Introduction on “burnout” presented by Jonathan Printers Jr.
Burnout is certainly real. In my social circle, I’ve been known as “stubborn, hard-headed, and focused.”
Once I have my mind made up, I generally hit full speed, I get there with a slight plan, and I figure everything else out on the way. My focus and mentality has helped me complete tasks and manage significant projects efficiently.
The downside of that for me is as an introvert, it is extremely draining interacting with several people for most days of the week and with projects that never seem to end because well, there is always something to do.
My stubborn would kick in and I would recite statements such as, “I can do this. I can figure this out. I can grow above this or through this. Watch me.” It’s say to safe, burnout is undefeated and I was assuredly humbled in due time.
It crept up slowly and when it hit—I was knocked out and done for without apology.
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Burnout and Resiliency
You’re running on empty.
You’re fatigued. You’re lethargic. You have things you’d like to do — or you should do — but you can’t get fired up about them. Or anything.
You’ve had low patches before and you’ve always been able to find your way back. But now it feels like you have no resilience left. It’s like the plug’s still in the wall but someone flipped the power switch off.
What to do?
No Surprises Here!
Every therapist hears stories like this, but never more so than during the past 18 months, as we’ve struggled with a global pandemic and its tentacles.
Many people are saying they’re depleted, they don’t have the resilience to cope with the stress, the anxiety, the roller-coaster uncertainties, another round of Zoom drinks, all the restrictions on their freedom.
Beyond the obvious stressors — like job losses, financial pressure, working from home, home-schooling, health/mental health worries, conflict, missing out on weddings, funerals and other key events — there’s been the loss of all the things that brighten everyday life.
Looking forward to that trip of a lifetime, studying overseas, taking up retirement plans. Or the little things: social gatherings, concerts, sports games, movies, eating out, that weekend away with friends, visits to your favorite store.
Spontaneity’s taken a hike: Everything needs to be planned with restrictions in mind and a mask in your pocket. This from one young woman: “I feel like my twenties have been swallowed up by Covid.”
She’s not wrong. This may be life according to the 2021 Playbook but we still need to acknowledge the impact on people when there’s nothing left in the tank.
Resilience burnout: a hybrid term for a real phenomenon
Resilience is the capacity to recover from difficulty; burnout is physical, mental and emotional exhaustion caused by chronic (persistent or recurring) stress. When you put them together you get a reduced capacity to cope with life’s difficulties.
The traditional signs of burnout (1) extreme fatigue, (2) cynicism or a feeling of detachment and (3) under-performing (or feeling like you are) show up. But a more obvious sign is that stressful events you would normally cope well with feel heavier and harder to deal with — and take longer to come back from. Emotional reactions are often more exaggerated.
If you’re experiencing these feelings, be compassionate with yourself. There’s a lot going on in the world right now as well as the dust and dirt that comes with everyday life.
So don’t try to force yourself to be amazing — and get self-critical when you fall short.
Try these 7 Tips instead.
1. Know when to quit the day.
I love this line from the young woman who was feeling she’d lost a chunk of her twenties. If you get to 3pm and absolutely nothing’s going right, take your foot off and quit the day. Curl up and have a cry if you need to.
Know you’re not going to make your mark on anything today. Dump it in the way-too-hard-basket. And know that all feelings are temporary. Just because one day goes wrong doesn’t mean the next one will. Often, it’s quite the opposite. You can try again tomorrow.
2. Live in “day-tight compartments.”
One of the early founders of the self-help movement, Dale Carnegie had a strategy for reducing worry: “live inside day-tight compartments.” It’s a tidy way of saying take things one day at a time — to stay in the present, which is especially helpful during times of turmoil. Just live each day until bedtime.
3. Throw your heart over the bar.
One of the traps of feeling low is to do everything half-heartedly, which means you don’t enjoy anything much, you persistently feel like you’re going through the motions. So do fewer things. Or, better still, do one thing at a time. But whatever you do, bring all your focus to it. Do it with your whole heart. Your distracted mind will follow — at least for a little while.
4. Phone a friend.
Because it’s helpful for you to stay connected. But also just because someone, somewhere, may need a friendly ear. They may welcome a chat with you, they may benefit from it — and that confirms you as a good person.
Bonus benefit: It takes you out of your own life (and head) into someone else’s.
5. Keep the routines but kill the to-do list.
Basic routines are helpful for framing your day. But 25 things on your to-do list? Seriously?
Yes! I can do it
Don’t do that, you’ll just end up transferring most of it to the next day and that’ll just make you feel bad.
Be objective and real about your to-do list. Or throw the list out altogether and just do what you can.
6. Tiny, novelty projects
Routines help ground and steady us. But the downside is the sheer repetition of them. Humans are wired for novelty and stimulation. So we have to keep finding ways to spark our interest.
Pick tiny, novelty projects that you can complete on the same day, or at least quickly. Cook a new dish, walk a new route, paint a picture, write a poem, put up a shelf, plant some seedlings. The rule is active — not passive, though. So finding a new TV show to stream doesn’t count. Aim for something that engages body as well as mind.
7. Remember to laugh.
There’s some really sad stuff going on in the world right now. And some shocking stuff, and some stuff to make you angry, all of which make it easy to lose your sense of humor — and feel guilty when you hang onto it.
Even during suffering there are moments of weirdness, of fun, of joy. It’s a sign of emotional health that you can keep leaning into them.
Burnout is undefeated. No matter your career or proven niche, it is imperative that when you’re scheduling appointments and to-do lists—you’re also blocking out personal time, breaks, family time and some fun.
Even the hardest working individuals find space to quiet the noise.
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