Burnout. I think I have it. What is it and what can I do about it?
Burnout is not a clinical diagnosis but a state of being.
There are a few things that can help you deal with burnout. But the biggest thing is taking a pause so that you can re-evaluate the best way to restore your energy.
Dr. Christina Maslach, who did a lot of the early work on occupational burnout, defines it as a “psychological syndrome emerging as a prolonged response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job.” It is made up of three key experiences: 1) severe exhaustion or fatigue, 2) decreased attachment to work or the people involved with work, and 3) decreased achievement or productivity at work.
So how does someone stop burnout?
It starts with just stopping what you are doing that is harming you. Trust us nerdy girls, it sounds easier than it actually is. For most of us, it isn’t possible to stop working or taking care of our families. But even if we can’t there are things we CAN do to feel better.
Here are a few ideas:
See where you can do less. Can you take a 10 minute break every day away from your family? Can you drop one project at work? See where you can give something up.
Give yourself empathy. Accept that your best might not be happening right now, but your 75% is just fine.
Work on boundaries. What can you reasonably do in a day? If you know you can’t work past 5PM because of other obligations, can you tell your boss that? If you know that you can only take care of a family member for 4 hours a day because it is physically demanding, can you ask other people to assist you? Set the boundaries before you go into a conversation because it is always harder to figure these things out in the moment.
Try to get outside every day. Yes, research supports this. Even 10-15 minutes a day can make a difference. Just try it and see how you feel.
Build in some daily mild to moderate exercise. Think about going for walks, doing a 10 minute workout or even just taking the pets or children out to play. It doesn’t have to be an intense Orange Theory workout. Remember that even a little is better than nothing!
Focus on sleep. Nothing goes well when we don’t sleep. By not sleeping we are setting ourselves up to be more anxious and not think as well during the day. Aim for at least 7 hours. Start small by moving your bedtime up just a little to get more time in.
Work on breathing and mindful activities that keep you in the present moment and help you to relax your body. When we are stressed, we don’t breathe in an efficient way and this causes us to be even more stressed. And when stressed, we have tunnel vision and don’t pay attention to what is happening around us. By practicing breathing and mindfulness, we can work on changing our perspective around what is causing our burnout.
Try to connect with others. When we experience burnout, we often decrease the things that bring us joy like connecting with others. Not only does social connection help us to feel a part of something, it can help us to feel supported and take perspective on what we are experiencing.
Figure out what fills your cup. This is something that will be different for each person. But try to see what helps you feel good. Is this time with family, doing something creative, taking some time alone? Make sure that you have time for whatever fills your cup so that you can do things that bring you joy.
Work on your why. For most of us, when we are stressed out, we lose sight of our why. It might feel silly, but our why is what drives us. It is what keeps us doing the things we need to do. Maybe we take care of our family member because our family is the most important thing to us. Maybe we are working long hours because we know that this is a temporary phase. Or maybe we are taking on extra jobs because we need the money. Whatever it is, understanding more about it can help us to figure out if we need to stay in the place of doing what we are doing or not. It can also help motivate us if the why lines up with who we are.
Get help when you are stuck. We don’t have to wait until the last minute to get help. Getting help from friends or family, a group, a supervisor/boss, or even from a professional can be very helpful when you are struggling (see the link below for a previous post on seeking help in the U.S.).
You don’t need to do all of these things at once. Start with what is easiest for you and see how you feel. Burnout takes a long time to happen. It takes some time to fix, too. Give yourself the space you need to work on this and see where it goes.
Stay safe. Stay well.
Those Nerdy Girls
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