Most people I work with who are feeling “burnt-out” describe feeling like being a gerbil on a hamster wheel. Some describe it as that panicked feeling, a fluttering, or a “wash of overwhelm” that is difficult to manage, and has started affecting their everyday way of living.
For confidentiality, we’ll describe the following client as ‘Nancy.’ Nancy is a healthcare provider who came to me for burnout coaching and anxiety counseling during a crisis.
She was balancing over 70 hours a week in an emergency room, and had arrived at a point where she had driven her car to a cliff and contemplated continuing off of it.
She felt drained, rarely replenished, suffered from extensive ‘mom-guilt’ for not being able to see her kids and family anymore, and was no longer keeping up with the demands of work. On top of it all, her entire work was focused on helping people in trauma.
She was exhausted.
Her first instinct was to blame herself, and maybe you’ve been here: “I should find a way to make it all work. There’s really no time to take time off right now because nobody is available to cover. My kids are angry, and my husband and I don’t talk much anymore.”
The reality is, according to Gallup.com (2017), people in the United States work longer hours and take less time off than most everywhere else in the world.
The candle is burning at both ends.
Steps to Overcoming Burnout Anxiety
The first steps out of the anxiety caused by burnout are as follows, and we will discuss more of these in this article:
- Acknowledge where you are, that you deserve to do work you love while also having time with your family, and the healing starts now in knowing you don’t want to live like this anymore.
- Acknowledge that boundaries must be put in place to not only help you heal from the difficulties of your job, but to allow for your family and the people you love to also be a more present part of your life.
- Know that burnout is more common than most people think (especially in healthcare), and the anxiety can lesson with support. God knows where you are, and where He sees your life going!
When ‘Busy’ Takes Over
‘Busy’ is the new four-letter-word in our culture today, especially within the U.S. It has become a statement of honor to say, “I’m busy” when someone asks how we are, while rattling off all the things we have to do yet for the day.
We run a million miles an hour, sleep on average less than six hours a night, consume caffeine in high intervals, and for most, lament about the lack of time we have to do what we really love.
When I lived in Chile, I remember walking down the street with a travel coffee mug in my hand and someone asked me, “Why didn’t you finish your coffee?” It never dawned on me how little time we spend enjoying the simple things.
The first step out of burnout and decreasing transition-related anxiety is to acknowledge a) the need to slow down, and b) that you DESERVE to slow down and live a more fulfilled life.
The train can’t go 80 down the straight section of the track and maintain that speed around the corner. It will derail. Yet, often times, that’s what we expect of ourselves, when all God wants is to have us slow down enough to where He can start directing the train.
- How fast do you feel your train is going, and what thoughts come up when you think about slowing it down?
- What do you think will be the hardest part about slowing down?
- What are the benefits of slowing down?
- What is the main reason you want to feel peace and joy during this time of transition?
Jesus reminds us that to finally fall into peace and joy, we have to hand over our greatest burdens:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30, NIV
Overcoming Burnout: Setting Strong Intentions for the Future
According to Merriam-Webster (2017), the definition of burnout is “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.”
My experience with burnout started back in 2013-2015 working in healthcare as a clinical social worker. I had a high case load as a new clinician, coupled with consistent understaffing.
Our clients were in a consistent high-state of crisis (homelessness, drug abuse, poor boundaries, financial struggles and familial issues), leaving little time to complete case notes and all necessary documentation in a timely manner, since we were also covering other clinicians at the same time. My husband and I were working opposite shifts and in the middle of a home remodel.
One of the first steps we did as a family, and that I recommend to my clients to get out of the cycle those years was to scrap ‘goals’ and instead set clear intentions: What did we intend to accomplish for the year, which steps would be take, and what were the deadlines? Then, these steps and deadlines went into our calendar, outlined under each major vision.
By the end of 2016 we had purchased land and started our home build, and I had switched back to a less stressful job. One of my prior clients came to me burnt-out in the legal field, and effectively sold out her workshops in a new online business by setting clear intentions for her business and building a signature program.
Goals are hypothetical. Intentions are calculated. We manage overwhelm when we create a plan around it, following the following 5 Steps to More Joyful Living:
The Five Steps OUT of Overwhelm into More Joyful Living!
Activated, happy, healthy people who are able to balance periods of overwhelm with grace and ease while avoiding burnout have:
They actively know where they are going, what they are creating, and who for. They understand their purpose and how that impacts their greater calling. Happy people are ENGAGED with their work and have PASSION and clarity around what they do.
According to a recent global poll by Gallup.com, “85% of employees worldwide are not engaged or actively disengaged at work.” This means that only 15% of people feel happy and engaged with their work. Which one do you want to be in?
Resilience & Mindset
High-achievers who have learned how to avoid burnout long-term and overcome the burnout cycle once and for all set firm boundaries on their personal and professional time, create a strong support network, and say ‘no’ more than ‘yes’ every time.
Only one out of every three people feel like they get to do what they do best in their work and life. So, 30% of the population feels they can go to work and do something they enjoy. That is a perfect recipe for long-term burnout (and slightly insane) since the definition of insanity is doing the “same thing over and over again expecting different results.”
Burnout and overwhelm aren’t just about workload: it’s also about engaging people’s strengths. When people feel they are working towards a larger greater purpose and happy, they fall into that 15% of people who feel engaged—productive and happy.
A strong mindset practice is the ability to look deeply within ourselves and begin to flesh out the larger questions: What am I here for? What do I do BEST? AM I doing what I do best? Why or why not?
Mindset means seeing what’s holding us back or working with someone to see what’s holding us back, how we may be limiting ourselves and giving ourselves PERMISSION to change and choose a better life.
Are you giving yourself permission to choose a better life for yourself? If you’re overwhelmed, burnt out, or feeling like you’re not doing what you were truly called to do in this world, then why not? Write this down with three ways you can start making that change now.
Impact-driven high achievers, regardless of workload, do everything with intention. If they set a goal, they work to see it through, or they find someone to help them. They know that “doing it all myself” does not cut it at the end of the day. Yet, they often have a hard time asking for help or admitting feelings of overwhelm, and instead will work to ‘press’ through it.
Intentions are not resolutions: Intentions are intentional goals made as a part of their larger purpose.
I was working with an executive client wanting to create more balance in her life. She already had a successful job and a happy family life, but she was working over 15 hours a day and rarely took a day off, or had a day free of work.
One of the first intentions we set was a) selecting a mandatory day off each week and blocking it out while b) scheduling in a monthly date night with her spouse and a two-hour block of time to go to a coffee shop by herself and read each month.
These things may seem simple to most, but when you’re used to running on cycles of overwhelm, and very rarely giving yourself permission to rest, while having high expectations of yourself, and high expectations from others, these physical intentions—actually blocking your calendar—can start to create more balance right away.
High achiever’s ACTIVATE their plans. Instead of saying, “I’ll get there by next year,” they work with a coach, manager, or consultant to set timelines for their goals and intentions.
I’ve counseled and worked with military individuals for years. One of the most important tenants of military training is responsibility: They take 100% responsibility for all their actions and don’t blame anyone else for what they didn’t or haven’t accomplished yet.
Ask the most successful manager, leader, or entrepreneur and you will also see this trend: Your success is yours and yours alone. When you activate your goals — setting intentions, creating healthy boundaries, and giving yourself PERMISSION to execute — you become unstoppable.
Successful high-achievers, leaders, entrepreneurs, and executives know that transformation is not a one-time process. Rather, it’s a cocooning process that happens over and over again, each time growing stronger and impacting your own mission and others at a deeper level.
Have you given yourself permission to transform?
A Willingness to Become Comfortably Uncomfortable
FEAR is a four-letter word. It holds us back, keeps us stuck, and keeps us comfortable. Fear of change leaves people in jobs they hate for years, in mediocre relationships for years out of fear of saying or communicating the wrong thing, and unhappy for fear of letting ourselves down. Fear feeds doubt and doubt supports fear.
The Harris Poll (2017) conducted a happiness study in May 2017, and found that only 33% of Americans said they were happy at any given time; less than 40% of the population. This happiness was tied to a feeling of control on their environments, cultural impacts and their spirituality, as well as work. Overall, unhappiness is fueled by a sense of disconnection from self, culture, and spirituality, and not feeling included. We’re becoming more disconnected.
I was working in a call center for a few years starting in 2008 prior to graduate school. I sat next to a fellow colleague for about three weeks, watching how he unhappily counted the number of calls he’d have with people trying to quit addictive behaviors, tally them up, and say, “Another darn day over. So glad it’s over.”
I asked him one day, “Why do you stay here if this is so frustrating?” He was afraid of giving up 15 years of benefits to start somewhere new. He acknowledged hating his job. Changing jobs seemed too daunting versus the comfort of a consistent job, but he was miserable within that ‘comfort.’ Comfort is not always better if it means a deep sense of dissatisfaction.
You can’t emerge if you’re afraid to allow it to happen, like the man in the prior example. Where do you need to become comfortably uncomfortable?
By now I hope you’ve realized that you are beautiful, worthy, and valuable as you are in this moment, and you truly do not have to live an overwhelmed, uncertain life any longer, or like so many doing work that does not light you up.
You CAN live a life ignited by joy, grace, and purpose simply by a) forgiving those that need to be forgiven, b) forgiving yourself and nurturing the parts of YOU that need to be nurtured, and b) stepping in to your calling work, and stepping back from fear and doubt.
Where Does God Come In?
In the anxiety and burnout sphere, God is here to remind us to be Mary in a Martha world.
In Luke 10:38-42, we meet Jesus at the home of Martha and Mary:
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary,who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.
But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Martha knew the most important thing in that moment was to be at the Lord’s feet, in His presence, taking time with Him to learn and know Him.
Martha was preoccupied with preparations to welcome Jesus, while all He wanted was to be welcomed by her presence.
He wants you to sit at his feet, and be able to experience the stillness that comes with His peace. Anxiety is like a busy cuprit who takes us away from the very rest we deserve to have, leaving the mind on a perpetual ‘gerbil wheel’ without clear direction.
If you’re ready to transition out of burnout and decrease stress and depression, feel free to contact me or one of the other counselors here. We look forward to being a part of your journey.
“Natural Beauty”, Courtesy of Silviarita, Pixabay.com; CC0 License;”Alone”, Courtesy of Pxhere.com, CC0 License; “Lifted Up”, Courtesy of Karamel, Pixabay.com; CC0 License; “Alarm Clock”, Courtesy of Szűcs László, Unsplash.com; CC0 License;