If you're feeling crispy around the edges these days – checked out and exhausted - you're not alone.
For good reason, discussion of burnout is becoming more and more common in mainstream and social media, workplace environments and amongst friends and family. For sure, burnout is having a moment and the conversation is long overdue.
So, what exactly is burnout and how do you know if you’re experiencing it? Definitions vary, but by and large, anyone can experience burnout if they sustain an activity or pace that is just, well, unsustainable for you.
Symptoms of burnout include: feelings of overwhelm, mental and physical exhaustion, emotional numbness, irritability, difficulty focusing, and lack of empathy for others and self, aka compassion fatigue. Physical health ailments may also be part of the package. As a psychotherapist working with high-achieving women and girls, I see this constellation of symptoms regularly in my practice, often with a backdrop of anxiety, stress and/or trauma.
Those in helping professions, frontline workers and caregivers are also more vulnerable to experiencing some or all of these symptoms. Women, and BIPOC women in particular, provide a disproportionate amount of emotional labor to their families and communities putting them at higher-risk as well.
To be clear, burnout is not a character flaw. Say it with me: There's nothing wrong with you! It’s actually an expected response given the context.
Our fatigue is the result of a culture that glamorizes busyness and values productivity to an unhealthy degree. Those messages get internalized over time and often we don’t even know it's happened until we’re feeling the psychological and physical effects.
There's a spoken and unspoken pressure to perform personally, socially and professionally and for that reason, there is no easy fix to burnout because it’s not just about us. We're navigating broken systems, but for sure there are steps we can take to reclaim our sovereignty and our mental and physical health despite the persistence of hustle culture. So, let’s talk about four ways to get started.
First and foremost, be gentle with yourself. It won’t help to beat yourself up over feeling tired or unmotivated. For some, practicing self-compassion can feel tricky, but think of how you would support someone you cared for (a friend or family member, perhaps) if they were feeling overwhelmed, exhausted or ill. What would you say to them? What types of comfort would you offer? Practice offering these kindnesses to yourself as a foundation to your healing process. Psychologist, Kristin Neff, offers a variety of guided meditations and exercises on self-compassion here.
Practice Stepping Back (when and where you can)
Passion projects, career ambition and self-development goals are all wonderful, but when guilt and shame become part of the equation of not “reaching a goal” – it’s time to take a closer look. Start by taking inventory of your day-to-day life as it is right now. What, if anything, can you step back from? Take a look at your To-Do list and take as many items off as possible. If that feels daunting, try taking those items and putting them in a “parking lot” – a separate list of action items you can re-visit when you have more capacity.
Identify Protective Factors
Protective factors are the relationships, activities and practices in your life that fuel you and help you feel sustained. Author and activist, Adrienne Maree Brown talks about this concept at length in her book Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good and highlights the essential link between rest and joy, and showing up more fully in the world. I love this concept and encourage clients to seek pleasure and joy whenever/wherever possible. Sometimes this involves smaller joys like soaking in the sunshine or eating a yummy meal with your favorite person, while other times it means planning travel. Think about what fuels you and engage, engage, engage.
I feel strongly that ultimately self-care and community-care work best in tandem as we attempt to heal from collective burnout. This requires a greater shift in culture that can begin by reaching out with requests for help, as well as offerings of support when appropriate. As you begin this journey, identify a few people who you may ask to be your ally in healing. They may be family or friends, community leaders, physical health practitioners or mental health professionals. Know that you are not alone and that sharing your story and experience is brave and sacred.
Till next time, wishing you health & ease,
To learn more about my work with women and girls message me directly or book an initial consultation here.