Don’t Burn Out, Cool Down
Your babysitter called in sick, you were assigned three new projects for work and now your little angel won’t stop screaming long enough for you to complete them.
You’re driving to your parents’ house to drop them off for a few hours’ peace and quiet (when you can hopefully finish those projects) when BAM — you get a flat tire. As you get out of the car, you step in gum and you’re about ready to lose it. In fact, it seems like stuff like this has been happening to you a lot lately as if you have a target on your back.
Burnout may not always feel this dramatic, but the accumulation of life’s stresses, whether a slow burn or avalanche, can wreak havoc on your job performance, family life and health. In fact, extreme burnout is considered a clinical condition.
To make things worse, asking for help or even just venting about life’s frustrations as a parent may not always be well-received, or you may even feel guilty for not having it all under control.
If you feel burned out, it’s OK to ask for help and there are steps you can take to de-stress and feel better.
Burnout is a profound exhaustion, whether it’s with your work or work environment, or at home.
“It’s more than having a bad day or a bad week. Burnout accumulates and gets worse over time, so each month you feel more drained,” says Ashley Gilmore, a licensed clinical social worker and director of behavioral health clinical services at Texas Health Dallas. “You lose your motivation, even if it’s something you love to do, and you lose your sense of accomplishment and purpose.”
Burnout can happen to anyone, and while it can commonly get mixed up as prolonged bouts of stress, Gilmore says burnout is a foundation of stress, but not all stress is burnout.
“Burnout is long-term stress. It’s the kind of stress that doesn’t go away even when a problem resolves, a big project is complete, that tight deadline passes, etc.,” she explains. “Because burnout accumulates, each stressor builds on the other. This type of long-term stress takes its toll on the body and mind.”
Know the Signs
If you’re feeling like your stress doesn’t resolve when a big event or issue is over, then you’re most likely not getting the recovery time you need.
“This absolutely turns into exhaustion, feeling less connection and empathy for your kids and family, feeling less accomplishment, and less sense of purpose,” Gilmore explains. “That can look like sleep and appetite changes, stomach and digestive issues, having a short temper, less patience, wanting to be away from home, or zoning out while you’re there. These feelings and behaviors can mirror depression and anxiety symptoms, so it’s important to pay attention to them.”
Take a Breather
Once you’re aware that you’re in danger of becoming burned out, take a few minutes to soothe your situation.
“Take a minute to stop and breathe. Often when we hit higher anxiety levels, our breathing quickens, and that continues our anxiety. Taking a few minutes to match your breathing to about 6 breaths per minute will help with a relaxation response,” Gilmore explains. “The breathing isn’t meant to ‘fix’ the problem. It’s meant to give you some space to identify your feelings about the problem. Often what we feel as anger in the moment is really frustration. What we feel as overwhelmed can often be that we are fixated on all the tasks ahead, rather than the task at hand. After we are more connected to how we feel, we can address the problem.”
For longer-term peace of mind, Gilmore recommends weaving self-care into your daily routine.
“Often we are so busy with work, parenthood, and home life that we become our last priority. That is not sustainable because we don’t do well long-term when we go on fumes,” she says. “If the pandemic has separated you from your self-care routine because you can’t access what you once could, it’s time to develop something new.
“Also, consider working with a doctor or therapist. Burnout can and does turn into bigger problems like depression and anxiety. If you’ve gotten past the point that a week of daily self-care doesn’t make a difference, it may be time to ask for help.”
Some of the best ways to relieve stress are to find things that are enjoyable. You may have heard about the health benefits of journaling, but if you don’t like journaling and it feels like a chore to make time for it, then you aren’t going to access as many of those benefits. Instead, find things that you like to do and do them daily.
“Not everyone has help taking care of the kids while going to the gym, for instance,” Gilmore adds. “If that’s the case, find ways to engage your kids with things you like to do. It’s okay for them to learn to take turns with activities. Also, as exhausted as we are at the end of the day, bedtime for the kids is also some time for you. It may feel like you want to zone out with Netflix and that is completely okay, but not every night. Include some time to start exploring new ways to relax and soothe.”
Support groups can also be helpful because they show that you are not alone and not the only one feeling what you’re feeling. You are not broken, and this is a normal response to an abnormal situation.
“The generation of people parenting right now are dealing with unprecedented challenges. We don’t have a handbook for parenting in a pandemic, so it’s important that we connect with each other,” says Gilmore.
Texas Health offers Mommy Mixers, a virtual support group every Monday. While the mixers used to be geared towards new moms, due to the pandemic, they’ve opened up to sessions to moms with older children as well, says Jessica Ladd Lefterova, a Lamaze certified childbirth educator and certified prenatal yoga instructor at Texas Health Dallas.
“These moms with older children actually end up becoming great resources for our new mommies who may be feeling overwhelmed right now,” she says. “They’re like mommy gurus.”
You’re Not Alone
If you think you may be suffering from burnout, Gilmore says feeling guilty or shameful doesn’t help anyone, and may actually cause you to isolate yourself more because of your unwillingness to talk about it, which will only make things worse.
“Frst know that you aren’t alone. We often don’t openly talk about ways we feel like we aren’t measuring up, but most parents deal with that on some level. It does wonders to open up to a trusted friend or family member,” she explains.
“Also, connection to your family is so important, and feeling like you’re failing can lead to overcompensating. Often, our kids want time with us that feels enjoyable and they are okay with simple. A board game together (rather than board game night extravaganza) can be enjoyable, less pressure, and easier for you to do and feel connected at the moment.”
If you are severely burned out, talking to a professional may be warranted. Just scheduling a well-check with your primary care doctor can make a huge difference, and they can connect you with mental health resources if it’s something you’d like to explore.
“Becoming aware of your overall health will make a difference in your ability to navigate through burnout and recovery,” Gilmore adds. “Just talking about it can make a huge difference, whether it’s to a professional or a loved one or a trusted peer.”
If you are starting to feel burnout, high levels of stress or see dysfunction in your day-to-day, Texas Health Behavioral Resources are offered at 18 locations throughout North Texas. For additional information or to find resources, call (682) 626-8719.