I am the prime candidate for burn out. I recall my dad telling me that when I was about to graduate high school – 10 years ago at this point – and was just working so hard that he predicted that if I continued that way, I would burn out. A few days later, I slipped on the rug of our staircase at home while running down the stairs. I was totally absorbed by school and studying, that I wasn’t paying attention. I fell really hard on the stone staircase and lost my eyesight for a couple minutes. I also wasn’t able to talk anymore for a few hours as my brain had taken a hit. My brother found me crawling up the staircase, and my parents immediately took me to the hospital.
The good news is, I didn’t suffer any lasting damage–except for the huge shock that my parents endured and for the fact that I missed school for a few days.
The bad news is, I didn’t learn enough from this experience. At the time, I brushed it off as a stupid accident. But my dad was right–I was getting burned out and it manifested in a lack of focus during daily tasks and actions. I had slipped on the staircase because I was so incredibly absorbed with my goal of graduating with high grades and working myself to the ground to get there.
Now, 10 years later, I find myself at a place in my life where I feel similarly. I am super happy with my life overall, but I’m also feeling that I’m stretching myself very thin. At my day job, I invest all my energy and emotions into everything I do, to the point that I find myself exhausted when I come home. I love the analogy of feeling like “an empty tube of toothpaste”–totally squished out, totally depleted of all my content. Nobody tells me to work that way but myself. I always feel like I need to invest 200% in everything I do, which makes me push myself to my limits, all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I deeply believe that my commitment and hard work pay off and are the reasons why I am able to set myself goals and achieve them. But I also believe that I am extreme and often lack balance in my approach. It’s not something I do on purpose; it’s something that just happens and tends to get a little out of control.
The funny thing is that in our society, being obsessive about work isn’t discouraged despite its often unhealthy consequences. But it’s a bit of an addiction, similar to drug abuse or alcoholism–I do get a high when I feel like I depleted myself completely. I feel tremendous satisfaction, at least for a moment, when I see the results of a project I invested my everything into. The challenge is that the sense of satisfaction only persists for a fleeting moment and then I’m on to the next thing.
This constant quest for doing more, doing it better and excelling at all times is draining. It’s draining for me, as I find myself depleted of all energy and creativity when I am done, and it’s draining for my family, my partner, and my friends, who get a version of Isabelle that is constantly pushing for the next thing and never really present in the moment.
I joke with Noah, my better half, that I wish sometimes I could be him. He is hardworking and ambitious, but he also knows self-care. He is able to take a day off from running without feeling guilty. He will take an hour-long bath after a tough workout, and he will go and stretch and relax in the steam room at the gym when he feels like it. Noah is driven and goal-oriented, but the difference between him and me is that he is learning and practicing how to take care of himself. He sees the value of slowing down to speed up afterward.
I see that value too but my natural inclination is constantly trying to sabotage it–so I find myself needing to create rules and structure, to not burnout. My phone is not allowed in our bedroom anymore, for example, and I no longer read work emails at 5:45 am when I first wake up. I started scheduling self-care sessions in my planner–such as a manicure or a walk in the park. It’s a work in progress, but I want to tackle this because I identify that it’s the only way to live happily in the long run.
Are you prone to burnout, too? You can try these things, too. Here are just a few suggestions you can try to practice self-care and prevent that empty-toothpaste tube feeling!
1. Schedule self-care. Self-care is just as important as regular check-ups with your doctor–and you schedule those appointments! So get your planner or phone calendar out and schedule time for yourself.
2. Practice saying “no.” While it seems like we can always stretch ourselves a little more, it’s important to turn down projects, when possible, and social events when we’re nearing a burnout.
3. Set boundaries at home. Make rules for yourself and stick to them. When you work frome home or take work home with you, it’s easy to let yourself work into the wee hours of the night, work during mealtimes, work during “downtime,” etc. Setting times when you’re not using your phone or work email, however, can help you truly unplug.
4. Talk it out. Discuss your burnout with a supervisor, trusted colleague, or friend/family member. Sometimes just feeling heard and having your efforts and struggles acknowledged can make a big difference.
5. Take vacation time. Many of us aren’t using the bulk of our vacation days! Although counterintuitive, taking a vacation (or staycation) can help you be more productive once you return to work.
Do you struggle with burnout? How do you cope?
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