January 21, 2021
It was 7 p.m. on a Tuesday when my partner called me to make sure I’d logged out of my work computer for the night. “Take a picture of yourself so I know you’re actually relaxing,” she said, and that’s when I knew. Despite my best efforts to maintain a decent work/life balance, this was a sure sign that I was experiencing burnout.
Burnout Affects Both Mental and Physical Health
Burnout isn’t a medical diagnosis, but Mayo Clinic describes it as, “a special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.”
At a time when work stress and home stress are both high as a result of the pandemic, the signs of burnout may look and feel different for everyone. For me, burnout means feeling drained, irritable and resentful, and having difficulty setting healthy boundaries for myself. There are other emotional and physical symptoms as well including sadness, vulnerability to illnesses, excessive stress, insomnia, and more. And when left unaddressed, these symptoms can continue to drain your spirit and overall health.
How to Deal with Burnout
Burnout can feel like a room with no doors because when you’re juggling responsibilities at home and work, it’s not always realistic to simply do less. But there are better ways to currently navigate the stress you’re under without sacrificing your health and well-being.
Building Awareness and Self-Compassion with Mindfulness
When I’m feeling burned out, my focus on myself and my own needs goes out the window. Building a daily mindfulness practice has helped me learn to bring awareness back to myself – how am I feeling? Am I clenching my jaw or holding tension in my shoulders? Mindfulness also gives me the space to identify and accept how I’m feeling without self-criticism. I’m not Superwoman; I’m one person with real physical and emotional limits, and I’m doing my best.
Live or on-demand mindfulness programs such as our Avoiding Burnout program can be especially beneficial for helping you unpack and address burnout. Whenever you can make the time – whether it’s in the morning as you’re getting ready or as part of your routine before bed – engaging in a mindfulness program can help you come back to yourself after feeling like you’ve been someone else.
1. Setting Boundaries and Taking Breaks
This is an especially challenging area for me, because I get stuck in that mindset of, “if I just work a little bit longer, I can get this done” when realistically, it’s a task that can wait until tomorrow. Once you sit down in your work space for the day, it’s easy to get caught in the productivity machine for the next eight or so hours without coming up for air. A few tips that are helpful here are:
- Set your intention for the day. Rather than scrambling to get as much done as possible, structure your day into realistic goals that you can reasonably accomplish so you can feel comfortable walking away from your desk at the end of the work day.
- Set an alarm for stretching or taking a walk. Our bodies and minds are not meant to stare at a computer screen for hours on end without some reprieve. Taking your lunch hour or break time to stand up and stretch or go for a walk can help you get the downtime you need to come back feeling refreshed.
2. Defining what “Self-Care” Means for You
Self-care is an important way to take care of your needs amid whatever stress and uncertainty is happening around you, and you can tailor your self-care to whatever you need that day or that moment. When you bring mindful awareness to your mind and body, you can gain a better sense of what’s going to help whether it be a soak in a bubble bath, a hike in the woods, or some time curled up with a good book.
When we get caught up in all of the responsibilities of work and home, we often forget to take care of ourselves, too. If we compare burnout to a computer that has too many systems running at once, self-care is the reset button that can help you start fresh.
3. Avoiding Burnout in the Future
As much as I try to maintain a healthy work/life balance, it’s easy for that balance to tip more heavily to the work side. This is where daily mindfulness practice is useful for me, because when I have more awareness of how I feel when I’m burned out, I can more easily identify the tell-tale signs of irritability, fatigue, and lack of motivation.
Checking in with yourself frequently, accepting how you’re feeling without criticism or judgement, and addressing what your needs are in the present moment can help you navigate everything going on at work and home while mindfully managing signs of burnout. I’d be lying if I said that my partner hasn’t had to lovingly encourage me to leave my desk more than once, but every healthy habit takes time.
Written by Becky Greiner