4 Tips for Dealing with Burnout

Crystal Jackson

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The signs were all there: exhaustion, overwhelm, a lack of motivation, trouble sleeping, and a short fuse. Laundry and dishes kept piling up, but I could do little more than drag myself from one day to the next — trying to stay on top of what felt like a crushing amount of responsibility. Burnout is real, and I was right there in the middle of it — not for the first time.

I know that I am a person who is highly susceptible to burnout, but aren’t we all? We can get burned out on routine, on responsibility, and even on too much of a good thing — although most of us would welcome that last one. Burnout happens, and while it’s important to recognize the signs, it’s even more important to regularly practice self-care so that we don’t burn out in the first place.

For many of us, we only realize how bad it’s gotten when it’s a little late to stop it from happening. This is exactly the right time to go into self-care mode, but it’s also the right time to plan ahead to prevent it from happening again. While focusing on our current burnout can preoccupy us, it’s important to make sure we incorporate any self-care rituals daily to help prevent it from recurring.

I hit full burnout mode recently. In school, I juggled multiple extracurricular activities. In college, I maintained a full-time work schedule along with full-time classes. I am used to being busy. Yet, nothing could prepare me for being a single parent with two children recently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Suddenly, my life went from managing single parenting and self-employment to managing my work as well as a multitude of appointments with doctors and therapists to provide my children with all the resources necessary to learn to manage their neurodiversity.

While I’m grateful for the assistance, my calendar is now besieged with appointments that typically occur during my workday. With every appointment I add to the schedule, my sense of overwhelm increases. I am burning out faster than I can even manage, and it’s obvious that I have to figure out a new self-care plan that’s up to the challenge of my life right now.

Many of us are probably feeling overwhelmed with ongoing COVID restrictions. Our lives have a number of challenges we likely didn’t anticipate, and it can feel overwhelming. It’s no wonder that our normal self-care routines just aren’t cutting it anymore.

It may be time to do something drastic. While an “aggressive” self-care plan may not sound relaxing, we may actually need to be aggressive about creating and protecting our self-care time. We are all at high-risk for burnout. Here’s a plan that could help:

Firm Up Our Boundaries

If we’re going to increase our self-care to help reduce or prevent burnout, we’re going to have to set and enforce boundaries.
Whatever self-care we choose will take time and energy, which may mean it takes time and energy away from someone or something else. Our relationships require open conversations about this. While I don’t have a partner to discuss this with, I do have two children who need to understand that my self-care time is non-optional.

This may sound selfish, but it’s actually good parenting to model how to take care of ourselves. While we don’t have to dump all of our stressors onto our children and make them feel responsible for them, we can talk about feeling stressed and how we can do things to help us feel better. When we do this, we aren’t being selfish humans callously ignoring our children; we’re teaching them how to develop healthy coping skills for their own lives.

In my house, that often involves talking to my children about my exercise and bath times. Those are two times I really don’t want to be unnecessarily interrupted. A question about a TV show can wait until I get out of a bath, and I shouldn’t have to stop my workout to manage a sibling squabble that could be easily sorted themselves.

On the other hand, we also talk about how they can manage their stress. They are allowed outlets to cope with their stress and anxiety, too. It’s easy to forget that children can also experience burnout. Keeping open communication in this way is how we create healthy boundaries and model effective coping skills — and we should do this in all our relationships.

Diversify Our Self-Care

A hot bath is a great stress reliever, but it shouldn’t be the only option in our self-care arsenal for dealing with burnout or stress. My normal self-care routine got an upgrade during COVID. A little exercise, a long bath, a short walk — it just wasn’t enough. These days, I have a number of self-care options I turn to when I need them.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Saying no to extra obligations when we’re already feeling overwhelmed
  • Alternating high-intensity workouts with rest and recovery days
  • Making healthy food choices that help us feel good
  • Taking the time for daily meditation
  • Practicing yoga
  • Going to bed early
  • Having screen-free times of day
  • Organizing our work schedule for better work-life balance
  • Spending time with people we love
  • Opting out of spending time with people who leave us feeling drained
  • Engaging in a relaxing hobby
  • Refusing to argue with strangers (or friends) on social media

No matter what types of self-care we choose, it matters that we have a variety that we practice regularly. On any given day, I do a number of self-caring activities that support my wellness. I have to. A more low-key plan just won’t work right now with the challenges I’m facing.

Reboot

Self-care is important, but for the best possible results, we need to be able to disengage from our routine for as long as we’re able to do so. While taking a vacation may be out of the question, we can try to find ways of breaking up our normal schedules to provide a little relief. We need to reboot and to do that, we may need to change the pattern if we can’t change the scene.

I have a couple of ways I prefer to reboot. One is to go out in nature. Often, I’ll go to the lake to paddleboard or take my kids hiking. A visit to a park can leave us all feeling refreshed.

When that’s not available or doesn’t quite do the trick, we consider a new adventure. Adventures can be simple. It’s raining, so we grab rain boots and go jump in puddles — following it up with a warm bath and pajamas. Or we visit our town like tourists, seeing it from a new perspective.

Basically, anything that takes our normal schedule and shakes it up for an hour or an afternoon can help relieve that sense of stress and overwhelm that builds with burnout.

Get Help

Overwhelm is real, and we have a global health crisis that’s likely creating a global mental health crisis as well. Life has changed drastically in a short time, and while some people are prolonging the pandemic by selfishly refusing to alter their behavior, most of us have made adjustments in order to prevent the spread of COVID with the understanding that this is the only way back to any sense of normalcy.
The stress of the pandemic alone can lead to burnout. It may be time to call in reinforcements.

Because a high risk for burnout can also mean a higher risk for unhealthy behaviors, we may need to get extra help.

  • Therapy can be a great resource if we’re able to access and afford it.
  • Calling on our support system to help can be a way of reaching out when we feel overwhelmed — although we’ll need to do it with the understanding that others are equally overwhelmed and may not be in a position to do any more than listen and love us.
  • Self-help books and articles can help us learn healthier ways of caring for ourselves.
  • Online support groups and communities can also provide assistance.
  • Even relying on faith can be a way of managing when we’re feeling burned out.

We are all at risk of burning out, and it can cost us more than a few sleepless nights. It’s easy to see the signs. It’s more than just the laundry piling up or the near-constant headaches we just can’t shake. It’s that sense of dread we feel every day — one that seems to take up every corner of our lives.

With a self-care plan in place, we can recover from burnout this time and hopefully help prevent it from taking over our lives again.

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Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned writer. She is the author of the Heart of Madison series and a volume of poetry entitled My Words Are Whiskey. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, The Good Men Project, and Elephant Journal. When she's not writing, you can find her traveling, paddle boarding, cycling, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with one puppy and two wild and wonderful children. Crystal writes about relationships, mental health, parenting, social justice, and more. Never miss an update. Subscribe to emails: https://crystaljacksonwriter.substack.com/

Madison, GA
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