What to do when you feel burned out...and want to quit

written by Erica Quam

It was spring - during my 5th year as an assistant collegiate swim coach. I was at one of the top programs in the country and yet, I was done. I had already made a new plan. I was moving to Alaska. 

I would work at Starbucks or REI. I wanted to do something easy. Maybe I would pick up some substitute teaching hours along the way.

My friend had offered me a place to live for free while she traveled out of the country for the next six months.

All I wanted to do was sleep...and be by myself. What I realized later was that I was experiencing all the classic signs and symptoms of burnout. 

Have you ever experienced any symptoms of burnout?

  • Physical and emotional fatigue or exhaustion
  • Disconnect between job and responsibilities
  • Cynicism, isolation, or detachment
  • Feeling unimportant or ineffective
  • Lack of passion 

[Click here for a self test on burnout.]

Have you heard of Urban Meyer?

One of the most recognized coaches to experience burnout publicly is Urban Meyer, former University of Florida football coach who is currently the head football coach at Ohio State.

He stepped down from his high profile, high paying, high caliber position at University of Florida - one year after winning his second national championship.

Instead of feeling the joy of being at the top...all he felt was the pressure. He continued to spiral downward - because after winning a championship, the next logical step is win again. To repeat. Anything less is failure. Right?

To try and achieve this next level, he worked harder and longer. He slept less and worked more. He lost weight, he neglected himself and his family, and ended up in the hospital with tightness in his chest.

Meyer: "I thought I was dying" in 2009. It wasn't his heart. It was anxiety.

A year away from coaching helped him realize the importance of family, nutrition, fitness, and sleep. Before Meyer accepted the job at Ohio State University, his family had him sign a contract where he agreed to the following ten things:

  1. My family will always come first.
  2. I will take care of myself and maintain good health.
  3. I will go on a trip once a year with Nicki — MINIMUM.
  4. I will not go more than nine hours a day at the office.
  5. I will sleep with my cell phone on silent.
  6. I will continue to communicate daily with my kids.
  7. I will trust God’s plan and not be overanxious.
  8. I will keep the lake house.
  9. I will find a way to watch Nicki and Gigi play volleyball.
  10. I will eat three meals a day.

Urban Meyer has a simple message for coaches: "Take care of yourself."

Taking care of yourself sounds so simple...yet when you're in the midst of burnout, anxiety, or depression it's not so easy to think you're way out of it. What you should do is not always clear. It's absolutely okay to reach out and get some outside help!

1. PAY ATTENTION

Observe yourself and your emotions carefully. If you find yourself getting easily triggered - where your reactions to little things are at an 8, 9, or 10 when they should be at a 2, 3, or 4 level of intensity...this is probably a sign you need to create more time to relax and recharge.

Use these triggers as a signal to take a step back and take care of you.

2. UNPLUG FROM COACHING

It may seem like you can't ever take a break over the long haul of the season. You have to give yourself permission. Finding downtime is essential. Schedule your breaks and vacations before you schedule anything else.

It’s not about work-life balance. Those two things are going to be perpetually in conflict. Work and rest aren’t opposites like black and white or good and evil. They’re more like different points on life’s wave.
— Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of Why You Get More Done When You Work Less

See how creative you can be with how you break your time up. Instead of staying at work all day...go workout after morning practice. Go for a walk outside to get lunch. Sit down for some quiet time or listen to a short guided meditation. Find a place to take a 30 minute power-nap. Work a half day from home every week. Spend as much of the off-season doing things you love - with family and friends - so you can refill your tank for the next year. 

3. REACH OUT

During the season, it's tempting to climb on the treadmill, hit start, and never hit stop. When problems come up, it's easier to hide...and put all your effort, energy, and focus into finding the solution all by yourself. 

Don't go it alone! Tap into people who support you and believe in you - other coaches, mentors, and colleagues. Get outside of your head. Your thoughts can run rampant and make up too many stories.

Talk it out. Hear a different perspective. This can be so important - especially if you're feeling stuck and overwhelmed.

4. PLAN AHEAD

So many of the things coaches deal with on a daily basis are the unknowns - the unexpected situations that come up. It's so important to plan out the other things you CAN predict ahead of time.

This means planning ahead for yourself. How - specifically - will you stay physically, mentally, and emotionally ready for whatever comes your way?

Create a meal plan. Have a set bedtime. Set times when you are unavailable through text or phone. Figure out when you'll workout and what you'll do. Even in the midst of the busiest times...you have to take care of yourself. 

5. CONNECT WITH OTHER COACHES 

It may seem counter-intuitive to take some of your valuable time away and spend it 'talking shop' with other coaches. Yet, it's something that significantly helps with burnout. Get re-inspired, spark new ideas, and learn new techniques. This can re-ignite the passion that fades over the course of a season.

Plus...many coaches feel better when they share their experiences and issues with other coaches who can relate. Talking with people who have gone through similar challenges will help you feel less isolated, more validated, and understood.

Make it a priority to hang out with your coaching colleagues and attend your annual coaching convention. Actively search for unique opportunities to connect, learn, and grow. Come to a women's coaching summit. Join the Alliance of Women Coaches.

[Note: Don't allow lack of funding to keep you from connecting. Get deliberate: look for grants, find a sponsor, or even pay out of pocket. Ultimately, this is an investment in your overall health, happiness, and well-being...for the longevity of your career. This isn't just about you. Taking care of yourself and putting yourself first will make you a better coach - for your athletes and all your other relationships in life.]

Did I move to Alaska?

I didn't end up moving to Alaska. I asked my boss for some time off. I went off the grid - and went backpacking for five days. I came back and had an opportunity to interview for a head coaching position that I later accepted at Washington State University. It was my dream job!

The three biggest lessons I learned from the burnout I experienced as an assistant coach were: 1) I needed to do things differently as a head coach - and set some very specific limits for myself 2) I needed to look after my assistant coaches to make sure they also could take care of themselves 3) I needed to do a much better job of asking for help and figuring out what I needed from others.

 

Now that you've seen Urban Meyer's contract...what does yours look like? What's one thing you will add to take better care of yourself? Share in the comments below!

 

[DO YOU NEED SUPPORT? If this post resonated with you and you're not sure who to talk to about this stuff...this is my invitation to you to set up a time to chat. I've talked with so many coaches who have struggled with burnout and I've also been there myself. Click here to get on my calendar.]