It is important to provide you with this disclaimer before reading any further; I don’t believe in “have to”, “mandatory”, “should”, or “need” (outside of biological imperatives that allow for us to live). If you can live with the reality that this conversation is rooted in that belief (along with my clinical training and experience), carry on!!
. Reading this blog entry should lead you to take the personal and individual steps needed to recognize, heal, and prevent burnout in yourself or others.
In the article Understanding the Burnout Experience: recent research and its implications for psychiatry the authors Maslach and Lieter (2016) outline burnout as being a psychological condition with three distinct elements (Maslach, & Lieter, 2016). The three elements they describe indicate burnout consists of feeling overwhelming exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment, and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment (Maslach & Lieter, 2016).
So adulting over the last 15 to 20 years. I don’t know about you, though to me it seems like burnout is oddly familiar and inherent within our culture. Doesn’t burnout seem to be the other side of the American dream? Or the hustle? If you don’t feel burnt out, are you really trying hard enough to accomplish whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish? Before the pandemic where people were literally forced to pause, social media reflected the social ideal of go, go, go!! Then when people had nowhere to go, they realized how tired they were. There was nowhere to spend the money you worked so hard to obtain, no people to impress with the things they’ve done, and many people were left with their reality and their mortality.
Enter the social emotional, wellness, diversity, inclusion & equity, self-care boom of the century! All of a sudden mental health is on the forefront of our minds, and things like burnout are brought under the microscope. So instead of knowing in your gut that the teacher, motor vehicle employee, or social worker were past their “best by” date and still seeing them a year later; people are looking for change. So now you feel like you might be burnt out, what do you do?
The solution might be more plain, and thus difficult than you think. Don’t worry, I strongly believe that you can do difficult things.
Working it Out
First!! Overwhelming exhaustion! Outside of paying close attention to your feeling state. A good way to combat burnout is to have an active lifestyle and well enough diet. Individuals who engage in physical activity often have more energy than those who don’t. Brisk walking, a recreational sport, fun play with children, working out (for example the popular Peloton) are things that help produce the chemicals that encourage us to stay awake. Not to mention the added benefit of something to look forward to outside of work or whatever employ that leaves you drained. Working up a good sweat is a great way of working out, those exhaustive feelings.
A good diet is another way of combating overwhelming feelings of exhaustion. When we are burnt out, the temptation for some is to eat our feelings. I do it too! My vice of choice is a coin flip between Rasinettes and Nestle Crunch Bar. Then on really tough days I go for the sodium rich goodness that is most American delicacies. Though when I’m eating right I generally just feel better which helps to displace those other feelings that are strictly the bi-product of work.
Second!! It’s really important to manage connections. I remember a time when I worked in a self-contained classroom with children with special needs. If you know, then you know that this can be a very exhaustive and draining work. It was during this time that I started to feel disconnected from the work, especially when it didn’t seem like what I was doing mattered. What helped was knowing that I had meaningful connections well beyond work.
It’s easy to see how work can dominate our identities. Many of us spend a large majority of our time at our workplaces (pre-pandemic) in order to make money or live out our passions. As a result of the time literally spent at work it’s easy to think that’s all you are!! Well let me tell you, it isn’t all you are! There’s more to you! Even if you don’t feel like there are more things you can do now, you can always research (thank God for Google, Youtube, and Tiktok). When I realized at the time that I had more connections than just work, I started to see beyond the hours that I spent there. It was easier to separate from all of the things that seemed to not go right, when I had conversations, school, intimate relationships, and hobbies to look forward to.
Managing your connections is intentionally moving your consciousness beyond the confines of work to other places that you know will fuel you!!
It Took Jesus 7 Days….And At the End He Still Looked at What Was Good
Third! If the deity who could literally speak things into existence took seven days to create the world and the beginnings of humankind according to Christian beliefs; then it may take you sometime to change the world. Managing our expectations is really important in life, and especially when it comes to people facing professions. I can tell you, from experience, that when I entered the field of therapy (even when advised to do otherwise) I believed that I would be changing people’s lives in a day, two days if I was tired. I quickly learned otherwise. Sometimes change takes time. It’s not always that we are ineffective. We may not be in a place or at a time where we will see the effectiveness of our work. Sometimes the reality is you simply haven’t done it….”yet”.
I started my career later in life, really kicking off my journey to wellness in my early thirties. Before that there were plenty of times where I wondered what I was doing, and why. Now I realize that the times I felt most burnt out, were times where I lost perspective. Like the Christian origin story shares, it's important to sit back and look at what’s good. When I did take those moments to reflect on what was going well, it changed how I felt about me and the work I did.
You Don’t “Need” to, “Have” to, and Maybe You “Should”n’t.
There’s a reason why I emphasized that I don’t believe in need, have, or should. In our society these words are laced with shame (see Brene Brown’s work) and rooted in privilege. We find ourselves overwhelmed and burnt out; living up to the things we need to do, have to do, and should do; especially work related demands. It might be scary to change your paradigm on work; it could aslo be what saves you.
You’re more than your work. There are more things to do that interest you, and even if work interests you it isn’t the only thing to do. Even if there’s more to do, it doesn’t take away from all that you’ve done thus far. You got this!!