In short bursts, stress is good for you. It’s the shot of adrenaline that gets you to the end of the race, the microtears in your muscles that makes them rebuild stronger. But chronic, long-term stress leads to physical, mental and emotional exhaustion: burnout.
Don’t tell me to relax!
If you’ve heard advice like ‘Take a break, take a holiday, take a day for yourself’ your response was probably something like, ‘Sorry, when am I meant to take this mythical break? Because right now my cat needs to go to the vet, my friends haven’t heard from me in so long they’ve put out a missing persons ad and I have a pile of washing a mile high.’
While spa days are nice they don’t solve the underlying problem (especially if you just have to do twice as much work the next day).
It’s not me it’s you
Are there people in your life who should be helping? If your partner isn’t doing their fair share of housework and childcare, you don’t have a burnout problem, you have a partner problem. Similarly, if you’re doing the work of three people at the office, you have a management problem.
You can’t make your employer hire adequate staff, but it’s worth at least bringing the issue to their attention. If that doesn’t work, what would happen if you just… let it be their problem? Let the person causing the problem wear the consequences, and get a full eight hours’ sleep for once. It might feel like a drastic measure, but the situation is already drastic, and it’s causing you real damage.
Something’s gotta give
The basic truth is that you cannot keep going like this. You cannot give 100% to everything, and at the moment the part of your life that’s getting 0% is you. If you’re a perfectionist, you’re going to find this nearly impossible, but you need to start 80-percenting some things. Maybe that’s letting the bathroom get a little grungier, leaving work at 5pm on the dot (gasp!) or letting your kids make their own lunches. At least until you can make some more long-term changes to ease up the pressure in your life.
Signs to watch out for
- Overreacting to minor setbacks. Overcooked pasta shouldn’t make you burst into tears
- Making more inattention-related mistakes than usual (double-booking yourself, forgetting to buy groceries, getting on the wrong bus)
- Feeling irritated and snappy all the time
- Cynicism – feeling like your work is pointless and not caring whether you do a good job
- Waking up tired. It’s one thing to feel wrung out by the end of the day. If you wake up already pre-stressed, that’s a troubling sign.
If this sounds like you, please reach out to the people who love you, and ask for both emotional support and practical support to help lighten the load.
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