Joanna Gaines says she was ‘full, but running on empty’ at height of burnout

Joanna Gaines says hyper-productivity led to burnout. (Photo: Nick Kelley/Magnolia Journal)
Joanna Gaines says hyper-productivity led to burnout. (Photo: Nick Kelley/Magnolia Journal)

Fixer Upper star Joanna Gaines opened up about her experience with burnout in a personal essay for the winter issue of her own Magnolia Journal, available on newsstands and online starting Nov. 11.

She began the piece by expressing her gratitude for the robust life she has created over the past two decades.

“I looked around at what I’d built with equal parts gratitude and exhaustion. I love my life, and I love my family — deeply,” she wrote, going on to explain that the career and personal successes ultimately came with a cost she is still in the process of tallying.

“But some of the ways I’d gotten here, some of the qualities I’d always relied on — like being really productive, superefficient, always running at high capacity — were beginning to turn on me,” she explained.

This hyper-productivity left Gaines feeling admittedly burnt out, she said, noting that simultaneous lows accompanied the success-driven highs.

“The past 20 years have been a heck of a ride, but I knew I couldn’t keep going the way I have. It’s hard to explain how I was feeling. I was grateful beyond measure, but exhausted. Loved, but feeling unworthy. Full, but running on empty. And because my world kept me busy, I could still feel the wheels of my life humming. What became harder to tell is where they should be headed,” she wrote.

Gaines's memoir, The Stories We Tell: Every Piece of Your Story Matters, is set to release on Nov. 8 and she said that, through writing it, she has been able to reflect on just how much of the past 44 years, apart from major life events, have become fused together in her memory.

Joanna Gaines's memoir is set to release on November 8. (Photo: Magnolia Journal)
Joanna Gaines's memoir is set to release on November 8. (Photo: Magnolia Journal)

“But the moments between some of those milestones — that’s where things got hazy. Anything else I’d start to remember felt so far away. I could only see it in shapes, blurred once by too much time and again by too much distance. It was like I couldn’t get close enough to separate them from one another, to know what I should write down,” she recalled.

Even though she may not be able to describe every life event in intimate detail, she is grateful that writing has allowed her to lean deeper into present feelings that remind her of the past.

“I know I can’t go back to those early days of motherhood, but I can look out for moments that remind me that I’m a mom — and I’ll let those take my breath away. I can look Chip in the eye next time he makes a joke, and let myself sink into how much I love his humor for a minute or two. I can pull my mom a little tighter every time we say goodbye,” she said.

Through writing, Gaines says she was able to rediscover forgotten parts of herself and experience some of her happiest moments all over again.

“I ended up discovering a lot in my story: clarity, healing, deeper truths I didn’t know I could get to. But mostly, these pages brought me back to myself, back to those tender little moments I thought I’d lost. In writing down my story, I had the chance to relive some of the very best chapters of my life,” she said.

Now, Gaines is intentional about being present and chronicling the moments and feelings of the present so she is able to reflect fondly and accurately in the future.

“I don’t know about you, but when I look back next time, I don’t want to see a kind of kaleidoscope life — out of focus and jumbled — where the moments I swore I’d never forget become difficult to discern amid the chaos of thoughts and memories unresolved. I want to live the next season of this beautiful life in focus.”

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