Have you ever been passionate about something only to see your passion fizzle? Have you ever wondered where your passion went? Have you wondered if there is something wrong with you? Perhaps, you might be burned out.
[I have to be clear here, if you never had a passion for running – or whatever your activity – then you do not fit a key criteria for burn-out. If you only have done it because you know it’s good for you or because someone else does it, or your parents are making you do it – and now you want to quit – that is not burn-out. A key prerequisite is that you had a passion for the activity and it is now gone.]
Burnout, overtraining, stressed out, “down”, out of sorts, depressed, plateaued, decreased motivation, blue, can’t get with it: a lot of terms and phrases get tossed around and used interchangeably. Yet, each of these terms are different. The focus of this post specifically is burnout. Though there can be an overlap and people can certainly feel several of the emotional conditions listed, burnout itself is described in a number of ways. Strictly speaking, it is actually poorly defined, yet many elements that make up this “syndrome” can be agreed upon.
Here are a couple definitions: “psychological syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals” (C. Maslach and S.E. Jackson)
“psychological syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals. A syndrome of physical/emotional exhaustion, sport devaluation, and reduced athletic accomplishment” (Thomas Raedeke)
Burnout is not something that lasts just a few days or couple weeks. One key differentiator between burn out and some of those other terms listed previously is that burnout is prolonged and often leads to completely dropping out of the activity. So, the term “burned out” is far overused by athletes, parents and coaches alike. To clarify once again, burnout is also not synonymous with dropping out of sports. Though being burned out may lead to dropping out. People drop out of sports for many reasons. The number one reason youth athletes drop out of sports is not burnout but because “it’s not fun any more”.
Other elements can include a sense of just not improving any more in your sport; going through the motions in practices/training runs, physical exhaustion, everything is a chore, what used to be easy or manageable is no longer; there is not sense of pleasure/relief/escape from the activity; unceasing pressure to perform; demands from coaches and parents; lack of balance in life. Pretty wide ranging huh?
What can be done? Is all lost?
Not all is lost. But, the red flag is waving… so listen! No single action will overcome this. As you can see from the symptoms of this syndrome it is broad and deep.
1.Get a comprehensive physical evaluation. It could be something physical causing all this! Chemistry imbalance, low-level infection, undiagnosed disease, poor diet, etc.
2. Reduce workout schedule.
3. Do cross-training (or increase and substitute for running).
4. Get with a group and make it social.
5. Get away from a group and have “alone” time without peer pressure.
6. Set daily workout focus goals. Focus on the process not the outcome.
7. Change your running focus. Go shorter. Go longer. Go novel. Go faster. Go slower.
8. Change your venue. Travel for runs. Take day trips.
9. Add fun. Do not do the same old thing. Add running games.
10. Change terrain. Go up. Go down. Go over. Go under. Go outside. Go inside.
11. Set process goals. Perhaps don’t set any goals whatsoever other than to enjoy the freedom of the motion!
12.Reduce life stress. Learn new coping skills – especially if you have used running as your primary coping mechanism. Use imagery. hypnosis, counseling etc.
13. Take time away from the sport. Sometimes you need to walk away for awhile. It’s OK. It is just for “now”. You can come back when you are ready. No decision is forever.
14. Get a new perspective on why you do what you do.
15. Confide in an objective close friend. Share what’s going on. Other people’s perspectives sometimes help us find our own perspectives again.
Mostly, you have to be patient. Burnout is not turned around in a day or week. You got this way over time. It will take time to dig out of it.