By eM Life Instructor Breon Michel
Four winters ago, on a cloudy, moist afternoon in December, I raced to the computer to finish writing an article after I put our then 6-month old son, Brooks, down for his afternoon nap.
Ten minutes passed, and I still hadn’t strung together a single sentence. I traipsed to the pantry to rummage for a snack.
When I sat back down, the baby monitor flickered red.
I flipped on the light and zoomed in on his body, confirming that he was, in fact, moving around.
I waited a few minutes. Hoping that by some string of luck, he’d put himself back to sleep.
But to my dismay, he only got more upset.
I set the mouse down, and begrudgingly walked back to his room.
Fast forward thirty (long) minutes of trying and failing to get him back to sleep.
The house was now pin-drop quiet as I held him closely on our navy plaid couch.
My insides, however, swirled with a cacophony of flustering thoughts.
“Why today – of all days?” the thought kept coming.
“If only I had put him down earlier… If only I had drank less coffee… If only we’d have stayed home this morning.”
And then: “Did I really think I’d be able to work from home with a newborn baby? How does everyone else manage to do it so effortlessly?”
What I realized a few weeks down the road was that underneath the ferocity of tears and fears was a mother starved for rest.
A mother who made the cardinal mistake of forgetting she just had a baby. Expecting herself to accomplish everything she was able to pre-children – no qualms about adding a child to the mix. Assuming something must be wrong with her simply because she couldn’t keep up with it all.
The colloquial term for what I experienced is burnout.
With little to no energy, strength, or creative capacity available, I continually had to force myself to get things done. Even things I once looked forward to became a chore.
Unfortunately, burnout is all too common in competitive cultures. With exceedingly high expectations to be efficient and productive, and reward structures that reinforce these characteristics to boot, we can’t help but give it everything we have, even when there’s nothing left to give.
Statistics show organizations face an employee burnout crisis. A recent Gallup study found that out of 7,500 full-time employees, 23% reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes. That means about two-thirds of full-time workers experience burnout on the job.
The Burnout Conundrum & Its Causes
Significant life transitions, such as becoming a mother or parent, starting a new job, or getting a promotion, can put you at greater risk for burnout. But, truly anytime you consciously or unconsciously take on more demands and responsibilities, you run the risk of over-extending yourself, and, over time, wearing down your system – that is, if you don’t simultaneously bolster your resources and support system.
It bears mentioning that burnout isn’t solely an individual problem.
Culturally – there are many established norms that influence how you approach work. Many of us have been programmed to define success on rigid terms based, for example, on how much money we make or how many goals we accomplish each day. But, what if the definition of cultural success included the state of our well-being and relationships? Would this incline us to prioritize and schedule work differently?
Organizations – may place unfair expectations on employees to be on 24-7 or manage an unsustainable workload, making it hard to truly unplug from work and engage with other meaningful aspects of life.
Considering both systemic factors and personal reasons that propel you to approach work or life the way you do may be one of the most fruitful ways to offset burnout.
Here are five mindfulness practices to get you started:
- Boundaries. Do you commonly regret saying “yes” to certain invitations and requests? Think back to the last time this happened. What was asked of you? Did you think about what you truly wanted before you responded? Why or why not? For example, does it feel too vulnerable to say, “Let me think about it and get back to you?” More than that, what holds you back from saying no, and what might you begin to do differently? One thing to note: If you pride yourself on being a generous person, where does self-generosity fit in the mix?
- Enjoyment. If you look at your schedule, do you enjoy what you do most of the time? If you find that enjoyment tends to get the short shrift, consider why that is. Are you too busy? Does the sheer pace of your life make it hard to enjoy anything? Does fear play a role in how full your schedule is and how quickly you move through your day? As you take a closer look, see if you could afford to do one less thing. Alternatively, consider how slowing down once in a while might allow you to reap more pleasure from the things you’re already doing.
- Rejuvenation and well-being. Do you counterbalance all that you give, do, and ingest with periods of rest and non-doing? Does your brain occasionally get a break from churning out plans and ideas? Do you have boundaries with your phone or email? Do you make a point to meet your needs – body, mind, and spirit? What would it look like to nourish yourself in a more deliberate way?
- Relationships. Do you feel supported at work and home? Are you willing to ask for help when you need it, or do you not want to “burden” people with your requests? Do you speak up with your family and work team about sharing the load in a way that seems fair? Or, do you hold off on saying what you truly feel, but later resent others for doing less than you? Overall, do you allow yourself to not only give, but receive love?
- Worth. Do you tend to base your sense of worth on how much money you make or how much you accomplish? What if you didn’t have to wait to feel good about yourself until those things were in place? What if you knew you were deserving of a meaningful life, irrespective of what you haven’t done or made, right now? How might this deep knowing of your inner goodness change the way you spend “your one wild and precious life?”
The candle flickering on my desk says, “Begin anywhere.”
It’s truly that simple.
Up until this point, you may have fallen into a pattern of overdoing it.
It’s easy to do in a society that dangles a carrot over your head for never stopping. But, you don’t have to continue buying into the cultural idea that burning yourself out is a prerequisite for success or fulfillment.
You are worth more than that.
May you feel empowered to reclaim, restore, and resource your vibrant, whole self.
Find greater awareness and more
If you need help finding your center, building greater resilience or simply overcoming the feeling of burnout eM Life is here. Access a community of support, expert mindfulness instructors and the skills you need to help you be the best you. Improve sleep, up your performance and discover a new point of you this new year.
About the Author
Breon Michel, MAPP, is a MBSR teacher in Phoenix, AZ. Also a mother of two, her mission is to support parents who are doing the hard, uncertain work of raising children in modern times. Providing families with tools to feel more connected, balanced and peaceful while creating an environment for children to thrive, in both the short- and long-term. Breon writes about various mindful parenting topics on her blog page & on Instagram, @breon.michel.
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