Walking the Balance Beam Between Boredom and Burnout

January 5, 2024

Boredom and Burnout

Picture a gymnast on a balance beam. For the moment, imagine the athlete standing with both feet on the beam maintaining their balance without any apparent effort.

You’ll note that we used the word “apparent.” That is because it does take effort to stand still on the balance beam. But a gymnast has trained and trained and trained to make it—and a whole lot of other ridiculously difficult things besides—look easy. But at every moment, the gymnast is working to maintain their balance so that they don’t lean too far one way or the other. After all, leaning too far one way or the other leads to a fall.

Now picture yourself on a balance beam. For the moment, you have both feet on the beam and you are feeling pretty stable. Still, you are working pretty hard not to lean too far one way or the other.

As long as we imagine a scenario, let’s imagine that the mat to one side of the beam has the word “boredom” printed across it in bright white letters. In this imaginary gym, the mat on the other side of the beam has the word “burnout” printed in the same kind of bright white letters. While you stand on the balance beam, you are balanced between boredom and burnout.

And if you are a person in recovery from a substance use disorder, that is a good place to be. That is because both boredom and burnout have the potential to upend your recovery and lead to relapse. Keeping your balance between the two is an excellent way to maintain your hard-won sobriety.

Let’s take a closer look at the two directions toward which you are trying not to fall.

Avoid Excessive Boredom With Engaging Activities

A little boredom now and again is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can spark creative thinking or inspire us to make a change in our life that injects some energy into our days.

But if you allow boredom to build up over time, it can start to threaten your sobriety. That is because being at loose ends with nothing interesting to occupy your thoughts will quickly tempt you to drink or use drugs as a way to alleviate the ongoing feeling of boredom.

To protect yourself from this potential problem, it is a good idea to develop a few interests that can be your go-to activities when you feel boredom creeping in. An engaging hobby, a favorite book series, a movie you love to re-watch, solving jigsaw or crossword puzzles… The options are endless. The key is finding something that consistently helps you set feelings of boredom aside when they arise. Having a couple of different options is probably a smart move.

Meanwhile, we want to note that a lack of interest in things that usually please you may be a symptom of a mental health disorder like depression. If you find yourself uninterested in much of anything over some time, the right move is to talk to your doctor or therapist. The wrong move, of course, is to return to drug use or drinking.

Burnout Can be a Bugaboo

It is perfectly okay to be committed to your job—especially if the work brings you joy and a feeling of accomplishment. Having an engaging job is good protection against boredom.

But sometimes a person finds themselves working all of the time. They might be first into the office and last to leave. Maybe they take their lunch at their desk (if they stop to eat at all). Perhaps they spend much of the weekend either in the office or working from home.

If that sounds like you, there is a good chance that you are experiencing the feelings of stress, irritability, and/or sadness that come with burnout. You might be feeling extremely tired but find it difficult to sleep. Or you might be getting sick more often than usual.

These are all symptoms of burnout—and they can lead to a relapse if you turn to drugs or alcohol to manage the stress. It is also true that work may have become a substitute addiction, meaning that you are experiencing a kind of compulsion to work the way you used to feel compelled to use drugs or alcohol.

If you are experiencing burnout, it is time to set some boundaries for yourself around work and to build recreation into your schedule. Doing so will help you maintain the balance we have been talking about.

Let Us Motivate and Instruct You Like a Coach

Remember that gymnast we imagined standing still on the balance beam? The athlete—working with a coach—has developed skills far beyond simply maintaining their balance. And those skills build upon each other.

The same can be true when it comes to recovery from a substance use disorder. At Farley Center in Williamsburg, Virginia, we will help you learn a range of strategies and skills that will support your sobriety. Staying sober can be a delicate balance. Farley Center can help you find ways to maintain that balance and your hard-won sobriety.