Dr. Aryn Ziehnert
We all reach a breaking point. Emotional burnout is real regardless of your stage in life or what you have going on. We reach the end of what we feel we have and wonder how we will find even a moment of relief.
Emotional burnout is feeling worn out emotionally, physically, mentally, etc. due to prolonged stress. It is a mental fog or paralysis that stems from being continually surrounded by burdens and worry.
It does not matter if that stress is “big” by the world’s standards. Any prolonged situation that wears on us can lead to emotional burnout.
Signs of Emotional Burnout
While some signs will be individual, some common signs of emotional burnout include the following:
- Crying for no reason
- Brain fog
- Getting sick often
- Feeling of drowning in responsibilities
- Dreading work or school
- Not enjoying activities that once gave you joy
- Lack of motivation
Sometimes we reach emotional burnout because of what is happening around us. If we are bombarded with bad news all the time, overindulge in social media, the news, or negative stimuli, that can lead to a prolonged state of stress and emotional burnout.
Maybe those you love are going through hard times. A friend is having a hard time in their relationship, another has cancer, a third friend is struggling with money, and our sister’s marriage is not doing well. All of that can weigh on us. It’s a secondary source of stress, but over time it can deplete our resources.
Imagine tiny drips coming from the things that require our emotional energy. One we can deal with, perhaps even two. But each situation is another drip coming down at different times. It is more than we can handle. The drips are incessant, and we cannot handle all the different streams.
How to Deal with Burnout
We often feel like we don’t have the margin or time to stop and reflect. But at some point, we must step off the hamster wheel and name the drippings around us. We are not going to find any margin or relief from the burnout if we just keep trying to press on. All that will do is make things worse.
Repeat after me: No one is Superwoman, even me. Below are some steps to help you deal with emotional burnout.
Acknowledge what you are feeling.
Start with something as simple as, “I am feeling ________ and _________.” Be honest.
Acknowledge what is causing you stress.
Journaling can be helpful for this. Get a notebook or open a new Word doc and free-write everything that is going on. It does not matter how small or far away from you it is, say it. If it is causing you stress or worry – name it! The power of simply acknowledging things is incredible. Get it all out on paper. The ability to see what is weighing on us is a big step in being able to find a way through it.
Check your habits.
Are you not sleeping? Making poor food choices? Drinking too much caffeine or energy drinks? Are you taking on other people’s needs (saying yes to everything)? Without judgment or excuse, simply state what you are doing during this time.
Decide what you CAN do.
You cannot save the world. You cannot do it all. It is not on you to fix everything or be there all the time for everyone or be the only source of things from your friends. You simply cannot do it. What can you feasibly and realistically do?
Make a plan.
What would you like to be able to do? Do you want to get your own place? Work out more? Find a better job? Nothing is going to change if you do not make a conscious choice to do things differently. Will it change tomorrow? No. But small steps over time lead to better things.
Create boundaries externally.
See number 4. You cannot do it all. You should not be expected to. One of the best ways we can decrease our stress is to create boundaries. This applies to our friend who calls and complains for an hour, or the friend who texts at the last minute expecting you to drop it all to be there. When that friend calls – tell him or her you have 20 minutes and then get off the phone. If your friend texts at the last minute, tell him or her when you can be there. Your life, your schedule, and your goals matter more than your friend’s lack of planning. If it must happen now, he or she can call someone else. Your boundaries are for your mental health and longevity.
Create boundaries internally.
We often increase our stress by not having healthy internal boundaries. If social media is a problem, take it off your phone or deactivate your account. What does not feed you, drains you. You are not going to miss anything. Stop watching the news if that feeds your stress. Set a bedtime and stick to it. Stop drinking caffeine all day. Find other ways to re-energize. Make a conscious choice about what you will and will not do – for you – and stick to it.
Get rid of the guilt.
When you start setting boundaries, saying no to things, or having to leave things behind in the quest for recovery, it can lead to guilt – both internally and from other people. But this is your life and your mental and emotional health. There is no place for guilt. You get to be selfish with your time and energy. You get to say no. Replace any sense of guilt with the truth that you are taking control and that is okay.
Cultivate healthy habits.
If nothing changes, nothing changes. The path back from emotional burnout takes time. But we can help ourselves by replacing habits that deplete us with habits that replenish us. Go to bed at a reasonable hour. Fill a water bottle and drink two or three bottles a day. Try making a schedule and blocking your time. Tell friends, etc. when you are open and stick to it. Start a breathing practice. Exercise. Eat better. Make sure you are making healthy/better choices in the areas where you can.
Give yourself grace.
This will take time. You will not recover from emotional burnout in a day. It might take time before you can decrease the stressors in your life. But you can take care of yourself and do things to foster margin. When a bad day comes and you feel overwhelmed, acknowledge it is a feeling – it will pass, you have control, and then figure out the next thing you can do. Maybe that is a task or maybe it’s taking a break. Just acknowledging why you feel so burned out, then naming what you can do at that moment to regain some agency, can make a tremendous difference in your day.
One of the best ways we can not only recover from mental burnout but keep it from happening again, is to have a plan. But it is often hard to find a way through the noise of the drips and to acknowledge what is not ours to bear. We feel responsible for people. We want to be helpful to our friends. We desire to be someone on whom others rely. None of this is bad. But when we do not have any margins and let the chaos overshadow what is good for us, we wear ourselves ragged and inch closer to collapse.
The counselors at Spokane Christian Counseling are here to help you talk through what is going on, develop a plan, and identify habits and boundaries going forward. Call us today. You do not have to keep letting the drips deplete you.
“Ominous sky,” courtesy of Nathan Anderson, Unsplash.com, CCO License; “Match,” courtesy of 2 Bro’s Media, Unsplash.com, CCO License; “Boundary,” courtesy of Edan Cohen, Unsplash.com, CCO License; “Glory,” courtesy of Artem Sapegin, unsplash.com, CCO License
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