The Burden of Burnout

Last updated: August 2022

When your day to day life is an endless cycle with a plate that’s just too full to carry, eventually your arms have no choice but to collapse. It’s a constant battle: if you don’t work hard enough everything builds up but if you work too hard, eventually your body collapses from shear exhaustion. The thing is, when you get to that point, where you’re exhausted beyond comprehension, you then wind up able to do far less- which defeats the purpose of all the accomplishments you struggled to achieve.

There has to be a happy medium, doesn’t there?

I wake up some mornings already forming lists in my head. I need to get the kids to school. Make the bed. Wash my face and brush my teeth. Get a shower and get dressed. I have to get in a breathing treatment because if I don’t I’ll pay the price. The dogs need to go out. The kitchen tidied up. Then off to work.

Later, my kids will be home and I need to prioritize our interactions no matter how busy I am. They need to know I care about their day and their excitement in telling me. I need to make sure they are keeping up with their studies, their friendships, their happiness. Then there are chores. Endless chores. Laundry, dinner, cleaning. A repetitive cycle of never-ending washing, cooking, and organizing. The kids need to do their homework. Their chores. Did they shower? I have friends and family to check on, exercise to keep up with, groceries to buy. I have to keep on top of my health. It never really stops until I go to bed and restart tomorrow.

What happens though when you run out of steam? When the exhaustion shuts you down? When it slows all that effort down forcing you to stop.

So… what is burnout?

Burnout has been described as "a form of exhaustion caused by constantly feeling swamped, is usually a result of excessive and prolonged emotional, physical, and/or mental stress." We can get burnt out from unresolved emotions or unresolved trauma. We can get burnt out from simply having jobs or relationships that are not a good fit. We can get burnt out from doing just too much. It doesn’t matter per se where it comes from, the end result is always the same.

The crash!

Burnout happens when you're overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to keep up with life's incessant demands.

Burnout can show up physically, displaying symptoms like chronic fatigue, insomnia, and lowered immunity/increased illness. But it can also show up as depression or anxiety, difficulty focusing/forgetfulness, detachment, loss of enjoyment, irritability, or a short fuse. When already living with a debilitating disease, any of these things can be the straw that broke the camels back.

The end result is usually not just slowing down, but coming to a complete halt, commonly resulting in more stress. Now the endless pile of responsibility is just growing as you’re unable to get to the tasks. They pile up and pile up and suddenly you’re facing an impenetrable wall of chaos. You have nothing left to give.

At first “burnout” seems like a dramatic way to describe what I myself have experienced. I was just really, really tired. I was also struggling though to motivate myself and looking at my calendar or “to do” list started filling me with a sort of low-grade dread. I mean yes, I get pretty busy but it’s not like I was going 24/7. The level of exhaustion didn’t seem right. When I can’t shake it off after a few weeks though and when I can rule out more serious health issues, it becomes clear that what I am experiencing is, in fact, burnout.

Here’s the thing though… in an effort to do it all I pushed myself to a place I now feel motivated to do nothing! So, what did I really achieve in my race to get it all done?

What does healing from burnout look like?

I’ve had to learn to slow down. It's like I suddenly realized that I’d been resistant to truly relaxing for a long time. Taking downtime made me feel guilty or lazy. I’d run through everything I needed to do in my mind and feel overwhelmed. As time went on, I felt worn down - both physically and mentally. What I really needed instead of hyper focusing on all that needed doing was to learn to take a moment to myself.

Maybe that looks like watching a TV show to you. Or playing a video game. Reading a book, relaxing in the bed, or chatting with a friend. Maybe it means going out for drinks or lounging on the couch eating chips and queso. Whatever your happy place looks like, it’s beneficial to take these moments. The first cure to burnout is rest. If your mind goes to instant panic at the thought, hear me out. What seems less productive: taking an hour each night, or a few hours every weekend to decompress or coming to a crashing halt unable to achieve anything and feeling miserable in the process? Sometimes the act of just taking some consistent down time, saves you time and energy in the long run.

Being open to discuss what’s causing your burnout can also be very helpful. Bottling up your stress will only exacerbate your symptoms. Reach out and ask for help when your load is becoming too much to bare. Above all don’t guilt yourself for needing a break. You simply cannot pour from an empty cup. Allow yourself to refill. While you may not want to add more to your plate, try to make a bit of time each day for something you love. Take time each day or reserve a day each week to allow yourself to recover.  You can find other strategies, as well. Anything that brings you relief.

In learning to allow myself time on Sundays to rest up and regain myself I am a better, more productive version throughout the week. I get more done. I feel less distracted by exhaustion. My writing is better. My kids get all of my focus when they are requiring my attention. The chores are taken care of more smoothly and efficiently. Most of all I’m giving myself much deserved, guilt free, quiet time. I’m respecting my body and mind. In the end we all deserve to give ourselves as much attention as we do the dishes, our jobs, and all the other responsibilities.

There is no shame in keeping yourself aflame.

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