A Burnout Crisis for Working Women

Let It Be Easy: A New Pandemic Mantra

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Arianna Huffington said it best: Energy is a finite resource and how we spend our limited energy is a profound choice about how we spend our limited time on this earth.

Energy is a finite resource and how we spend our limited energy is a profound choice about how we spend our limited time on this earth.

― Arianna Huffington

Speaking of energy, many of us, at some point, have reached or will reach some level of burnout. A moment in our lives where we are mentally and emotionally unclear, where we lose our passion — that’s burnout. 

Eight Factors that Predict Burnout

  1. An unmanageable workload
  2. Poor communication and low support (by/from our “team,” whether that’s family or colleagues)
  3. Low productivity, lack of motivation, irritability, and slipping job performance (the work or Sunday night yuckies)
  4. Negative attitude toward yourself and others and a loss of enjoyment
  5. Sleeping problems that sometimes include teeth grinding — I saw that one on Hey Mama and thought, of course, I mean, how many of you have heard that anecdotally from your dentist?
  6. Unfair treatment
  7. Inadequate clarity about responsibility or outcomes
  8. Time pressure and unreasonable deadlines

I don’t know about you, but just those words, unmanageable, unfair, inadequate, negativity, and unreasonable, make me breathe a little shallower.

Burnout isn’t Something that Happens to Other People

It doesn’t mean something is wrong with you or that you don’t have a loving husband, a supportive boss, healthy kids, or a good income.

I hear that a lot, “If I can’t manage a career and a family with all the resources I have, then how do other women do it?”

Burnout isn’t usually isolated to work either. It may not go away if you’re out of the office or if work conditions change.

Your anxiety may touch other areas of your life, show up as an inability to say no, or as physical symptoms, such as chronic exhaustion, a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, or an inability to relax.

The good news/bad news is if you start having honest conversations with your friends, family, colleagues, the women in your life, they likely feel the pressure too.

They might suffer from panic attacks or anxiety, heart palpitations or hives, migraines, or mysterious ailments that won’t go away. Many of them probably fantasize about quitting their jobs, moving to an island, or walking away from the stress and monotony of daily life.

They might admit they are barely getting by but have been putting on a brave face just like you, assuming something is wrong with them or rationalizing that they also didn’t have a right to complain because others have it worse.

Own Your Journey

You give your power away when you live according to someone else’s expectations or score your wins and losses relative to others’ experiences.

Movies and books would lead us to believe that there’s only one way to have it all, but it’s simply not true, and frankly, it’s a little tired and not even that enticing anymore. Don’t you want a life that feels a little more personal, a little messier, a little more spontaneous, and uniquely beautiful?

Yeah, we can be all be gorgeous and thin and climb the corporate ladder in a demanding field. Blah, blah, blah. Or we can be stunning and healthy and find fulfillment in all of our roles.

We can achieve and succeed, obsessed with financial metrics, or we can contribute in meaningful ways and know that our worth has nothing to do with our income.

We can be a selfless parent and attentive wife, or we can be a woman who loves her family and embraces an identity that is all her own.

We can raise brilliant kids or accept their inherent brilliance and witness to their becoming.

We can have a steamy marriage or keep it hot on our teams and bask in our husband’s respect.

But it all requires some breathing room to remember who you are and what you truly want.

Loss of Identity is a Hallmark of Burnout

According to the Mayo Clinic, job burnout is “a special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” WHO also establishes that its symptoms are exhaustion, cynicism related to the job, and decreased performance.

It’s essential to add, though, that burnout expands beyond the workplace. Anything that feels like a job — parenting, house chores, taking care of an elderly parent — can lead to burnout.

When you’re burned out, you feel run-down or empty. When you constantly work beyond your capacity or struggle to switch it off, burnout can be a case of our “always on” culture.

As working women who love to contribute, collaborate and be productive, you know downtime is integral to our process. If you can’t rest or turn it off, you can’t create your best work.

Yet, many have felt during the pandemic that they aren’t allowed space for downtime. Logistically, there are too many roles to be fulfilled and too many outcomes to manage.

If you can’t pause or breathe or catch up, of course, you can’t tap into who you are or what you want.

And on top of that, the defining inescapable characteristic of the pandemic has been uncertainty which further exacerbates burnout because your brain isn’t meant to handle uncertainty indefinitely.

So rather than wait it out or try to survive until the pandemic is over, you need a process that empowers you to re-energize and refocus, especially if your little ones are still not vaccinated yet. For many families, the pandemic is not over.

Winter is coming, to use a Game of Thrones reference, and survival mode has lost its charm.

We Need a Real Strategy — a Proven Formula

If you read or watch my stuff, you know that I’m big on equanimity, which I think of as “ninja on the inside.” It’s the eye of the hurricane. There’s a quote, and it’s a good one to recall when life feels overwhelming, and it goes like this:

“You are the sky. Everything else — it’s just the weather.”

― Pema Chödrön

“You are the sky. Everything else — it’s just the weather.” You are bigger than your past, your circumstances, and your experiences. Like the sky, you are vast, and your time surrounds you. Challenging times pass, the future is full of potential, peace is a moment-by-moment decision.

When you’re burned out, you’re just completely at the end of all that you know to do. So that’s when the most important thing that you can do is carry on firmly entrenched in your peace because that’s where good decisions are made, where confidence lives, where you’ll see possibilities and find resilience.

As Marie Forleo says, you won’t find peace by getting more, doing more, or becoming more. Peace comes from embracing where you are now.

You won’t find peace by getting more, doing more, or becoming more. Peace comes from embracing where you are now.

― Marie Forleo
Five Essential Strategies to Counteract Burnout

#1: Feel It — Have the Experiences of Your Journey

There’s so much to say about striving vs. fulfillment, about contentment vs. complacency, but when it comes down to it, you must ask, “When is enough enough for me?”

“When do I stop trying to get there and love where I am?” It’s so much easier to take your foot off the gas pedal when you feel the joy of the moment and trust everything is as it’s meant to be.

#2: Journal It — Get Creative and See What Comes Up

Virtually every wellbeing or self-care practice has an element of goal setting, planning, and journaling, because they are the trifecta of self-development, and they work.

If you aren’t fluent in all three, build upon what’s already working for you. If you aren’t doing any of the three, start with journaling and make it easy. Buy a beautiful notebook, write the date at the top of the page, set a timer, and write for 10 minutes.

Use it as an opportunity for uninterrupted conversation with yourself. If you can’t find your creative side, practice by writing lists: lists of affirmations, lists of gratitude, positive qualities, bucket lists, goals, anything that makes you feel a little lighter and more free.

#3: Share It — Find a Community of Likeminded People

There are two parts to this. First, the high vibes of others headed in the same direction as you will buoy you when you don’t feel like swimming. They will help you build momentum and accountability, and your wins will be their wins and vice versa.

The second part is you’ll find your hype squad, the people who celebrate you for being you, and who get it — what you’ve overcome, what you are trying to achieve, what you are struggling with, the deeply personal journey you are on. These meaningful connections will remind you who you are and where you’re going.

#4: Mean It — Let Your Habits Reflect Your Commitment

So, you can’t talk yourself out of burnout. You can’t avoid it by ignoring it, either. You’ve got to embrace habits that prevent it and keep you whole. You must have the courage to determine what’s most important to you.

So many times, you’re burnt out and overwhelmed because you’re chasing someone else’s definition of success.

There are two strategic ways to do this and two tactical. One strategy is to build mastery in an aspect of your life that is important to you. It shifts the task or activity beyond a series of chores, just a job or an obligation.

Choose where you want to develop expertise and influence to deepen your experience. The beautiful part about mastery is it brings clarity and courage; it empowers you to stop shrinking and own your confidence. It empowers you to stop proving yourself and stop minimizing who you are so that you can step into your greatness.

Another powerful strategy is to prioritize the aspects of your life that are fulfilling or hold meaning to you. You can identify the activities or relationships that are rewarding, heartwarming, and inspire you to be your best self.

In this case, burnout is not about repair or fixing something; it’s more about owning the updated version of yourself who moves beyond burnout.

Two tactical examples are morning routines (that set up amazing days — because when you are uncertain, anxious, and feel overwhelming pressure, you’ve got to neutralize it with intentional happiness, joy, and fun) and workout routines (that provide a physical outlet).

In the same way that you can be intentional about your emotions, you can be intentional about your energy. A workout routine that gives your racing mind a chance to tune out or your body an opportunity to release the negativity and stress means you can reset and rejuvenate any time.

Plus, sometimes the heaviness of your circumstances can literally make your body feel heavy, and physical activity is a way to counteract that inertia. A rebalancing activity offsets intensive focus and work periods to restore the mind/body equilibrium.

#5 Serve It — Fill Your Cup So Others Will Benefit from Your Overflow

So many women have a desire to serve and will run themselves ragged in the pursuit. They will check all the boxes and do all the things, but they are running on fumes, completely empty.

So, when it finally all catches up to them, it’s not just a vacation that they need. It’s a massive unraveling. Little by little, the stress hormones build up until they collapse.

Burnout creeps into our lives slowly and then all at once. It forces a reckoning. They have to reimagine the boundaries in their lives, restate the rules of engagement, reconnect with their vision, and rebuild their sense of self to pour back into themselves to replenish their spirit.

It’s No Secret that Professional Women have had it Pretty Rough Lately

Suppose you haven’t had a chance to dive into the findings from the annual Women in the Workplace report by McKinsey and LeanIn.org, which surveyed 423 organizations and 65,000 employees. You may be shocked to see how much stress women truly are carrying.

The research is detailed — the pandemic has been disproportionately hard on women. A staggering 1.8 million women have left the workforce, citing the collapse of childcare or the stress of shoulder more responsibility at home. Those who have continued to work are feeling overwhelmed.

According to the survey, 42% of women reported feeling often or almost always feeling burned out — up from 32% last year. Women consistently carry more emotional labor at work than their male peers.

Women are also up to twice as likely to spend substantial time on diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts that aren’t part of their formal job duties and are often overlooked (like organizing events and recruiting from underrepresented groups).

Nearly half of all working women have considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers.

Is More Flexibility the Answer?

“Employees with more flexibility to take time off and step away from work are much less likely to be burned out,” the study says. Two-thirds of women said they want to work remotely at least three days a week post-pandemic (compared to 57% of men) and reported that work flexibility would help them reach their career goals.

88% of employers surveyed offer flexible hours, up from 27% before 2020. The catch is that flexibility comes with few boundaries, which breeds an always-on culture. Of the 40% of employees who feel like they’re ‘always-on,’ 57% say they’re burned-out.

Sometimes the answer is a job change or a complete exit. The most exciting post I saw on LinkedIn this week was this one from a CEO: “Every time a competitor mentions return to office our recruiters reach out to their people. We’ve hired 15+ of their engineers in the last 2 months.”

Don’t get me started, but companies who are refusing flexible work or remote work or penalizing those they can’t see (proximity bias) are competitively disadvantaged and will suffer long-term consequences, but that’s a post for another day.

More money probably isn’t the answer either, although it can provide a reprieve or a temporarily motivating touchpoint.

Burnout comes with considerable costs to your family, your future, your work, and your wellbeing. Constant stress mode often comes with a side of zero self-compassion. Because non-stop stress and overwhelm will kill you. Not to mention torpedo your income, destroy your passion, and force you to miss irreplaceable moments with the people you love most.

Every day I coach and empower women to reach their highest potential. And, often, it’s not a matter of more. It’s a matter of reminding them of their worth, their potential, the good that surrounds them, and that removes their uncertainty and self-doubt.

I help them reprioritize their lives and let go of tasks or responsibilities that weigh them down, allowing them to expand the moment and soak up the sunshine in their lives. It enables them to stay on track with purpose and ease, recalibrate their trajectory, seek pleasure, and do less but receive more.

And that, my friends, is a very long-winded way of saying it’s ok to make things easy for yourself, especially as a working parent during a pandemic. Let it be your mantra too, and please reach out if I can help.

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