How to Cope with Burnout

For several years now, the term “self-care” has generated a lot of buzz.  And with it comes a lot of mixed emotions.  The older and younger generations seem to really pick on each other when it comes to how they take care of ourselves, not only physically, but mentally as well.  I would say guilt is one of the deepest emotions we associate with self-care.  Guilt over taking time for ourselves.  We feel selfish for wanting some alone time when there are daily chores, work, and family members awaiting our attention.  I would guess that women have these feelings more often than men, but I know men have them too.  In fact, my husband and I were just talking about this very topic over the weekend and how he sometimes feels guilty for wanting to play video games all weekend.  But here’s the thing, it’s his hobby, just like singing is my hobby.  It’s his way to unwind and let his brain wander where he doesn’t have to think about work.  It’s how he recharges his batteries.  Plus, it’s not like we have kids running around and we’ve both played video games since we were kids.  So I get it.  But, what do we do about these feelings of guilt?  Step one, understand where this feeling is coming from.

I recently read an article about how Millennials have become the “burn-out” generation.  Although I am on the cusp of the Millennial generation, when I read this article it resonated so deeply inside me.  First, the author talks about how our parents are a mix of young boomers and old Gen-Xers, and we were reared in an age of relative economic and political stability.  As it was for many generations before us, there was this expectation that our generation would be better off than the previous one.  However, this has turned out to be false.  Financially, we have far less saved, crippling student loan debt, the Great Recession, and the decline of the middle class to name a few.  Schools have taught students that in order to be successful, they must go to a 4-year college and get that degree if they want to make any sort of living.  This is partially why I loved my content area so much.  Family and Consumer Sciences fall under career and technical education, which I whole-heartedly agree with.  Not everyone should go to a 4-year school.  We still need plumbers, carpenters, mechanics, electricians.  In the past, kids were allowed to be kids.  They played outside, used their imaginations, fell down and scraped their knees, and ran around the neighborhood.  Now, kids have supervised playdates, structured daycares, and highly regulated organized league play that spans the entire year.  We were raised to win, to be competitive, to get the best grades.  And, kids are still being raised in this way today.  I saw it with my students.  I had kids who could barely live with themselves if they didn’t have straight As.  Their sense of self-worth is so heavily tied to grades.  Plus, by the time they got to me, they couldn’t do work without a rubric telling them what was expected.  When I would assign projects without a rubric, I had so many students who would practically shut down because all of their imagination had been brow-beaten out of them and they had a hard time thinking for themselves.  This is why Millennials and the newest generation have gotten such a bad rap in the workforce – the ability to think on our own was taken away from us, yet the older generations’ expectations haven’t changed, nor have they embraced that it’s time for a new way of doing things.  Now, that sounds pretty doom and gloom because I have seen a lot of companies who are and have taken a step back and realized that the old way of doing work is just plain outdated.  But is it any wonder we are flat out tired and burned out?

So what can we do to overcome our feelings of guilt?  First, we must take pause and determine where this sense of guilt is coming from.  I hate it when people tell you to meditate because for so many it conjures up this image of a guru in an ashram who is chanting.  Rather, I like to think of it as a timeout.  Just take a few quiet minutes to think about why you feel guilty.  And maybe you truly don’t know why you feel guilty but keep up this practice until you do. It may not come to you right away.  Or, maybe journaling is your thing – write out what you’re feeling.  Or, perhaps you just need to go wash your hair. Random thoughts and ideas typically come to me while I’m scrubbing my head.  The key here is to be honest with yourself.  Don’t deny yourself of feeling your feelings.

Second, adopt a new mantra to help you cope.  If you can’t find one you like, you can steal mine.  “You can do anything, but not everything.”  Let that sink in.  You can do anything you put your mind to, but you cannot do everything.  And that’s ok.  We all need help and that leads me to my third step – which is to ask for help.  There is no shame in asking others for help, yet so many of us struggle with this.  For many, it’s viewed as a sign of weakness.  But truly, it’s a sign of strength.  Knowing your limits is half the battle.  Plus, your relationships will be better for it.  I’m guessing no one in your life is a mind reader, so getting angry when your significant other doesn’t pick up on how you’re feeling is unproductive.  Rather than allowing yourself to get to that boiling point, ask for help.  Do you know the old saying about “it taking a village”?  Although this is a reference for child-rearing, I also think it’s fitting for our lives as a whole.  Who do you surround yourself with?  Do they lift you up or drag you down?  Are you all willing to jump in and help each other when it’s needed?  If not, then it may be time to find yourself a new village or tribe.  If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.

Finally, take time for yourself.  Even if it’s only 15 minutes a day – that’s a start.  Go for a walk, sit quietly in your bedroom, take a NASA nap.  Do whatever you need to do.  When I start feeling anxious, I like to practice 4 count breathing – this a technique used to train the military in combat situations.  Breathe in for four counts, hold for four, and exhale for four.  This will immediately start lowering your blood pressure and slow down your heart.  Or, maybe it’s time to schedule an appointment with a professional.  You can’t take care of anything else until you take care of yourself first.  If you’ve ever flown, what’s the flight attendant tell you?  Put your mask on first before helping anyone else.  In an effort to put your own mask on first, take some time today to check in with yourself.  Ask yourself, What’s on your mind today?  Is there anything weighing you down?  What brings you joy?  What do you need more time for?  Is there something you need to do that you’ve been avoiding?  If so, why?  What is one thing you can to do take care of yourself today?  Make sure you’re treating yourself with kindness, just like you would your best friend.

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