If you’re a working mom (or a working dad!), you could probably use a clone or two. But if you’re beginning to feel like you need a clone army, you’re not alone. Close to 50 percent of people say they are often or always exhausted due to work and up to 12 percent of parents are burnt out just from being parents. Not to mention all the stressors you face if you're a single parent.
“There is so much pressure to do everything, be everything, and know everything,” says Ellen Rondina, LMSW, MMSc and author of Self-Care Revolution: 5 Pillars to Prevent Burnout and Build Sustainable Resilience for Helping Professionals. “Gender roles have changed over the decades and families with both a working mom and a working dad are still trying to negotiate roles and workloads—it's much harder than people realize,” explains Rondina.
Counterintuitively, increased work flexibility actually contributes to this widespread burnout syndrome. “Flexibility, for many of us, has come to mean working all the time. If I have flexible work hours, I can be ‘on’ as a parent more, but that means working every hour in between and exchanging hats rapidly back and forth,” says Rondina.
The constant toggling can increase the likelihood you’ll get burnt out. Low pay, too many responsibilities, lack of autonomy and lack of development opportunities are also big contributors.
While some of the signs might seem obvious—feeling anxious all the time or losing sleep—another, subtler sign might be even more dangerous. “I often find that true burnout is a feeling of boredom or a loss of interest,” says Julie Hochheiser Ilkovitch, career expert and host of the podcast Coffee Break w/ NYWICI. “You might find yourself grappling with chronic exhaustion or even questioning your purpose in life.”
Unchecked, burnout syndrome can lead to depression and even physical ailments like heart disease, obesity and diabetes. “It can turn a person from someone who is productive and satisfied into someone who is tuning out and in survival mode,” says Rondina.
This can impact all aspects of your life, even down to how your life insurance application is evaluated in light of mental illness.
Maybe the problem is work or your stressors at home. Or maybe it’s something else. Start by making a list of all the situations that bring on these burnt out feelings. Does your heart rate increase whenever your mother-in-law calls? Whenever your boss sends you a testy email?
Next to each situation, write down things you can do to lessen the stress of that trigger. Maybe you pass the phone to your spouse when his or her mom calls, or you make yourself a soothing up of tea and meditate for a minute before replying to your boss’s passive-aggressive note.
Rondina suggests creating a values statement. What are the traits you most prize in yourself and others? How is, or isn’t, your life currently aligned with those attributes?
For example, maybe you’re happiest when you feel a sense of stability, but you’re a consultant who jumps from assignment to assignment, making your work life feel anything but stable. Is there anything you could move around to help you focus more deeply on just a few clients? Burnout syndrome tends to come on when our actions are especially misaligned with our needs.
Brainstorm self-care practices that work best for you, write them down and fit them into your calendar, Rondina recommends. This could mean different things for different people. Maybe you take up yoga, even doing basic moves at your desk, or meditate for a few minutes during your commute. Self-care doesn’t have to be lonely, either. Making time to be with your family and friends, or even finding a "working parent mentor" can be an important way to clear away the fog of being burnt out and focus on what really matters.
Try to reframe your perspective, too. “Instead of all of these practices being ‘fit in’ to your work and your life, you should fit your work and your life into your wellness and self-care practices,” Rondina says.
One way to fit self-care into your daily life and cut down on burnout syndrome is to be very tactical with all of your time. “Every Friday, I sit down and plan the next week,” says Hochheiser Ilkovitch. “I look at my calendar, confirm meetings and organize my to-do lists. So, on Monday, I start the week in a very organized way. I think it makes a huge difference.”
If your job (and life!) has a high level of complexity, you might try a project management tool like Asana or AirTable (both have free versions) to stay organized, Hochheiser Ilkovitch says. These sorts of tools enable you to keep all your work tasks—or family to-dos, health insurance forms or bills—organized in one place, which can hugely cut down on all the toggling time.
It's also worth exploring the give-and-take of your own mental resources. We spoke to several parents who successfully balance work and family and one trend that emerged is that those who've leaned into their work lives often need support from their spouses and community. Do you need help? Who can you ask it from? Are there any ways you can find moderation in other aspects of your life?
In addition to simply organizing your time and trying to take better care of yourself, pause to consider the underlying reasons why you’re burnt out (or getting there). Is it a problem with your workload, or with how you’re coping? Are you simply not a morning person, or could this possibly be postpartum depression? In some cases, getting down to the root causes of your stress might mean working with a trained counselor or therapist.
“If a job has been bad for a long time, like if there is workplace bullying, the work is unsatisfying, unfulfilling, or the pay is not enough and the hours are too long,” Rondina says, “it might be time to find a new job.”
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