Four years ago, I was drained. I dreaded heading to the office every morning and had zero energy to do anything most days after work. I wanted to spend time with friends and volunteer, but it was all I could do to drag myself to work everyday. I was exhausted and numb. I wasn’t creating art or writing (two things I love doing). I made the scary decision to leave my job so I could begin working from home.
Fortunately, I found my current job and was able to restore my work-life balance. Many of the stressors I used to face simply don’t exist for me any more. I have two extra hours each day because I don’t commute and I don’t take on the stress of those around me like I did when I was in a cubicle.
Still, as a born people-pleaser, it has been hard for me to maintain a good balance between managing all life’s demands and practicing good self-care. I am grateful to have a wonderful circle of friends who do life with me, but sometimes I have to prioritize rest (and realize I am not being selfish in doing so). Burnout for me means feeling mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted. Even the smallest thing, like grocery shopping or running to the bank, can become overwhelming. I feel stressed and angry. I snap at those around me (usually those I care about the most get the brunt of it). Not pretty.
Having a Plan
We are all busy. From work to family and friends, we all want purpose and connection. And we need it. But if we’re not careful, we can feel we have to meet every single appeal for our time and attention coming at us. To stop me from spiraling into anxiety, I try to stay vigilant and accept my limitations at work and with my social commitments. I intentionally carve out alone time. I used to feel selfish when I did this, but I realize I’m not bringing my best to those I care about when I am frazzled.
Life is demanding, but I know I am only setting myself up for burnout when I don’t allow proper time for introspection and solitude. Sometimes, just an hour will suffice. Other times, I need a whole day to do my own thing. I read, nap, put on my favorite music, or journal. I also force myself to prioritize sleep and take at least an hour each day to disconnect from my phone. When at work, I force myself to take my breaks, even when it is busy. I find tasks that I can delegate to others when too much is on my plate. Doing all these things helps keep me recharged. I savor my down time because I know it helps me so much.
I’ve learned the hard way that the consequences of not taking care of my wellbeing can be severe. According to ada.com, the effects of burnout can be physical as well as psychological. They can include anxiety, fatigue, headaches, gastrointestinal disorders, hypertension and difficulty sleeping.
No Is Okay
I have learned that it’s okay to say no when I feel over-extended. I try to set healthy boundaries with others. If I’m not feeling up to doing something, I do a quick mental inventory of the pros and cons. If the cons involve me feeling burnt out and overwhelmed, I say no. In an article for Harvard Business Review, Monique Valcour advises us to assess “high-value activities and relationships that still trigger unhealthy stress. This involves resetting the expectations of colleagues, clients, and even family members for what and how much you’re willing to take on, as well as ground rules for working together. You may get pushback. But doubters must know that you’re making these changes to improve your long-term productivity and protect your health.”
I’ve learned to trust my loved ones to understand that I have my own valid reasons for doing so. And if they don’t, I still rest in the knowledge that it was the right decision for me. I can’t say yes to everything and everyone 100% of the time.
Amy Pedigo is a thirty-something Yankee transplant living in Birmingham, Alabama. She enjoys creating art, volunteering and trying new local cuisines with friends. She is also a proud dog mom to a chihuahua mix, Nemo. She is passionate about women’s issues and is an advocate for human trafficking victims.