Sick of Thinking About What to Wear? 4 Ways to Deal with Image Burn Out

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Have you ever been burnt out in your life? I’ve had three instances in my adult life where I’ve become completely burned out and had to reassess where I was going, what I was trying to achieve and whether or not my approach was working for me, given how I was feeling.

The first time I got burnt out at work I was working in sports administration (hard to believe I know since I follow no sport at all apart from what my kids actually do) and only 21 years old, I’d been working full time, finishing my university degree full-time too and to top it all off, ended up having some death threats (and needing police protection) from one of the sporting clubs who had been involved in a brawl with an umpire and of course, somehow we, the admin team, were to blame.  I ended up cracking under the pressure and behaved in a very non-calm way (which for those who know me, is the opposite of me) and realised that I needed to get away from this toxic environment.  

So I did, I left the job (I mean, why stay in a job when you don’t care about the product?), packed my car and moved from Canberra to Melbourne for a fresh start and new perspective.

The second time was when I’d been working for years as a publicist for a major international book publishing house and had been on the road with author after author, hardly home, and always looking after the author’s needs before my own.  I hit a point where I just couldn’t do it anymore and it was time to leave. 

This is when I decided to move overseas and live in the UK for a few years for a complete break (nope, I don’t do things by halves!).  What I found interesting was shortly after I arrived in the UK when I was perusing the employment pages of The Guardian newspaper and a job was advertised at the BBC Drama department doing publicity (I mean, that would have been a totally fascinating job) I remember a rush of nausea overcoming my body and realised that I couldn’t physically, mentally or emotionally do that kind of work again.  I was totally burnt out.

The third time was after starting my image consulting business, I had young babies, was often working into the night because time during the day was limited and I remember hitting a point where I lost my mojo, I didn’t want to work, I was uninspired.   Again, I wasn’t looking after myself, all my energy went into my family and the business, without leaving a little time for me.  I remember the first time I went and did a yoga class and at the end, during the Savasana, as I lay on the ground focusing on the present, tears streamed down my face.  I hadn’t realised just how I had not taken time to look after me for such a long time and how tired and drained of energy and inspiration I had become.

This time I didn’t move across the country or the world, or even move house, but I did get divorced as I realised I’d been putting my energy into kids and work to avoid the toxic situation that was my marriage.  I also learned that I couldn’t work days, nights and weekends.  That as passionate as I am about what I do, and even though I love it, I have to put boundaries around it the time I spend working.  So I stopped working nights and weekends (except in emergencies and very special circumstances) as I know that if I do work them, I’m pretty terrible at taking time off during the week to recover and will end up back in that bad place.  Working a very solid 8 hour day (sometimes 10 hours) 5 days a week, is enough for anyone!

Incorporating Self-Care

Knowing what I know now about my introverted intuitive personality, and a need for time and space to think and just be, I’ve learned that I have to incorporate acts of self-care into my daily and weekly life along with my new work boundaries to stay sane and healthy.

I mean, I pride myself on being both smart and intelligent, and so I’ve learned that I need to be more careful about my mental and physical health.   I’ve learned to tune into myself more quickly and see the signs of fatigue before I become burned out.  I’ve learned that if I’m going to have a very intensive work period for any reason (training courses, workshops, conferences etc.) that I must book space around those times before and after to have time to rejuvenate.  I know that without this me-time, I can’t give everything in the way I want to with my clients or students. 

My self-care includes:

Regular exercise – I’m at the gym most mornings at 6am, plus I walk the dogs and mow the lawn (I find it quite relaxing!). With puppies to walk (or they’ll destroy the house) I’m wearing sneakers a lot so that I can take them out for short walks throughout the day (and they sleep again!).

Sick of Thinking About What to Wear? 4 Ways to Deal with Image Burn Out - great for short bursts of exercise during the day
I’m wearing a lot of outfits that include sneakers as it allows me to easily just get up from my desk and take the puppies out for a 20 minute walk without having to change my shoes.

Grooming – from a lovely long lazy bath to daily makeup to hair, to selecting an outfit to wear that makes me both feel great and look good is important.

Reading a novel – relaxation reading is something I like to do a little of every day, before I go to sleep as I know it helps me get to sleep faster (turns off my overactive brain) and is enjoyable.  Weekends I love to read longer when I have the time.  Reading non-fiction is not relaxing, in the same way, as I’m reading with a purpose.  Fiction is a great way to get out of my head and into an imaginary world.

Craft activities – from knitting and crochet, to fused-glass, paint-by-numbers and sewing, doing something that I have to focus on in a sensory way is a great way to turn off my brain and be present in the moment.  For me, these activities are a form of meditation and mindfulness.  I can’t be thinking about work and other stuff when I have to focus on something I’m trying to make, following instructions or just not cutting myself with a shard of glass.

Bodywork – a therapeutic massage and looking after my tired body and muscles so they work more efficiently and effectively (and without pain) is something that I know makes a huge difference to my life.

Long Lunch with a good friend – I’m not the type to call my friends every day or week (or sometimes even month), but I do love to periodically catch up with good friends.  I have to be careful to balance my “with people” time with my “alone time”.  Too much of either is unhealthy and I know I need more of the “alone” than “people” time to function best, but given I live with people (family) they take up some of my “with people” energy.  So it’s not that I don’t love my friends, I have to make sure I balance my social with my imperative need for time out (for me, putting myself in the time-out corner is a gift, not a punishment!).  If I’ve had a full on time with clients, then I need time out to rejuvenate.  But if I’ve had a full-on time with my computer screen and my own company, then time with is the way I need to go for optimal self-care.

What self-care routines do you incorporate into your life for good mental, physical and emotional health?  If you’re wanting to know more about self-care – check out An Invitation to Self-Care which has lots of great ideas and strategies!

Grooming – It Says a Lot About Your Mental State

I know that grooming is often the first thing that goes when someone is sick, tired or burnt out (and a psychiatrist client confirmed this for me).  Can’t be bothered to do your hair?  Can’t be bothered to get out of your activewear or sloppy old jeans outfit?  This is actually a known sign of depression or being on the way to being depressed or burned-out.

When you hit rock bottom, what does it matter what you wear?

As you recover from general burn-out or depression, you’ll naturally start putting in some self-care to your daily routines. 

But maybe you’re not that bad, instead, you might just be finding that you can’t be bothered putting so much time and effort into putting your outfit together as you have been … I’m calling this Image Burn Out.

Do You Have Image Burn Out?

But do you have image burn out?  Where you’re Ok at the regular kind of self-care and grooming, but just feel uninspired with regards to putting outfits together?

This can be something that happens when you spend a lot of time and effort figuring out what to wear (trying things, getting feedback, taking photos and assessing your outfits) and having a big period of learning and growth around what suits you – both inside and out.   You can hit a point where you think… I just can’t be bothered anymore.

Now, this is not a bad thing.  Sometimes it’s good to step back and focus on something else for a while.  And often this period let’s all the information you’ve learned settle.  You’re still getting dressed every day, and for many, I’m sure that their new “can’t be bothered much” outfit is way better than what they would have put together in the past!

Ideally, what I want you to get from my blog and online programs such as 7 Steps to Style, Ignite Your Style Genius and Evolve Your Style, is a way to get up, get dressed (feel great, look great) and then get out the door and experience the rest of your life, not thinking about your clothing (unless of course you want to be thinking about them).

What’s Your Personality?

Too long analysing your navel (as my mother would say) is not good, particularly for some types of people who are doers, not analysers.  Knowing this about yourself is important as doers may reach analysis burn out faster than those who are the natural analysers.

  • There are some who are best creating their own wardrobe capsule and just wearing that for a season.
  • There are some who are best forward planning outfits for a day, week or more at a time (I have a teacher friend who plans a whole terms worth of outfits during the school holidays, then just wears those, without having to think again for months about what to wear!).
  • There are some who love the daily challenge of creating new outfits and putting together different looks all the time.  They find this a creative outlet and in fact, are energised by this (you are unlikely to experience Image Burn Out).
  • There are some who feel their best when they create their own uniform (think Anna Wintour – a patterned dress and the same necklace every day, or Ellen Degeneres – button-up shirt, blazer, jeans and sneakers).  If the idea of a uniform appeals to you, why not figure out what yours could be and then just wear it every day, leaving your brain free to be creative in other ways.Sick of Thinking About What to Wear? 4 Ways to Deal with Image Burn Out - create your own uniform like Anna Wintour and Ellen Degeneres
  • There are some who dress on mood, what do they feel like that day? Envisioning an outfit that expresses the right mood and feel for the day.

If you want to know more about how your personality influences your style and approach to style, then get your Style Type Report which will give you key insights into it, and a blueprint on how to best approach improving your style.

4 Strategies for Dealing with Image Burn Out

So if you’re suffering from Image Burn Out there are some ways of tackling this that work with your personality and make it easier to be stylish but stop thinking about clothes all the time.

  1. Work a Capsule – if the idea of a capsule wardrobe makes you feel calm and relaxed, this could be a great option.  Once you’ve gotten your capsule together take away the other choices – put it together in an easy reach place and then just go to it in the mornings  – decision fatigue is real!  Remove some of the decisions to regain your energy.   Download my free Wardrobe Capsule Guide to help you put one together.
  2. Plan Ahead – if you’re a natural planner, why not plan 3 weeks worth of outfits, photograph them, pop them in an album on your phone, then each morning, flip through them and decide which to wear.  You can download my free Weekly Outfit Planner as a guide.
  3. Get in the Mood – If you’re a mood dresser, take some of the mental space out of daily outfit choices.  Take a step back, have a look through your outfit photos, create a list of “go-to” outfits and just wear those.  Take the thinking and analysis out of the style equation for a while until you feel refreshed again and in a mental and emotional headspace that wants to start creating fresh and new again.  Look through your outfit ideas and see which fit your vision and mood for the day, then just pop them on!

    Sick of Thinking About What to Wear? 4 Ways to Deal with Image Burn Out - create go-to outfits
    This is one of my current “go-to” outfits – no thinking, just get dressed!
  4. Uniform YourselfDefine your own uniform and wear it.  Take the thinking out of getting dressed for a time, it might be a short time, it might be a long one (if this works for you, you might adopt this approach forever, just remember to update your uniform once a year to keep yourself fresh!)

You don’t have to revert to the yoga pants or sloppy jeans and tee outfits when you’re feeling image burn out (or any other sort of burn out too).   Instead, why not apply one of these strategies to your life and wardrobe if you’re needing a break from thinking about what to wear every day!

Have you experienced Image Burn Out?  How have you handled it?  

Linking Up to: Not Dressed as LambStyle with a SmileThursday Fashion FilesAgeless StyleVisible Monday 

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I'm not sure if it's for you but how would you feel if you learned all about the colours and styles of clothing that suit your individual personality, shape and style? Just imagine what it would be like when you can open your wardrobe and pull together fabulous outfits that make you look and feel amazing every day? If you'd like to stop wasting money on the wrong clothes and accessories plus join an amazing bunch of very special women also on their style journey - then my 7 Steps to Style program is right for you. Find out more here.

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13 Comments

  • This might be my favorite of all your posts. Thank you so much for sharing your three times of burnout. I think I’m likely in one myself, and it’s reassuring to know that’s normal. Anyway, yes, I’m in a period of generalized burnout, and that applies to my work style, as well. My solution has been a uniform, of sorts — a plain black pencil skirt, a patterned blouse, and some decent earrings. I wear modern glasses, which add some interest. If I don’t stick to this uniform, I’m lost — I can stand in my closet for an hour, dithering and getting depressed.

  • Great post. I would be fascinated to know how your dress style changed with each life change. My natural style would be to wear a cardigan rather than a jacket in the office, but when I worked for a boss who did not respect anyone in a cardigan a had to develop a style to suit the circumstances rather than me.

    • My dressing style changed with these based on where I was and what I was doing! First time nothing changed – just location, not my style. 2nd time I moved from work to not working, then into uniformed work for a short while, then back to my regular semi-formal work attire. Third time, nothing much changed as I was already running my own business and dressing for working from home, and seeing clients.

  • This post has to be one of the very best, I liked being able to see you in ordinary circumstances; very encouraging.

  • What a great post and very relevant for me right now. Ten weeks ago I suffered an autoimmune response to a virus and lost a good portion of my eye sight. Because of this I’ve become very uninterested in what I’m wearing and often just pick whatever’s closest. I’ve stopped wearing accessories and have just been feeling like it’s way too much effort. With hindsight and after reading your post I can see I’m suffering from burnout and I probably was before I got sick. Thank you for your strategies to deal with it. I’m not sure whether I’ll manage to make much change right now but something to aspire to.

    • Sorry to read about your loss of vision Carol! Maybe just think about creating a fast and easy uniform of clothes, or your go-to outfits so you just don’t have to think about anything new or being creative!

  • Imogen, you are always so real, sharing your ups and downs with us – thank you! Thank you for not only inspiring us how to dress, but also by letting us know that ‘whatever’ sometimes do hit the fan, and it is okay, it is part of life.

    You truly are an inspiration, Imogen!

  • Love your honesty Imogen. Have always followed your style/colour advice and suspect I’m of similar personality as you. Need time alone to regenerate. Winter here so living in pretty much the same outfit but switching colours. A heartfelt thank you for the work you do.

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