My first real job out of college was the ideal scenario for me. It was a company that I loved, the culture was a perfect fit for me, I was empowered by my managers, and I excelled in the areas of my influence. The company grew to a point where our founders decided to sell. Not surprisingly, with the sale came some staffing shifts, so I volunteered to temporarily shoulder a particularly burdensome responsibility on top of my regular duties, until a new person could be hired. We already had approval for the new hire, and I was told they would be interviewing for the position within a few days.
My entire work day was spent on these new responsibilities, which forced me to work late most nights in order to not fall behind in my regular responsibilities. At first, I handled it fine. It was only temporary, after all, and I can work through just about anything if I see a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. But as the days turned to weeks and eventually months, life began to take its toll. Essentially I spent so much time on a task I didn’t enjoy, that I was underperforming in the things I did enjoy. I felt as though I was being punished for being a good employee.
When the weekends came around I was so mentally exhausted that I was constantly disengaged from my family. Internally, I was frustrated that it was taking so long to resolve my situation. Frustration eventually turned to hopelessness, and because nobody likes to feel hopeless all the time, my emotions shut down. The only emotion that remained was anger. I did my best to control my anger, but would often get upset at my wife or daughter, with little or no justification for it.
What I was experiencing was burnout, which is essentially mental or even physical collapse. It’s mainly brought on by overwork and stress, as in my case, but can also come seemingly out of nowhere. People who suffer from burnout often feel as though the effort they put in is more than they’re getting back. This leads to a loss of motivation, and loss of hope. People with high expectations of themselves, a tendency toward perfection, and who place high value on achievement may be more susceptible to burnout. Work and personal life factors (such as parenting) are also major contributors.
The key to overcoming burnout is recognizing it, and stopping the cycle before your brain develops a habitually depressive state. It’s important to talk to loved ones about the way you’re feeling, and make time to do healthy activities that you love. When you get home from work, you may want to sit on the couch and watch TV. This is a mindless activity that doesn’t require you to really engage with anyone, so it’s appealing. But in order to build up your healthy brain activity, you need to engage with the world around you and actively focus your brain on things you enjoy, rather than your daily stresses. Some healthy activities may include:
These activities, and many others, can help your brain clear out the stresses of your day. Taking time to reset your mind after a long day of work or a stressful day at home with screaming children is crucial to maintaining balanced brain chemistry, and breaking the cycle of depression. The key is to do something mentally engaging that you enjoy, and that isn’t stressful.
Final Note to Parents About Burnout
I’d like to say one last thing to anyone suffering from burnout as a result of parenting (especially you stay-at-home moms who keep this world turning). Many parents feel that taking time for themselves is selfish, and they’re bad parents if they aren’t always with their children. The fact is, when you’re suffering from burnout, you’re not in a place to give your children the love and attention they need. When I’m burnt out, I get angry with my daughter for making messes. She’s 3 years old, for crying out loud. Any rational adult knows that my daughter isn’t being bad; she’s being 3! But when I take even 30 minutes for myself, I am more in control of my emotions and handle the messes just fine. So in short, taking time for yourself is not selfish. It’s best for you, and your children.
As with just about anything, overcoming burnout and other depressive symptoms is easier to talk about than to accomplish. If you or someone you know is suffering from burnout and needs guidance on how to improve your life and your relationships that are suffering as a result of your depression symptoms, let us help. You’re not broken, weak, or flawed, and your symptoms don’t have to be permanent.
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