How I Burned Out and Came Back Episode #54

Aaron McHugh


If you’ve ever burned out, flirted with the idea of burn out or could envision that burn out is in your future, you’ll identify with my story. Burn out isn’t something most people want to admit happened to them. In a society where superhuman is rewarded and even expected, saying “I can’t anymore” isn’t what makes the cover of many headlines. Unless of course, a burn out produces drama and carnage. Those stories create lots of buzz.

Emotional Calorie-Depletion

Emotional Calorie-Depletion the stuff that drains your emotional energy

In my case, I absolutely burned out and my world approached full blown Chernobyl meltdown status. One year later, I think I have a better view into the elements, lifestyle and choices that led to my burn out. I also feel I’m very clear on what I can do differently to live in the green zone and avoid another burn out in my future.

Determine your burn rate of emotional calories
Determine your burn rate of emotional calories

I know a lot of you run in the red zone everyday. Your work and life are dense with demands. I’d love to save you a few bruises and help you avoid some of the mistakes that I have made.

My drawings are my attempt to use what Sunni Brown calls “visual literacy”, to illustrate the ideas of what depletes us and what fills us up. I have named the concept Emotional Calories or our Emotional Energy.

Click to Listen to How I Burned Out and Came Back

Caloric Depletion

There is a scale that could plot your rate of depletion. Just like a calorie burn rate of food calories, you need to determine your rate of emotional caloric depletion. Leadership requires some level of depletion usually at a higher rate. Endless ToDo’s, endless unread emails, 100 hour work-weeks and difficult relational conversations drive up my emotional calorie rate of depletion.

Emotional Calories
Emotional Calories-The stuff that fills you up

Emotional Caloric Intake-The Good Stuff

Do you know what fills you up? Rest, sleep, peace and quiet, time with family, adventure, good food, God, good friends, work you love, laughter and prayer (just to name a few). What fills you up? What gives your body , mind and soul nutrients that charges you up?

Emotional Calories that fill your tank
Emotional Calories that fill your tank

Emotional Calories require nutrients in order to restore you. We are operating with a limited supply of available calories. Like a 2,000 calorie food diet each day, we have to intake nutrients in order to take on what’s in front of us each day. For years, I didn’t believe that I needed to have a build in rhythm to restore my emotional nutrients or emotional energy. Boundaries, the maturity to know when and how to say “no”, help keep a border of protection around our internal energy. Installing a governor, a throttle, a stop button on your gas pedal of emotional energy enables for us to stop depleting ourselves endlessly.


Necessary Endings: Dr. Henry Cloud
I found this book very helpful in my shifting seasons. Dr. Cloud named many of my internal struggles and provided the affirmation that endings are natural and necessary.

2 thoughts on “How I Burned Out and Came Back Episode #54

  1. Great insights again Aaron. While many of us may feel the symptoms of burnout in our own lives, it is so helpful to have it laid out in a clear example of symptoms and solutions. A podcast that really hits close to home on where I’m living and I’m working to change the narrative of how I’m dealing with it in my own life.

    1. Chad symptoms and solutions. I like that. Last week I took a big aviation wall map and drew in quadrants words like “Soul Care” and “Work”. With a small leadership team, we talked about the costs of leadership and the emotional calories it takes to lead other people. The theory of Emotional Calories seems to be proving true as I share the idea with other people. Thanks for being on the journey with me.

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