Burnout and the Myth of Balance

Lately, I’ve been running less.  It’s not because I’m injured, or because I don’t want to run.  It’s about balance (kind of). I actually think balance is a myth, and that there’s a different goal we can have to feel good in running and life. 

Picture a stovetop with four burners. One burner represents your family, one represents your friends, one is your health, and the other is your work.  There’s this theory that in order to be successful you have to eliminate one of your burners, and in order to be really successful, you have to eliminate two of them because you can’t focus on all of them at once.  If you have them all on at the same time, you’re likely to face burnout.   

I’ve been reflecting a lot on balance, burnout, and running in my own life because my husband and I are building our own house.  It’s really been challenging for my body because physical labor for 8-12 hours a day isn’t something I’m accustomed to, even though I’d consider myself an athlete, living a more active lifestyle than most.  However, running, mountain biking, strength training, or hiking on average 6-10 hours per week is very different than home building! This project is making me stronger in different ways than my usual “workout” or training.

As a result, my training has looked different lately.  Why? If I tried to maintain the 6-10 hours per week of workouts on top of the physical labor I’m doing with building the house, I would deplete myself.  The truth is, the physical and emotional stress is dialed up, so as a result, the workout burner is turned down. 

If you find yourself in a season where things feel out of balance, or you’re feeling extra depleted, and running doesn’t feel as enjoyable as it once did, there are four things you may want to consider when it comes to burnout and balance.

1. Stress comes from a variety of sources in our life.  Take inventory of your total stress load so you can adjust your training accordingly.  If you’re trying to maintain a certain volume of running, despite higher levels of physical or emotional stress in other areas of your life, it may be the reason you’re not feeling motivated to keep up.  You have to decide what’s best for you, but high intensity or high volume may not be best in every season of your life.

2. Whatever you’re experiencing in life right now is likely just for a “season.”  Maybe the most important thing you could do for your training is to adjust to the season you’re currently in, rather than wishing it were different.  What other benefits can the current season offer you? For me, rather than get down on myself for running less during the house build, I focused on the other ways I was getting stronger from doing a different kind of physical activity.  Lifting stuff all day, and working on a roof is no easy thing!

3. Go for alignment. Most people simply can’t focus 100% on too many things at once, so rather than be in balance, consider what it would be like to be in alignment.   Alignment is more about what’s important to you based on what your goals are, your training focus, what results you want, and what commitments you’ve made outside of running.  Is it a season where you’re really focused on starting your business? Do you have family commitments that require more of your time? There’s always going to be other things in life, but rather than make excuses for why you don’t have time, or how running is on the back burner, try telling it like it is.  It’s not a priority right now. Simple as that – and it’s OK. Remember though, just because you had to turn it down and run less, doesn’t mean you have to quit altogether. Go for alignment – not balance.

4.  You get to decide where your focus is and how to adjust with each season.  So if it’s “back to school” and kid’s activities are taking a lot of extra time, and you start to miss the run you integrated into your schedule for the previous season, you can simply adjust.  Give yourself time to recalibrate, adapt, and reset when new seasons and schedules show up. If one area of your life is taking a lot of energy right now (i.e. the burner is turned up) and there are other areas that aren’t as much of a priority (i.e. burner is turned down) it doesn’t necessarily mean the other “burners” are off or don’t get any attention at all.   This is when knowing your priorities helps you commit to what’s important, say yes to things that align, and feel energized, instead of further depleted.

Remember, overall “stress” can come from more than just running or a physical workout.  Most things we experience are only for a season. Go for alignment over balance. You get to decide where your energy goes and how to adjust.

What do you think about balance – is it a myth?  What does balance feel like in your life?

Jenni Hulburt

Jenni Hulburt

Jenni Hulburt, founder of WILD Wellness, is a fitness and wellness advocate who helps women take care of their health naturally, so they can live their one WILD life. She has a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Exercise Science and Sport Psychology, and is a top-ranked essential oil educator with doTERRA. Her mission with the WILD Wellness podcast, programs, and products is to guide women who are mindfully exploring holistic health and movement, to live more aligned with nature and in sync with their natural rhythms. Jenni teaches women who struggle to manage their energy and stress, what nature has always modeled — it’s not a sprint, but a cycle. www.jennihulburt.com

Trail Sisters is committed to creating opportunity and participation for women in trail running. Our content is always free to read. Consider a monthly contribution on Patreon to support Trail Sisters so we can continue to inspire, educate and empower others!


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