“Burnout exists because we’ve made rest a reward rather than a right.” ― Juliet C. Obodo

After a year of trying to adjust life to fit a pandemic, many people sound like they are exhausted. In fact, people are burning out — not in a job, the way we normally expect, but in life.

Wondering what the professionals might say about burnout, I Googled. It was a sobering list of things burnout can lead to:

• Primary damage is emotional

• Leads to detachment and depression

• May make life seem not worth living

• Loss of motivation, ideals and hope

Burnout is different from stress, and knowing the difference before it’s too late is important. As Obodo says, often, when we reach burnout, it is because we’ve been treating rest as less important than it is.

It has been five years since I wrote about burnout, and that is probably a good sign that I’m overdue in handling it personally, as well as encouraging you. When I wrote previously, I talked about the importance of putting your own mask on first (back when the only mask in the discussion was the kind on the airplane).

I wrote from the point of view that we could be overly involved in community activities, church responsibilities or job-related tasks we felt we are the only ones to handle. Today, I see things a little differently.

Then and now, the enemy of a good life (I believe) is ”busy.” Why do we seem to think we need to be so busy or on the go? If home isn’t a place you enjoy being, maybe you have bigger questions to ask yourself. If you are working for the weekend, yet want to keep going at breakneck speed after clocking out, maybe you need to revisit how you define ”enjoying life.”

Getting out is good, seeing the world is good, but without resting, we will end up resenting the life we chose. (Please go ahead and make a note: not resting = resentment.)

Maybe you’ve been a loyal employee, put in extra hours, been available during your off hours and sacrificed a part of yourself for “their” good. I saw a meme (a picture with words on it) that said:

“Europeans’ out of offices: “I’m away camping for the summer. Email again in September.”

Americans’ out of office: ”I have left the office for two hours to undergo kidney surgery, but you can reach me on my cell any time.”

You might laugh, but if you are an American still working the daily grind, you know it is a painful truth. We Americans make life very difficult for ourselves and each other when it comes to taking care of our physical and emotional self.

I always thought that people who suffered burnout were suffering from their own bad choices. That isn’t true. Burnout isn’t necessarily always situational — job or event related. Other people can help create it.

I recently was in a place where people decided making me feel unwelcome was important. I didn’t even recognize what was happening until I was back home and slept most of two days. I was literally burned out from the ongoing stress of dealing with these people. Other people can create a burnout in us that we aren’t expecting. Are you ready to protect yourself?

Psychology Today says, “Burnout is a state of emotional, mental and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.” If you have been caring for a sick pet or a special-needs child or adult, or even if you are a regular old parent, there is a risk for suffering burnout. When others minimize the weight you are carrying, offering no support, your burnout can come quickly. Society doesn’t need parents or caretakers to burn out.

I’ve been reading several books and writings recently on our belief that we must be “doing” in order to have value. The numbers for people suffering from burnout are high right now, and that is reflective of the society in which we live, not the weakness of the individuals.

It might be interesting to read that you are a few steps away from burning out, but it would be more helpful to read and be able to put into action some steps that might protect you or someone you know. I found several suggestions, but these from HelpGuide were the ones I thought to be most doable:

1. Set boundaries: Say “no” to things that are draining you. I know you think the company will fail without you, or in my case that the lives of others will somehow fall apart if you aren’t right there to fix things, but boundaries give us space for ourselves (and that’s good). That leads to the second part ...

2. Set aside time EACH DAY to disconnect: This is mainly focused on your connection to your phone, tablet or computer. Other people will continue to email and post on social media, and it won’t fall apart if you have a definite break.

3. Set aside time to nurture yourself: Your creative side might be begging to come out, and your whole self is surely begging to be given a break through a quiet walk, exercise or some type of meditation (not a woo-woo thing at all).

4. Sleep: Give yourself the opportunity to sleep well. I’ve been working on this for a long time, and while I think I know some answers to better sleep, I have a few more experiments to perform. The research is solid, though. Better sleep means better health in several different areas.

Rarely do I write things that don’t pertain to my own struggles in life. I’m human, just as you are. I’ve finally come to realize that I value myself just as I am, and I am able to step away from activities that aren’t helping people I love and allowing me to take care of myself, but I have a hard time giving myself time to just rest.

If you and I continue to act as if giving ourselves rest is only a reward for work well done, we will unravel. Rest is a right every single one of us should demand, and on top of all the experts, my mother would say it’s true — get some rest!

Let’s put ourselves first for a change and see how much better we are for the people and work we love.

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. She can be reached at stories@susanbsteen.com.

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