Earlier this year I wrote about my struggle with burnout.

To recap, I poured a lot of time and energy into developing the Perth web community, and it burned me out. I had given so much of my energy away that I completely neglected my physical and mental health. In my case, burnout came from over-working, so I eventually had to admit that it was my own fault — the pain I was feeling was avoidable. Obviously, there are underlying issues here but after some quiet reflection, I realised fighting my own insecurities on this would be a bigger, longer battle. So, while I took my time figuring it all out, I made a few simple changes to help me cope with the situation I had gotten myself into.

1. Reducing my commitments

At the time I had a lot of commitments and responsibilities I needed to step back from. This was a really important and difficult first step. It’s easy to disregard your own health when you are “busy”, so letting go of some responsibilities and learning to say no was a really valuable change.

This gave me space and capacity to think about what I needed, and meant an ongoing commitment to myself to be realistic about my time and capacity. Basically, I would not take on things that I felt would be detrimental to my own mental health. And, more importantly, every commitment I make in future must bring something back to me.

This might be good friendships, the positive feeling of helping someone, happiness, achieving my own goals etc. This might sound selfish, but acknowledging this helped me to identify why I was doing something and focus on the positive aspect of my commitments rather than the negatives.

2. Reconnecting with what I loved

Right now, I am a front end developer and I love it. It’s my passion. But during my burnout, I started to hate it. I even got to a point where I considered quitting and completely changing my career. Luckily, someone advised me to take a step back and allow myself to get to a healthier mental state before making such a big decision.

So, instead, I threw out my training plan. I decided I wasn’t going to learn any more JavaScript frameworks, I wasn’t going to study, or build any of my side projects. They would all be shelved and I would just have some fun.

Inspired by Tim Holman’s presentation Fun.css, I decided to just play with CSS again and make things I thought would be completely useless. This carefree experimentation resulted in a Codepen Collection of CSS text effects and stupid (but funny) combined emojis. Ironically, those silly projects landed me an opportunity to speak at my first web conference. So maybe the secret to success really is just to enjoy yourself?

The world doesn’t stop because you feel completely worthless.

3. Putting myself first

Like many people, I tend to push myself too hard in order to please others. This wasn’t going to work for me anymore — if I wanted to get through my tough times, I had to start taking care of myself. As I mentioned before, reducing my commitments meant I had a lot more capacity to take up other hobbies.

I spent so much time and effort doing web-related things that I had nothing left for anything else. So, I joined a Dungeons and Dragons group. I have never told them this, but they really helped me. It was a such a relief to hang out with friends and do something that wasn’t about computers and development. In hindsight, I think the character I created is all the things I hate about myself, but that’s a discussion for another day.

I also started to get more involved in the Perth Cosplay community, putting together costumes and making props. Hobbies like this are so important. They give you a way to be creative and solve problems, but also act as a reminder that your whole life does not revolve around your profession.

There are so many small changes you can make in your life to better look after yourself. Being open about your struggles, I think, is a really important part of that. I’ve been clear with friends when I don’t want to do something and most importantly I’ve questioned why I am doing something. This has led to re-examining a lot of decisions I make in my own life as well as in the industry I serve. Questioning why has been transformative for me.

The most important thing I’ve come to realise is that the world doesn’t stop because you feel completely worthless. And although it can feel like you have to go on contributing to society in some kind of useful way, just remember that you don’t. It’s okay to stop and say, nope, I’m just going to look after me for a bit.

❤ Special thanks to Sandy who edits my posts!