Burnout. It’s here. It’s real. So many of us are sinking. Now that we’ve been in this crisis for 5+ weeks, it’s setting in and taking hold. We’re holding on. But sometimes, just barely.
I find I’m tired these days in ways sleep can’t fix.
Sleep is its own issue, of course. Falling asleep and staying asleep are victories in their own right. A night when no child is scared. Or sick. Or simply awake. It’s something to treasure. And yes, I do manage to sleep in late(ish) on weekends, while my children binge watch Wild Kratts.
But even on days when I’ve had enough shuteye, I’m near the edge. I’ve cried “uncle” to the universe more times than I can count. But it doesn’t change anything. I’ve shouted, “That’s it. I’m DONE!” to no one in particular. Only to find there is nothing to be done with.
I’m a lawyer, so of course I looked up the definition of “burnout.” Here’s what the dictionary gives us:
- The reduction of a fuel or substance to nothing through use or combustion. (What an image! – there’s been lots of “use and combustion” happening lately in our families…)
- Physical or mental collapse, caused by overwork or stress.
Either definition pretty much sums up what’s going on in the homes of working parents these days.
What we know from studies on burnout is that having control over your work and your work environment typically leads to less burnout among employees, even for people with stressful jobs. Which explains why now, when we have so much less autonomy and control over so much of our day, so many of us are closer to burnout than ever before.
What Helps Me Come Back from the Brink of Burnout?
Before COVID-19, “putting on my own oxygen mask first” used to consist of stepping away for a breather and relying on others to help. It meant date night. Babysitters. After care. Getting an occasional pedicure. The blissful quiet anonymity of a business trip on an airplane.
Now none of that is possible. Now, what brings me down the burnout escalation ladder are things like talking to someone I love while I make dinner. Doing yoga each morning. Taking a walk with my family. And letting myself cry.
Teaming Up to Talk About Burnout
The things we don’t dare to talk about eat us whole. So let’s talk about how this is really going down for working parents right now. I have good days in all of this and bad days. And on the bad days, I sometimes feel like I’m whining. But silencing the pain isn’t the answer.
Megan Sanchez of Upswing Health Coaching is doing a beautiful service during this crisis by offering a free, virtual interview series on the topic of burnout and how we can manage during this crisis. Her series, Breaking Through Burnout, is happening from April 20 through May 20, 2020. She invited me to be a guest in this series, and our interview will be released this coming Thursday. Sign up here to hear our conversation.
And be sure to keep conversations about this important topic going with your own group of friends and loved ones.
A Beautifully Apt Poem
I don’t think “burnout” during this crisisis a once and done thing. As if I could declare tonight, “okay, I’m burned out,” and that’s the end. Instead, I have this feeling that during this crisis, we will keep experiencing burnout in waves. We will get close to crashing, and find ways to pull ourselves back.
We will burn out. Almost. But not entirely. A spark will be left, and from that spark, we will rekindle a fire. Again. And again. And again.
“Fire” by Judy Brown
What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.
So building fires
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.
When we are able to build
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on the logs,
then we can come to see how
it is fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that make fire possible.
We only need to lay a log
lightly from time to time.
simply because the space is there,
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.
May you find that breathing space between the logs this week, my dear mama. I will be looking for it with you.