How To Recover From Burnout (& Life Update)

It’s one of those perfect spring-May days when the sun warms your face, but it’s cool and easy to breathe. I was walking half a mile from my house to my office and I’d had just the right amount of coffee that it felt more like I was floating instead of walking. I’d done this walk over 2,000 times since moving downtown and didn’t expect today to be much different.

However, once I reached the financial district in Chicago a man walking about 15 feet in front of me stopped gasping for air, and by the time I got closer he’d put one knee down on the sidewalk and then collapsed on his side. Time slowed for the next 30 seconds, as I froze and watched two people stop to ask if he was okay, then one pull out her phone and call 911. I walked over to help but was just in the way – by now people were gathering around. I stood and watched unable to help as an ambulance and fire truck showed up and a medic brought out a defibrillator working hard to save the man’s life. I was running late, so I prayed and walked on.

Later that day and the next I looked online for information on what happened to him, but there was no mention. In fact, there was no mention of anyone who had died that year in the financial district in Chicago. I later learned from a convenience store clerk that the man who had died was 51 years old and had spent the past 27 years working for the same bank. He’d walked the same sidewalks I had over 13,000 times to and from his office.

It’s clearly something people don’t write about – these businessmen and businesswomen who drop dead on their way to and from work. But I had seen in real life and it haunted me. I started feeling a little bit emptier each day as I walked to my office. Once I stopped looking at the sidewalk and the street and the big buildings and started looking at people’s faces I could sometimes feel their emptiness too.

I’d never noticed it before because I never looked. Of course, some people looked really happy and had that extra pep in their step, but most people looked tired, sad, and sometimes vacant. I could not only tell they were suffering, but I could also feel it. So why were they doing this? Why did they get up and repeat the same patterns every day…why did I do it? Because we needed the money.

Just Getting By

Most of us work because we need the money and while there are some people who really love their jobs and work doesn’t feel like “work”, survey after survey reveals that most people don’t enjoy their work. A recent survey showed that 70% of all American workers are just getting by at work.

It’s also no secret that money is the number two reason couples get divorced and is believed to be a top ten reason people commit suicide. So many of us get up and go to work and go through the motions because that’s all we believe is possible. That we are stuck at our jobs and in the daily grind. As my good friend Vicki Robin says in her transcendent book Your Money or Your Life, “instead of making a living we are making a dying.”

While didn’t realize it at the time, looking back it’s easy for me to pinpoint that spring May day was a turning point for me. I had just turned 30 a few months before and I was starting to feel the weight of the past 6 years. I’d been working 17-hour days, including most Saturdays and Sundays since I started my financial independence journey at the age of 24. I was tired, like really tired all the time. Every few months my body would completely crash and I’d be on the couch for a week feeling out of it and sick. I’d been running myself into the ground being in constant hustle mode for years.

A month after watching a 51-year-old man die while walking to work I logged into Personal Capital (yes, I really have been using Personal Capital for over 4 years now) and saw that my investments in my net worth had hit $1,251,000 and that I was officially financially independent. That if I managed my money well I could likely live off it for the rest of my life without having to work again. I wish I could say that I jumped for joy and went out to a really nice dinner, but I didn’t. I was more in shock that I’d actually made it, but I was too tired to celebrate that day or for the next few months. It felt like I’d just finished 100 marathons and it felt like a blur.

I launched Millennial Money exactly 3 years ago as a way to write about and reflect on how I’d gone from $2.26 in my bank account to a millionaire in just a little over 5 years. While building the blog was slow going at first, I really fell in love with writing. After the first six months, I started getting emails from readers, but it was this message below that the reader could have never imagined would also change my life.

“Grant, I’m a huge fan of the blog and you’ve inspired me to get serious about making money so I can take care of my parents who have always struggled financially and are getting older. Just this past week I got a new job making $9,000 more than my previous job using your negotiation tactics and I made my first $200 with my side hustle this month. I know it’s not much, but I’ve proved it to myself that I can do it. I wouldn’t be here without you. You’ve changed my life. Thank you for all that you do.” – Brian from San Antonio

I realized at that exact moment this was my mission in life. My true purpose. Everything I had done had led me here for a reason. I felt oddly serene and at peace. This one email meant more to me than any dollar I’d ever made. While I love making money, it compared nothing to this feeling. This was it. I doubled down and started writing and connecting more. Over the following years, the emails like this multiplied and I now have a GMAIL folder titled “Purpose” that has thousands of messages just like Brian’s, some of them really long and heartfelt. They fill me with a joy that’s indescribable – the closest I can get is that it feels warm and whole.

Over the following year, I put more and more time into Millennial Money and doors started opening so many places. In 2017 alone I did over 200 media interviews, signed a 6 figure book deal, did many speaking engagements, and wrote over 150,000 words about money. Writing the book has also helped me reflect back on my own FI journey and realize now how many mistakes and sacrifices I made that I really didn’t need to make.

The Burn Out

The previous 8 years have taken a huge toll on me. I’d gained over 60 pounds eating at my desk, not exercising as much as I should, eating crap, and dealing with immense amounts of stress. I had high blood pressure and was pre-diabetic. My Doctor was super worried, I could even see it in his eyes. He was more scared about me than I was about me. He suggested that I take as long a break as I could.  He encouraged me to heal myself in any way that I could. But I had a book to write and media interviews and a blog to grow… How could I even begin to take time off?

I was utterly burnt out. While I had been burnt out before (remember I used to crash every few months for an entire week!), it was nothing compared to this. In September last year, I was so tired and sick I couldn’t get out of bed. I was tired all the time, but still couldn’t really sleep. My mind was blurry. I couldn’t even focus on small things like making a meal or watching TV. I was completely exhausted.

I realized that I was doing too much and that in one area of my life, I was growing and fulfilled, and the other was causing me stress and anxiety. What I really needed a corporate detox. So in October of last year, I walked away to focus on my health and try to finish the book. The post I wrote, “A Confession & The Future” blew up and so many of you reached out to me offering support and encouraging words. I can’t even begin to tell you how much all of your messages and words meant to me. It filled me with so much love that you read and support me on my journey and in my mission.

11 Steps To Recover From Burn Out

It’s been 6 months since I walked away from the corporate world to dedicate myself to healing and finishing my book All The Money You’ll Ever Need: A Proven Plan to Fast Track Financial Freedom. I feel so grateful to have had the freedom to recover.

The results have been incredible and I’ve never been happier. I’ve lost almost 30 pounds and I’m managing my stress. I’m sleeping better and feel more present. While I am definitely a work in progress, I’m getting better at cultivating balance in my life. While I’ve tested A LOT of things as I’ve tried to recover from my extreme burnout below are the 10 things that have helped me the most. I hope if you are trying to avoid or recover from burn out they will help you too. Keep in mind that I’m not a trained medical professional so consult your doctor if you have any questions.

01. Complete shut down and rest immediately. One big mistake I used to make was trying to “take it easy” when I started to burn out, but I kept working and inevitably ended up pushing myself too hard. When you start to feel like you are burning out immediately shut down and do as little as possible. Sleep whenever you feel tired. Say no to as much as you can. If you have travel plans cancel them. I slept for almost 2 weeks straight and did as little as possible to kick start my recovery plan.

02. Practice walking meditation in the morning. While I’ve enjoyed sitting meditation on and off for years (more off than on), walking meditation is extremely helpful in recovering from burnout. I usually practice walking meditation for an hour every morning. It’s simple to do – simply go out for a walk and focus on your breathing taking one step in front of the other. While it’s tough to slow down at first, keep at it.

Within a week you will be walking more rhythmically and you’ll start to notice things you never noticed before.  I’m currently into watching the birds coming out for Spring, which is something I would never have seen before. You might be thinking, isn’t this just a walk? Yes, but it’s also meditation. You will learn how to control your breathing and it will calm your mind and body in ways you’ve never experienced before. It’s legit. To learn more about walking meditation and other great tips for relaxing check out Thich’s Nhat Hanh’s transcendent books Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life and The Art of Living: Peace and Freedom in the Here and Now. Both of those books are totally worth reading when you are burned out!

03. Drink a green juice daily or at least once every few days. Greens are super calming to your nervous system so the more you eat not only the more nourishment you are getting but they are chilling you out too. When you’ve been stressed out for a long time your body sucks up all of your nutrients and you are likely nutrient deficient in some way. Drink the green juices that have low sugar and no added sugar in them. I’m not talking about those fruit smoothies that are green, I’m talking about the juices that are made up of Kale, Spinach, Parsley, Wheatgrass, Romaine etc. The good stuff. If you want to make it at home my favorite green juice: 3 big handfuls of spinach, 3 leaves of kale, 1 apple, 1 lemon, 1 cucumber, and some mint. Add water as needed. Or you can also make it as a smoothie and add in 1 banana and some water an whatever type of nut or regular milk you use. And if you are looking for a to-go option, this is the best green juice powder I’ve found and now travel with (tastes terrible, but makes you feel amazing): Amazing Grass Green Superfood Organic Powder.

04. Drink lemon water in the morning and then drink a lot of water throughout the day. I started drinking 16 oz of organic lemon water right when I wake up every morning and it’s been really effective at hydrating me for the day. When you sleep your body has spent the past 8 hours using up your water and most of us wake up dehydrated. Study after study has shown that lemon water naturally detoxifies your liver and does a bunch of other amazing things. All you need to do is buy an organic lemon and squeeze half of the lemon into water and drink it up! After your morning lemon water, keep drinking water throughout the day. I only drink water, coffee (unfortunately dehydrating), herbal tea, green juice, and green tea. Buy a metal or plastic water bottle and keep it full and next to you at all ties. Most people are dehydrated and long-term dehydration can wreak havoc on your body.

05. Eat mostly vegetables and high-quality fats. When you’re burned out your body needs to rebuild so you need sleep, hydration, and high-quality nutrition. The best diet I found and one that’s worked really well for me is a diet focused mostly on vegetables and a small amount of high-quality fats. I eat a lot of broccoli, spinach, and cauliflower, and high-quality fats like wild salmon, avocados, and 100% grass-fed beef. Both of these food books were helpful to me Eat Fat, Get Thin: Why the Fat We Eat Is the Key to Sustained Weight Loss and Vibrant Health and Bulletproof: The Cookbook: Lose Up to a Pound a Day, Increase Your Energy, and End Food Cravings for Good.

06. Supplement with B Vitamins and Vitamin C. While there are many nutritional supplements that could be helpful in recovering from burn out, the two that helped me the most were a collection of B vitamins and Vitamin C, both of which your body uses up when you are really stressed out.

07. Give up alcohol for as long as possible. As more and more research shows, alcohol isn’t good for you and I learned quickly that it only makes burn out worse, as your liver and body have to work hard to remove the alcohol in addition to any craziness that you should be detoxing from. So give up alcohol until you feel fully recovered or for as long as you can or even forever.

08. Exercise but don’t overdo it. As you know exercising is good for you, but if you are burned out it can do more harm than good if you push too hard. Be gentle on your body until you feel recovered – don’t try to just sweat it all out or you will further compromise an already compromised immune system. This is one of the reasons I do walking meditation, take an easy bike ride, or do gentle yoga when I need to recover.

09. When you do go don’t go too hard too quickly. This was a big mistake. When you do work, focus on short bursts of no more than 2 hours then take a 15-30 minute walking or sitting meditation break. This was really hard for me since I used to be a manic worker who always went super hard. But I made myself do it and it’s had a huge impact on my life and has made me more productive and mindful. Just try it out for a week the next time you work.

10. Set a defined quitting time and stick with it. Whether it’s 5 pm or 8 pm, set a time and then don’t do any strenuous mental or physical work after that time. Instead, make dinner, go for a walk, hang with your kids, cook dinner, play music, or anything else that isn’t “work”. This is really really hard for many entrepreneurs to do, myself included. It’s so easy to work all the time, especially if you are building your own business. So many of you are under an increasing amount of stress and pressure to perform, but not setting a quitting time is the easiest way to burn out.

11. Give it time. Researchers haven’t really figured out what stress actually does to the body and if you are really stressed or burned out it’s going to take time. And you might feel worse before you start feeling better. Everyone’s body responds differently to stress and recovers differently from stress. Use these tips as building blocks. Another great book to check out that has amazing tips that support wellness and is also definitely worth a read: How to Be Well: The 6 Keys to a Happy and Healthy Life.

What’s Next

Now that that the book is done and I feel like I’ve completely recovered from my corporate detox I am transitioning into the next phase of the Millennial Money mission, which is to teach fast-tracking financial freedom without burning out! While the book won’t be available for pre-sale until this fall, I can’t wait that long to share the blueprint that I know will help a lot of people so I’m doing a Free Live Webinar on Fast Tracking Financial Freedom to share this blueprint with you.

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  • Comment Author image blank
    Money and work is important, but what truly matters is health and what you believe this life is about. If you're dead you can't use your money. Also religion/spirituality is important too as we're all going to die and we don't know when, so good to have an idea of what happens after we pass.
  • Comment Author image blank
    Life is adventurous here ... but can be stressful too as an international teacher .... what you say is true .. we do stress management workshops for our students as the they go through the IB exams ... they go to universities all over the world - Michael CPO, Christian Professionals Overseas
    • Grant Sabatier
      Thanks Michael
  • Comment Author image blank
    Omg, I can't imagine how gut-wrenching it would have been to see someone pass away so suddenly. It's not anything we expect, but it happens all. the. time. My mom passed away at age 42. I remember one of the things my dad said was, "She worked her whole life contributing to retirement and didn't even get to retire. What was it for?" I struggle big time with burnout. I've been growing a side hustle into a full time business while writing for fun and, oh, y'know, doing the day job thing, too. It's hard to do it all, and it's no surprise that our brains/bodies don't want to keep doing it. I've had to really restrict my time, especially in evenings after work. The rule is that I have to do something fun that's just for me, like playing video games or reading. It helps to take breaks and have fun. :)
  • Comment Author image blank
    Hi Grant, as I was reading this post, it made me recall a similar incident I had 2 years back where I was working hard at a tech job in California and was living a really unhealthy lifestyle. Eventually, this combination of not eating healthy, working a lot and not getting a whole lot of sleep led me to have a major burnout incident. I can definitely relate to the feeling of helplessness and frustration as you try to make sense of what happened and what to do moving forward. I have also noticed that in the recovery phase, eating really healthy and getting plenty of sleep helped to bring me back on my feet again. One of the things I read on a medical site was that Vitamin B and Vitamin C are very important for restoring your body back to well-being again. This site also mentioned that taking Omega=3 fish oils is very important for restoring the body back to a healthy state. Either way, it's encouraging to see that you were able to get yourself back on your feet again and that you learned such a valuable lesson from this experience. Here's to your success!
    • Grant Sabatier
      Thanks Luis
  • Comment Author image blank
    Really enjoyed this post. As a business owner under a lot of stress, I sometimes feel myself hurtling towards a burn out or worse. I always find myself taking the same steps you did to relax and re-energize. Happy to hear everything is working out for you!
    • Grant Sabatier
      Thanks Brian
  • Comment Author image blank
    It's awesome you finished up the book. The family and I are heading out for 9 weeks of National Parks and all days outdoor adventures. The offline time is really good for me to rest and refocus. :)
    • Grant Sabatier
      Thanks Jillian. Have fun!
  • Comment Author image blank
    Well done on the change and reset on your life Grant. Good to hear you are happier and healthier than you have ever been in a long time. Don't let lifestyle creep sneak up on you and hopefully the changes catch a firm footing and last a lifetime for you.
    • Grant Sabatier
      Thanks Chris