Today I’d like to talk about burnout. Burnout at home, school, work, and in all areas of your life. I like to think of burnout as a kind of fatigue, the sense of having reached the limits of your endurance and ability to cope with a situation. It’s the result of having too many demands placed on you, on your strength, resources, time, and energy coming from all directions.
Burnout is a fairly common experience among caregivers and parents. It’s also been commonly experienced by those living through the COVID pandemic, a time when many of us are trying to be and do everything for everybody at home, school, work, and in personal relationships. For example, you might find yourself in a combination of the following: working from home, being an essential worker or unemployed in a job search; caring for children or elderly parents; managing an entire household; supervising your child’s educational, social, recreational activities and developmental and health care needs, including home-schooling; and lots more. If you’re in this position, it’s easy to lose sight of your own needs, maintain relationships, and feel competent.
Burnout is considered a relative experience and may vary at different times and stages of your life, depending on the surrounding circumstances, competing demands and pressures and your individual coping skills. This means that it may be easier or more difficult for you to deal with certain demands at different points in your life.
Burnout is also a very personal experience and will vary among people, so don’t make the mistake of comparing yourself to others and what they may appear to be able to do!
When experiencing burnout, you may feel a combination of physical and emotional factors including:
- Frustration, irritability, or anger; sadness, depression; feeling resentful, pessimistic, or indifferent and finding it more difficult to be patient with and empathize with others
- Headaches; muscle aches; stomach upset; being tired, exhausted, or overwhelmed; difficulty sleeping (insomnia); poor attention to self-care habits (diet, exercise, sleep, etc); use of alcohol or street drugs
Ways to protect yourself against burnout
So, how do you protect against burnout and keep from losing yourself? The best way is to pace yourself and take time to care for yourself.
Paying attention to your own needs does not mean you are ignoring your responsibilities at home or work or your loved ones’ needs. Instead, it enables you to be a more available and effective partner, parent, caregiver of children or senior parents, and co-worker. In doing so, try not to feel selfish or guilty. Remember that you can’t function very well if you’ re not attending to yourself first.
Here are some things you can try if you feel yourself in a burnout state of mind:
Pace yourself by watching and adjusting how much you take on without asking for help or delegating. Try to manage life’s little daily stressors before they explode into unmanageable problems. For example, you might break large tasks into smaller projects, prioritize the demands placed on you, and learn to say no on occasion.
Do your best to care for yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. This means you aim for sufficient and regular sleep, physical exercise, and time for relaxation, as well as a balanced and nutritious diet. Try to keep up with your own friends and support people, those who sustain you, and see them regularly—don’t brush them aside for your other duties. Look to your own needs and wants and do those things that increase your own self-esteem and pleasure (hobbies, interests, skills, or volunteer work). These are what make your life rewarding and rich and sustains you. Treat yourself to something special every once in a while—a meal out, a bouquet of flowers, a new book to read—and don’t feel guilty doing so. Many find it refreshing to take the time for activities that bring them pleasure.
A 2020 article in Harvard Business Review (Rothbard, 2020) offers some helpful suggestions:
- Do your best to keep a routine and structure in your life.
- Separate work from home and create distinct boundaries with your time, with clearly designated work and home/family/relationship time. Turn off work in your head during your “at home” time. Your work time, evenings and weekends should all be and feel different from each other.
- Build in periodic breaks during the day.
- Try to be fully present and aware when at work and also when you’re with family and loved ones. Focus on the moment. It helps to try to clear your head at the end of the workday so you can accomplish this.
- Disconnect from technology periodically and when you need to. Most of us do not need to check or respond to emails, texts, or phone calls in our off-duty hours.
- Clear up any questionable issues with your supervisor at work and with your spouse or family members at home regarding goals, tasks, and responsibilities. Be ready and willing to delegate and share these responsibilities.
In closing, I urge you to make it a priority to take care of yourself and stay well!