Avoiding Burnout

Jay KellyBlog

Candle in glass dish


I can’t use my own hands to count how many times people have recently said that they think I am burning the candle on both ends. I need to borrow some extra hands.
In part, they are right.

After 7 years of living with chronic fatigue, the spoon theory was such a helpful read. It helped me make sense of how I still had this ‘thing’ to deal with, and it helped me to understand how I managed my days and my energy levels.
I feel so acutely attuned to my spoons and my capacity to give, and know when to retreat.

My job is very demanding, life as a solo parent with 4 teenage/young adult daughters is also very 

demanding, but if I was to log how many spoons certain activities take up I can tell you that it depends on how much joy I get out of it.

I could have back-to-back clients, working with perinatal mental health or trauma, and that doesn’t use up as much energy as a phone call to the council about bills, for example.

I like thinking of energy as a candle, as do others, clearly! Even when English isn’t your first language, the saying: “burning the candle at both ends” is a relatable metaphor when you imagine what it means – Your wick will be gone sooner.

Thinking about your energy like a candle wick, let’s say a 12cm wick.
This is what you need to get you through the day.

Burn your wick with no support (ie no wax) and it will be gone in absolutely no time at all.

Imagine a wick supported by wax, with no boundaries, and what happens to the wax? It melts and slides down the side and the wick is exposed and burns down faster.

Now imagine your wick and wax surrounded by a beautiful glass container, holding and supporting the wax. The boundary makes all the difference. Keeping the melted wax in place longer, supporting the wick to stay alight for longer periods of time before burning out.

So what are your boundaries and support?

I’d like to share just 3 of mine:

Always protect your sleep.
That means proper sleep hygiene – including limiting late evening phone use. That blue light emission is a modern-day disease, wreaking havoc with our hormones for body and mind balance.

Doing something that brings you joy. Now I am not blase enough to think that this is always easy, and I’m aware that we don’t all have jobs that we love.
But no one said that we can’t add in the things that bring us joy.
For me that is music, creativity, moving through the woods, admiring the night sky, foods that make my taste buds tingle.
Doses of the things that bring you joy are as important as getting your vitamins and minerals into your diet.

How many people are doing short, shallow, fast breaths? Living in fight-flight mode.
Even if your day is spent in an office, or on a shop floor, or spent caring for others with no time out even to go to the toilet – Your breath is still with you. You have control over this.
Just one minute, once an hour can really soothe and calm a frazzled nervous system. This could be as simple as a round of 5 deep, purposeful breaths.
Stop and try this now. It’s just 5 breath cycles.
Take in 2 breaths. In, then in again…. then lengthening the out-breath, slowing releasing the air, like air escaping from a tyre.
In, and In…. and with pursed lips oooooouuuuuuuuutttt nice and long and slow.

You can do a variation of this absolutely anywhere.

So next time you think about your wick and potential burn out, I wonder what you can do to support it, and how you can maintain your boundaries.