Are you empty? Depleted? Are everyone else’s needs met and yet there’s not one measly drop in your well left to give? Do you have a hard time saying no? Are you nodding? If so, you may be caught up in an extended and exhaustive head-spinning cycle of busy. Left unchecked, it could lead to burnout.
Women take pride in hectic schedules, demanding jobs, and multi-tasking abilities. Many believe they must continuously give and give and give, but fail to think about what happens when they tap out. It’s not until they crash head-on into burnout that they realize something’s got to change.
Burnout, according to Merriam-Webster, is the “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.”
Nothing is more stressful or frustrating than overwhelm. Yet, many of us pile more on our plates that we can possibly handle. While trying to do it all, we empty ourselves of the necessary physical, mental and emotional bandwidth needed to function at an optimal level. Eventually, we spread ourselves too thin and become exhausted and ineffective.
A Dangerous Cocktail
My life was a cocktail of crazy. Most nights, I only slept five to six hours. I worked full-time and had a lengthy commute. I was also a dutiful caregiver to an elderly mother with mounting health problems.
Our family ate junk because it was quicker to pick up something at the drive-thru than to prepare a meal. As a result, I gained weight.
And if that wasn’t enough, there was a huge issue overshadowing all the others. My job, the one I spent so much time commuting to . . . was completely out of alignment with my values. It reached the point that my stomach churned and my body shook on the drive there each morning.
I tried to keep it together but the weight I shouldered was too heavy to bear. All the blessings in my life, I began to consider as burdens. I didn’t even recognize who I’d become. Burnout was doing me in.
Tony Robbins says, “Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.” The anguish of living out the remainder of my days that way far exceeded any amount of pain change could possibly bring.
Caring for Ourselves
In the book No Greater Love, Mother Teresa wrote, “Knowledge of the self is a very important thing in our lives. As Saint Augustine says, ‘Fill yourselves first, and then only will you be able to give to others.’”
Contrary to what many women believe, we must care for our own needs first. We find this hard to swallow because many of us have been conditioned to accept the myth that we must sacrifice our needs for those of others. But that’s not a healthy way to live.
When we start exhibiting signs of burnout, it’s time to take action. Here are six burnout busters to consider on the road to a healthier and more manageable way of living:
- Prioritize the Important
We must determine what’s important to us. Prioritize what matters most and remove from the list those things of little value. If family is number one, time should be scheduled with them first. If it’s our spiritual life, quality time should be dedicated to nurture it.
- Set and Keep Boundaries
Establishing boundaries is critical. It’s good to be responsible and care for others. But if we’re shouldering responsibility so others don’t have to, that’s a problem. And we create a job for ourselves that wasn’t ours to begin with. Saying no preserves our limited time to focus on what’s important.
- Live a Life of Meaning
We must live our lives with a sense of meaning and purpose. Otherwise, one day bleeds into the next with nothing to show for it. If we don’t do what we’re instinctively called to do, we’ll face regret in later years. Living with meaning and doing work that aligns with our values points us in the right direction.
- Develop Supportive Relationships
Having genuine relationships with positive, supportive people is imperative to a healthy life. Regardless of how busy we are, maintaining great relationships helps us keep our sanity. When we need the support and encouragement only a friend can bring, it’s comforting to know we have someone to turn to.
- Ask for Help
We’re capable of doing many wonderful things, just not all at the same time. The “I can do everything myself” attitude is a surefire way to become overloaded. There’s no shame in asking for help. It’s healthy and wise to do so.
- Rest and Recharge
And rest, for goodness’ sake. We need to recharge our bodies as well as our minds. The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours sleep a night for adults ages 26 to 64. Rest is one of those things we take most for granted, but we need to prioritize sleep if we want to perform at our best.
There’s a big difference between having a full life and living fully. A full life is one that’s stressful and overloaded with more tasks than we can successfully accomplish. Living fully, however, is the art of living intentionally. It’s a life designed with meaning.
When I found myself empty, I started making changes. One by one, I evaluated the low-priority tasks that were eating away at my time and consuming my headspace. Then, I made hard decisions, had difficult conversations and started saying no. I even let go of some really good things to create breathing room for what really mattered during that season of my life.
Burnout can slip up on us before we realize it. If your plate is full but you feel empty, take some time today to consider if you need to remove a few things and make some changes. Not only could it help you minimize the risk of burnout, it could also lead you to experience more of the things in life that matter.