A few days ago, I ran across a Twitter feed that originally posted last November. The quote resonated strongly with me, begging me to sit with the question of why do we so often neglect ourselves for work? Is it to… get recognised? Prove our worth? Win? The quote came from Katy Leeson, Managing Director of the Social Chain. She wrote:
One of the reasons this struck such a deep chord in me is that not only have I seen this create a greater impact on people during the pandemic by eroding the mental and emotional well-being of my clients, but in my own life I have had to remind myself that I need to pause and take time to set limits on myself, to not use my exhaustion as a measure of my worth or to forego my own need to self-care in service to others.
I have noticed that people are more willing to forego self-care to focus on what they feel “needs” to get done. What if we change this message? What if we begin to foster the belief that what needs to get done is self-care, setting limits on work, and putting ourselves first? Because in truth, we really aren’t doing anyone any good if we are burnt out; our work suffers, our loved ones suffer, and we suffer. We become defined by what we do and not who we are. And as the term burnout suggests, our light goes out.
So how do we change that? And how do we even know when our light is in danger of being extinguished? The Mayo Clinic explains that burnout can be caused by a myriad of situations and circumstances including:
- Lack of control at work in your schedule, your resources, and your assignments.
- Unclear expectations at work or not feeling like you are not sure of your roles and responsibilities.
- Lack of emotional connection and support at work- this could be difficulty with interpersonal dynamics of colleagues, feeling isolated, or having no feeling of purpose for your work.
- Extremes of activity or stagnation – meaning that you are expected to always be “on” or that your work feels monotonous and nothing new or developmental is occurring.
- Work-life imbalance – the idea that so much of your time is dedicated to work and your relationships and abilities to connect socially and emotionally begin to suffer; if your work takes up so much of your time and effort that you don’t have the energy to spend time with your family and friends, you might burn out quickly.
- Having a high workload – this could be working long hours, having many calls/video conferences.
When any of these circumstances exist in our professional life, we need to be more aware of how we are impacted, what our internal experiences are throughout our days and nights. How do we change our expectations of ourselves to ensure that we are able to make it through the tough times in our professions and in our lives?
Part of that change is being honest with ourselves about what is going on for us emotionally. If we stop long enough to notice if we are experiencing increased anxiety or stress, insomnia, irritability, sadness, or lower immune functioning we need to pay attention. We need to listen to what our symptoms are telling us and adjust our work. Each symptom is a little alarm, pointing out the need for something to be different.
This shift doesn’t have to be momentous, but maybe it’s about setting a schedule that is more clearly defined. Maybe is it finding time to dedicate to ourselves, whether that is meditating, working out or spending more time with friends. Maybe it is taking off work for a week to re-evaluate what our core values are and if they are being met. It can feel challenging to begin to make those changes, especially if we are feeling that our worth or success are tied to the experience that is causing the burnout.
Whatever the reason for the feeling of burnout, the important thing to remember is that if you begin to allow yourself time to be more than your work, to stop wearing your “burnout like a badge of honour,” you can begin not only to find more appreciation for who you are as a person, but you can be an example to those around you on how to live a more well-rounded and meaningful life. You may even shine a little brighter, feel a little healthier, for a little longer. As Rabbi Herald Kushner has said, “Nobody on their deathbed has ever said, ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office’.”
Counsellor, Marriage & Family Therapist, Leadership Development Coach