Steer Clear of Work-Life Burnout

Take action to create balance in your life.

If you feel squeezed between work and home responsibilities, you’re not alone. Work-life balance is an elusive achievement for many people. For parents, there’s an added layer of responsibility, logistics, worry and demands on your time.

Whether or not you work outside the home, it can be a struggle to balance those must-get-done responsibilities with the activities that make life feel worthwhile. Here’s how to recognize the signs and symptoms of burnout, along with tips for overcoming burnout — and how to avoid it in the first place.

What is Job Burnout?

According to the U.S. Library of Medicine, German-American clinical psychologist Herbert Freudenberger coined the phrase “job burnout” in the 1970s. Freudenberger initially used the term to encompass the fatigue and frustration resulting from the severe stress experienced by people working in “helping” professions, like doctors and nurses. Now, the phrase “burnout” is often applied to many other scenarios. Parenting, with its 24/7 “work” schedule, is no exception.

“By nature, parenting can set up you up for burnout,” says Charlotte-based therapist Kristen Venit. “We, as parents, put a great deal of pressure on ourselves.”

Signs and Symptoms of Burnout

It’s easy to mistake the signs and symptoms of burnout for plain old exhaustion, a familiar state for most parents. But if your exhaustion accompanies apathy, a short temper and impatience, you could be headed toward burnout, says Mary Ann Hauser, a Winston-Salem-based certified business and executive coach with Action Coach.

The Mayo Clinic offers a list of questions to ask yourself in order to help identify whether you’re suffering from burnout at work, including “Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?” and “Have your sleep habits or appetite changed?” But Venit points out that there are parent-specific symptoms of burnout, too, which can occur at any time, whether you’re at home or the office. They include:

●    Feeling irritable and angry for no specific reason.

●    Guilt or feelings of inadequacy as a parent.

●    Sadness, hopelessness and helplessness.

●    Exhaustion and feeling depleted and/or anxious.

●    Sleeping issues.

●    Increased use of alcohol and drugs.

●    Increase in physical ailments and illnesses.

Is Burnout Avoidable?

With some mindfulness, yes, you can prevent burnout, especially if you put tactics in place to help maintain a balance between work, home and taking care of yourself. Here are some to things to try:

Set boundaries.

Chances are, your employer doesn’t want you and other employees getting burned out, either. But it’s not always easy for a manager to recognize signs of burnout in an employee until there’s a real problem. So it’s often up to you to initiate a work-life balance conversation.

“Juggling parenting and networking responsibilities can be hard, but you are allowed to say no to some things or schedule things when it does not interfere with family time,” says Gaye Esser, a Holly Springs-based life coach and owner of Redefine Balance.

If your employer is resistant to encouraging efforts to create more balance between home and work, it might be time to start the search for a more family-friendly work environment.

Look ahead.

A little planning can go a long way toward avoiding burnout.

“Most of us spend more time and effort on planning one vacation than we do on the other 50 weeks of the year,” Hauser says. “For parents, this is really important.”

Planning can help you identify particularly stressful times on the horizon and give you time to work through solutions to the challenges they bring.

Don’t assume you’re on your own.

“Don’t give in to the superhero mentality,” Hauser says. “When things aren’t going well — or even if they are — don’t be reluctant to delegate because ‘no one does it as well as you do’ or ‘it’s easier if you do it yourself.’” Find your support network and let them help.

Find your tribe.

“Seek out other parents in your same life stages,” Venit says. Chances are, they’re experiencing many of the same challenges and can offer advice or serve as a sounding board.

Reconsider your schedule.

“Flexible work schedules are helpful,” Venit says. If flextime is appealing, have a plan ready to present to your supervisor for how you can make this schedule work. Will you come in to work early so you can leave early to take your kids to ballet class or soccer practice? Would you prefer to work from home one day a week? Can you and a coworker find a way to job share? Even if you must stick with the typical 9-to-5 routine, there are ways to juggle those important family times with a demanding schedule.

“Coming home for family dinner and then catching up on emails when kids go to bed is often a good option,” Venit adds. 

Burnout Back Track

If these signs and symptoms sound uncomfortably familiar, take heart. Burnout doesn’t have to be a permanent state of existence. There are several ways to work your way out of the funk:

1. Consider meeting with a therapist, counselor or coach to gain perspective and have a place to “check in” so you don’t feel as if you’re flying solo.

2. Focus on managing your stress level. You can’t be good at taking care of your family if you aren’t taking care of yourself.

“If exercise, yoga, reading, meditating or even a spa day helps you take care of you, be sure to schedule those things into your calendar first,” Hauser says.

3. Take a breather. “Make sure to take short breaks and breathe,” Esser says. “Just stopping for a few minutes and taking a deep breath or two can really reset your body and your mental focus.”

4. Don’t trap yourself in guilt. “Be forgiving and empathetic of yourself, just as you are to your children,” Venit says.

And when things start to feel overwhelming, be deliberate. Get those feelings, worries or to-dos that are nagging at you out by putting them down on paper.

“Just getting it out of your head and on to a piece of paper can be so freeing,” Hauser says. “When I personally feel like I have taken on too much or are feeling overwhelmed, I set the alarm clock a little earlier and I meditate.”

5. Cultivate a sense of gratitude. “Gratitude helps attract other good things,” Esser says. “Instead of focusing on the negative things at work, find a few things you like and are grateful for to shift your mindset to a more positive note.”

Perk Up Your Life

Even if you don’t feel at risk for burnout, there are lots little things you can do — right away — to help perk up your life.

“Do something each day that makes you smile, even if it is just for a few minutes,” says Gaye Esser, a Holly Springs-based life coach with Redefine Balance. “If you don’t remember what brings you joy, try different things until you find something that works for you.

Here are some suggestions:

●    Volunteer for a cause you find worthwhile.

●    Start a new, interesting hobby.

●    Invest in your existing friendships.

●    Be active: walk, run, do yoga, kickboxing, whatever!

●    Read.

●    Take a bath.

●    Meditate.

●    Pray.

“Find what it is that would make you stop for a second, take a breath and really enjoy yourself,” Esser says. “When you’re doing this activity, make sure you stop and enjoy the moment. It may seem selfish at first, but you can still give to others and do things that give back to you.”

Aleigh Acerni is the mother of a busy toddler and has a busy job, too. Yoga, running, and naps (for her and her kiddo) help her feel balanced and sane.