Updated: Nov 8, 2020
So let me be clear, I am absolutely not a doctor and I will always and forever recommend therapy/counseling to every human I know, because it can be life-changing. Even though problems that we face might seem completely un-sort-out-able, I have found it astonishing what a mental health care professional can do to make the overwhelming emotions feel manageable and less terrifying.
ANYWAY. This is about burnout, and my totally amateur ideas for how to get rid of that ish.
I think we can all agree this year is a giant pile of *ahem* poo poo.
If you're alive this year, I'm sure you have felt stressed at some point (or every day hahaha). The difference between stress and burnout is that burnout is kinda like beyond the snapping point, you know? Stress naturally causes you to freak out and over-react to things and usually comes with anxiety. Burnout is what happens after the stress doesn't stop for a super long time. It's detachment and apathy that kind of creeps up on you, and usually comes with depression.
I did not know this.
The last ~several~ months, due to what's happening in the world and with our little family, I have been overwhelmed and stressed. And I knew that. It's quite obvious, and normal, for the record. However, right around July, I'd say, I started just...not caring, which is NOT normal for me. The stress and endless list of things to emotionally, mentally, and physically deal with didn't matter. At all. I completely destroyed my sleep schedule, staying awake until 3 and 4 and 5AM, even though my son wakes up every morning between 8-9AM. I would lay in bed every morning, throw a granola bar in his direction, and just doze all morning while he watched Toy Story on repeat. I stopped taking him outside daily. I felt that it didn't matter if we skipped the daily walks; none of my parenting efforts mattered in my mind. The meals I made got simpler and simpler, and typically there's nothing wrong with that, but after an entire month of frozen dinners and daily excuses to my husband, ("I just didn't feel like cooking today") I realized the desire to feed my family nutritious food and expose my son to new and fun things to eat was gone. Totally gone. And I didn't care at all, which again, was NOT NORMAL. I care about EVERYTHING. I care way too much about everything. That's my entire brand.
I have absolutely battled depression before, and I knew that it was part of how I was feeling, but I didn't actually understand what was happening to me for a long time. My experiences with depression are a bit different; it doesn't usually last very long for me. Eventually, after a day or two, I somehow find the energy to go back to my normal routines and feel joy/fulfillment again. This time was different. I found myself doing ~literally~ nothing. Every single day, just nothing. Sitting around. Throwing snacks at my son. Deflecting comments from my loving husband. Not washing my face. Not seeing anyone except for my child and spouse for weeeeeeks on end. Not eating except maybe once a day. Not sleeping. Not reading, not writing, not playing music, not doing anything I typically do.
I kept waiting around for my energy to come back, but that's the difference between typical stress and the nonstop overwhelming wave of emotions and obligations that cause burnout.
It's a dark place to be in, folks. To feel like nothing you do matters and every effort you might make is pointless. That's very scary. My self-esteem took a huge hit. My home has been neglected. I have developed a lot of bad habits while I've been stuck in this burnout. My son has been forced to fall into his own bad habits alongside me because I stopped being the parent he needs. To be honest, I'm still not out of the woods, but I finally started speaking to a professional brain helper™ again and I have a battle plan.
When there is ongoing stress or pressure, you may begin to drop some of the balls you are juggling, which makes you feel like a failure, which causes you to push harder because you don't want to admit defeat, and eventually you quite literally burn yourself out. If you are feeling a loss of motivation, energy, or you recognize any of these continuous unhealthy habits developing and STAYING, you are probably burnt out. It can even manifest itself physically as pains, aches, persistent headaches, etc. If you are finding yourself unable to do what you gotta do every day, and not caring about it anymore, you are probably burnt out. Usually the people that don't recognize burnout until are the people that want to achieve, that feel guilty or trapped by their responsibilities.
And I'm really sorry about that. I completely feel for you. It's a normal thing to experience, especially right now. Recognizing it's burnout and not just regular stress is, as they say, the biggest step.
Things you can do about it:
Rest. Take a break. *Cue Hamilton soundtrack* Use your PTO at work. Shut off your phone. Log off social media. Get a sitter. Leave your home if that recharges you. REST. Recharge, and do not feel guilty about it. Begin the process of reevaluating all the things on your plate, and really ask yourself if it's even humanly possible to complete and manage all of them 100% of the time. Give yourself room to set some of those things aside.
Reach out. Again, I actually did not see another human besides my toddler and my husband for weeks. WEEKS. And not in a safe, socially distanced way where we still Zoom and confide in each other, I mean I just isolated myself because I felt like my presence was not needed/wanted, and I honestly felt like I did not have energy to give others. Please just reach out to your friends. Call your family members. Maybe be more social at work. Make a new friend. Even if at first, you're begrudgingly putting on clothes that aren't pj's and showering specifically because you are meeting a new person, just getting out and letting a new life into yours can be very healing. (My new friend has a spectacular garden and she let me take home a gazillion cherry tomatoes and a buncha delicious cucumbers, so that's obviously v exciting). While I am encouraging you to socialize, I of course mean safely, and I mean to socialize with POSITIVE people, and with your personal boundaries and limits in place. Be honest with them, if you're comfortable with that, about where your head is. I've discovered most people are eager to help, and not at all upset that you have feelings. Shocking. However, you don't have to reach out with the intention of discussing your mental health. Simply catching up with an old friend or meeting someone new can be revitalizing. Sounds a lil corny, but humans are pack animals. Trust me, I'm as antisocial as the next stay at home mother with crippling anxiety, but spending time with other adults has been extremely helpful for me. Of course, if your burnout is due to multiple playdates, meetings, social outings, then take this as me giving you official permission to cut back on those.
Start small. Get back into a little healthy habit. I started taking Wayland outside every day again, and I hold myself accountable to making one "nice" meal or snack a day (meaning it's not corndogs or takeout). Maybe that sounds too big, but just start somewhere. ANYWHERE. In the beginning of my "recovery", that was ALL I forced myself to do every day. Everything else beyond the obvious was pretty optional for a week or two. Mentally setting aside so many little tasks I typically pile onto myself felt so freeing. Take a tiny baby step in whatever direction feels like a healthy choice that leads you back to being you and loving yourself again. And if you miss a day, or add too much, you refresh and start again the next morning with less expectations of yourself.
Give back. There are limits here, of course. Do not overwhelm yourself trying to do everything for everyone around you, but even just a kind discussion, or a simple piece of mail can completely turn someone's day around. Giving someone a compliment counts! Doing kind things can reduce stress and help you shift away from an "I'm stuck" perspective.
Do something for YOURSELF. I know self-care is trendy, and it's not ever going to hurt you to get a fancy facial or take a bubble bath, but I mean actually do something for yourself. Take yourself out to a nice socially-distanced dinner, if that's possible. Get a haircut with a scalp treatment. Sort through the pile of mail and declutter your home. Start taking your meds again (talking to myself here). Treat yourself like you would treat the cutest, tiniest animal (think puppies, kittens, bunnies, baby goats...whatever floats your boat) who is sick and needs your care. Be gentle with yourself. Real self care means mentally, physically, and emotionally reducing the stress in your life, not just throwing scented bath bombs over it.
Get creative. Do you know what helped me initially surface from the funk? This flippin' blog. Designing a website and putting together colors and creating new products (something big is launching soon!) with my best friend literally gave me a reason to wake up a lot of days this summer. It was so nice to see progress somewhere in my life. Focusing my energy on something fun that wasn't totally obligatory felt AMAZING. My next step is to bust out my trusty saxophone and get back to playing music. Finish that project you've got buried somewhere, grab your dance shoes out from the closet, pop open some new paints, write more stories and poems. Creativity and art will save you.
Come up with a new plan. Think about your priorities and asses the workload you have. I am 100% NOT a schedule/routine person because my natural energy is wicked spontaneous, but keeping general plans in place and discussing them often with my spouse and support people helps. Reevaluate how much time/energy you are spending in areas of your life. For me, it was less time staring off into space and/or scrolling through Instagram, and more time building block towers with my little guy. More outside time, more play time, and taking back the 5 minutes every night to wash my face and brush my teeth. Limiting myself with my phone time and really cracking down on my work time. I have various side hustles that I assure you, I stress about basically 24/7, so I decided to dedicate specific times for my work, and that has allowed me to set business aside outside of those times, which has helped reduce the stressing.
I make deals with myself. "If you spend 20 minutes picking up the house and do a quick vacuum session, then you can sit down with your lunch and watch an episode of Airbender". Might sound silly, but I do feel guilty if I mentally make that deal, and then I go back on it and start watching TV before I've done what I promised myself. It's been working, as long as I stay gentle with what I expect from myself, and keep the "rewards" simple, short, and logical. I am able to accomplish basic things without getting too overwhelmed, and I also get to feel successful and cared for.
Therapyyyyyy. Therapy is great, you guys. It just is. Look into it if you can. There are lots of different kinds of counseling and mental healthcare. I understand it's not a cure-all for everyone. It can absolutely take time to find the right person and the right speciality for you, but it is always worth it to stay mentally/emotionally healthy. You are so deserving of validation and love. Take care of yourself beyond the pretty self-care trends and shower yourself with kindness. Drink water. Take your meds. One step at a time, my friends.
I'm definitely not done with the burnout phase, but I know that it's just that--a phase. It will be over, and I have the strength+ability to work through it with the support system I have around me. Again, this blog was a major factor in me realizing that I actually like to be human, and that I missed being me. So thank you for being here. From the bottom of my heart, I am grateful for you, and I hope you can find some peace. Please feel free to use our "Outburst of Emotion" box on the home page of this website. There's multiple options for submitting your feelings, and we will be here to support, validate, or just listen.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
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