Burnout Series Part II: Why is it so hard to find balance?
In our first post about burnout, we explored the importance of taking an inventory of all the things that serve to replenish you (e.g.- sleep, time with friends, moderate exercise), and things that deplete you (e.g.- unclear expectations at work, a conflict-ridden relationship, being preoccupied with work).
After doing this inventory, some people can make small concrete changes that go a long way towards recovering from burnout and managing cumulative stress long-term. Concrete changes might look like scheduling breaks into one’s day, and taking time to eat a full meal uninterrupted.
However, sometimes changing things up with regard to input/output doesn't have the intended impact. If this is the case, we need to take a deeper look at ourselves and explore the underlying issues that contribute to burnout.
One of the main factors that contributes to burnout is related to our personality: how we work towards goals and how we deal with stressful or challenging situations. Specifically, how we treat ourselves, and what we do to feel like we matter and are worthwhile as people.
When teaching workshops on burnout I often ask participants:
How do you respond to yourself when things aren’t going well, or you think you aren’t doing good enough?
Do you beat yourself up?
Do you procrastinate?
Do you work longer and harder to do better?
Do you avoid feelings by numbing out - scrolling through instagram for hours, or indulging in tasty foods or intoxicating substances?
Do you approach yourself with kindness and remind yourself you’re human?
Many of us struggle to feel deserving of the care we so readily provide for other people in our life. So, in order to reverse burnout, many people start wondering:
How can I do more self-care?
When really we should be focusing on:
What makes it so hard for me to feel like I deserve the care necessary to avoid burnout?’
You may benefit from exploring this question if you experience:
Guilt when resting
Anxiety that you’re ‘wasting time’
Feeling selfish for focusing on yourself
Criticizing yourself for being weak and needing a break
Feeling ashamed for needing rest
The ways in which we respond to ourselves will have a significant impact on how well we move through stressful events that will inevitably come our way.
If our standards are high and strict, and we struggle to respond to ourselves with kindness when things aren’t going well, we end up doing more than is sustainable.
In addressing burnout, sometimes we need to make some concrete changes in our lives (eg. sleep more, stop checking work email on the weekend, change jobs, etc.), and these changes are enough to put us back on the right track.
When those changes are not enough, we need to focus more on how our expectations and perceptions of ourselves may be leading us into doing more than is sustainable. Our individual beliefs (often internalized from society and/or relationships) regarding our worthiness can push us to work too hard and rest too little.
Unpacking some of these beliefs through reflection (with or without the support of a counsellor) can help you better understand and address the root causes of your individual experience of burnout.