The look of burnout

Midlife can be &^% exhausting. It’s a period of life where many women are stressed and maxed out and experience both caregiver and career burnout.

As a transformational life coach and midlife reboot expert, I constantly see clients struggle to find work-life balance and stay healthy, sane and afloat. They’re often mentally, physically and emotionally spent and can’t remember the last time they experienced a nanosecond of joy. It’s not our fault. As wives, moms and daughters we’re usually the designated caregivers. There are kids (or those beings called teenagers that think they’re grown-ups, but get into adult trouble) to worry about, aging parents to watch over and perhaps a needy spouse who acts like a child. (Seriously, you need me to pack your lunch so you don’t snack on donuts all day and your too busy playing golf to mow the lawn!)

Our culture demands that we work 40 plus hours a week AND be good moms. Eating right, losing weight, exercising, reducing stress, sleep… there’s no room in our stuffed schedules. Ironically, when you’re burnt out what you need most is self-care. But when you think about putting yourself first you feel guilty.

Women at midlife from stressed-out C-level executives to overworked administrators experience burnout. We feel overwhelmed and overloaded much more than our mother’s did. Why? Not only are we juggling career and family responsibilities we feel the pull to spend more and more time working even when we’re away from the office.

Work follows us home, tucked neatly in our pockets and purses. No matter how much we vow to turn off our cellphone the urge to check email and our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds is powerful. I have clients who literally fall asleep clutching their phones only to be woken up by a ping that reminders them to power down.

Sure we look poised and like the pinnacle of success at work, but beneath the smile we’re frazzled. We’re under valued and appreciated and overloaded by packed schedules and the pressure to get more done than is humanly possible. Our careers are demanding, and we can’t remember the last time we actually enjoyed or looked forward to work.

Work satisfaction is a huge problem for many women at midlife. We may be bored because we’re playing small, staying safe and not challenging ourselves. Or we may have completely outgrown a career that was satisfying in our 20s and 30s, but no longer is interesting in our 40s and 50s.

Every week I talk to amazing, talented women who are burnt out, hate what they do and would love to change. Some even know what they want to do but that would mean leaving a job with a paycheck and benefits for… who knows? What they don’t realize is that time, not money is the big precious, and the uncertainty that feels so scary is the gateway to possibility.

Sometimes the Universe steps in and forces them to change. Suddenly they are being let go, replaced by younger colleagues with less experience, more time and energy and the willingness to work for fraction of their salary.

It’s not just women at midlife who are experiencing burnout. Surveys suggest that workplace burnout effects up to 40% of American workers and it is now recognized as a global health problem. The World Health Organization (WHO) just announced that it is redefining burnout as: “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

In 2022 burnout will be included in the latest handbook of diseases, the International Classification of Diseases. Known as QD85, burnout will be classified under Mortality and Morbidity Statistics and viewed as an “occupational phenomenon” rather than a medical condition.

According to the WHO workplace burnout is characterized by three things:

1) Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion

2) Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job

3) Reduced professional efficacy

If you are experiencing any of all of these symptoms it’s time to cool down and take the heat off so you don’t boil over at work or home.

Here are 10 steps to help you reboot when burnout.

1. Practice Self-kindness

I’ve been practicing self-compassion (i.e. treating yourself kindly like you would a good friend) for years and it has completely transformed my life and helped me to stay positive, focused and energized even when juggling parenting responsibilities and crushing work deadlines. Research has shown that self-compassion can actually help protect caregivers from burnout.

When I’m stressed rather than plowing forward, I take frequent breaks. Instead of sucking down another cup of coffee, I go for a walk, stretch, lay down for a few minutes or have an energizing snack. I return to work 5-30 minutes later refreshed and suddenly tasks that seemed insurmountable are manageable.

Whether your boss, inbox, parents, kids or partners need attention turning to yourself when you’re suffering, asking: “What do I need right now?” and doing it recharges you and gives you the resilience to keep going. Plus, you start to see that putting yourself first isn’t selfish. It’s self-preservation. (For specifics on how to practice self-compassion click HERE.

2. Unplug

When you get home turn off your phone and computer. Why? Having your phone on is a constant reminder of the work you have to do making it difficult to relax and reboot. In addition, staring at a cellphone or computer screen at night disrupts your natural circadian rhythms preventing you from sleeping properly.

Plus, keeping up with all your social media feeds is exhausting and causes additional stress because comparing your life to friends you see online who seem to be leading much more interesting and beautiful lives than you are can make you feel bad about yourself.

3. Share

If you feel like you are burnout don’t keep it to yourself. Find someone you trust to talk with. This can be a coach, friend, spouse, other family member or therapist.

You may also want to talk to your boss or some one in human resources as soon as you start to notice you are feeling burnout. Perhaps you can take a little time off or even work a couple of days a month at home.

4. Give Yourself a Break

Remember learning about the Industrial Revolution in grade school and how it was going to transform lives so people only worked a couple of days a week? The strange thing is that we’re working more hours and spending more time hunched over our desks than ever before. And all that work is taking a toll on our bodies, minds and spirits.

So give yourself a break. You can do this throughout the workday by taking as little as 30 seconds off several times a day to just breathe, going for a walk at lunchtime or taking 5 minutes to close your eyes and listen to peaceful music or go outside and get some fresh air and sunshine.

Make sure to take longer breaks to get away from work. Lie on the beach, go camping or sailing, climb a mountain. And leave the laptop and cellphone at home.

You may also want to take advantage of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). It’s a federal law that guarantees some employees up to 3 months of unpaid leave a year.

5. Move

I know what you may be thinking: “I don’t have the time to exercise.” You do have the time, you just have to make exercise a priority by scheduling it in. Just like you make appointments for meetings and doctors visits you have to schedule time for self-care.

Yes, I know you may be exhausted, but exercise is one of the best ways to manage stress and recharge your batteries. You’ll burn off stress, feel refreshed and be better able to tackle work.

So take out your calendar now and block off time to take a walk or visit your company gym to lift weights or do some cardio.

6. Boost Your Wellbeing

Burnout can make you want to binge on Netflicks, take the edge off with a couple of cocktails or have a threesome with Ben and Jerry’s. Resist the urge to reach for that carton, glass or remote.

Reduce substance use. Caffeine, sugar and alcohol may help you feel good initially, but over time they drain your energy and can contribute to chronic diseases including: high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.

While there’s nothing wrong with a cup of java in the morning or a glass of wine at night, too much can lead to dependency. Running on caffeine and sugar is like throwing gas on the fire that’s fueling your burnout. All that caffeine and sugar coupled with night sweats so common with menopause can interfere with the sleep you need to feel great and function at work and home. And the sugar contributes to midlife spread.

Create healthier habits. Turn off the tube and go to bed. To relax meditate or do yoga. Don’t bring the junk food into the house. Plan to eat more fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean proteins and move your body for at least 20 minutes a day. Have an apple with peanut butter or a green smoothie that contains protein for breakfast or as an afternoon snack. If you do want to catch up on Game of Thrones watch it while on a stationary bike or treadmill.

7. Accentuate the Positive

Every time I work with a new client we always start by identifying all of her strengths and finding what brings her joy. Then we find new ways to use these strengths.

When you’re feeling burnout focusing on what you are good at and do more of what you enjoy doing. Find fun and interesting ways to use your strengths will work easier and more engaging. Do less of what taxes and get help in the areas that you are weak in.

Not sure what your strengths are. Ask friends, coworkers and family members what’s awesome about you. Or take a strength test. I really like the VIA Character strength test. It’s free and takes about 15 minutes. You can access it HERE.

8. Journal

Dumping all your problems onto a page can really help you feel better. It externalizes your problems so you don’t keep ruminating about them. Writing down your thoughts and feelings regularly has proven mental and physical benefits including reducing stress and depression, boosting the immune system and improving sleep.

To boost well being take some time time to write about what’s working in your life, what makes you happy and what you’re grateful for.

One activity that’s helpful in the journaling department is to write a litter to the boss, coworker of clients who are contributing to your burnout. DO NOT SEND IT. This is just an exercise to help you release your anger and frustration.

9. Consider switching jobs

Life is too short to do work that you hate. If you truly are totally stressed out and hate your job consider looking for another company to work for, start a side hustle or changing careers. Yes, it’s scary. I know. I’ve personally reinvented myself at least a dozen times.

Need help? Click HERE to schedule a Clarity Call with me. I promise it will help you to figure out your next career moves.

Don’t wait until you are so engulfed by burnout that you can’t function properly. Nothing is worth getting to that point. Burnout is serious and impacts not just your health, but your sanity and how you treat those you love.

10. Use the serenity prayer

When all else fails remember the serenity prayer.

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;
taking, as Jesus did,
this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it;
trusting that You will make all things right
if I surrender to Your will;
so that I may be reasonable happy in this life
and supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.

Need help recovering from burnout and getting your joy back? Click HERE to schedule a Clarity Call.

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