia like I do, but she accomplishes so much more than I can.

      • keep in touch, Sandy. I’m happy to share with you. I’m disconcerted to hear about the changes you’ve gone through in six years. it’s sad that we finally reach the age to have the time for us and then our health goes.

  32. Sandy says:

    I don’t think these changes happen to everyone the same way, Louise. Unfortunately, my sister who is 20 months younger than me is having some of the same problems.

    • Very sad. But I’m not surprised. I’ve found my stamina and energy have made noticeable changes at various times of my life. I’m jsut sorry there’s another one ahead of me. take care

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