Avoiding Burnout – Part One
Let’s talk about Burnout. I have spent most of my adult life working and/or volunteering in a variety of service capacities. Particularly in the range of non-profit organizations. I’ve worked/volunteered in a large variety of capacities – and without fail, every single one I’ve been involved with struggles with the inevitable burn out.
For those of us with ADHD, on top of that we get ADHD burn out. What’s that? ADHD folks are way more likely to be rejected than neurotypical folks, which often turns us into people pleasers.
We then want to do anything anyone asks us to do so that we can feel good about pleasing them. Even if it comes at a personal cost. And eventually – we hit burn out.
The work we do is emotionally tough work. Because we are often working with non-profits, grassroots, low income, and/or underserved communities – we are often underpaid or volunteering our time and talents. And we tend to give and give and give until something breaks, usually us.
I have an amazing group of friends who give tirelessly of their talents to help and serve their communities. Between service work and parenting, I don’t know a single person who hasn’t felt absolutely, 100% burned out at some point.
We are passionate. We are givers and caregivers. We give…and give….and give.
Until suddenly – we are exhausted. All. The. Time. We start to feel overworked and underappreciated. We sometimes do more and more in a misguided attempt to not be seen as not doing enough.
Burnout is dangerous. It can lead to depression, anxiety, isolation, and more. And it becomes cyclical. If something slips through the cracks because we are juggling too much – we triple our efforts on the next thing, while battling guilt over whatever slipped. Our judgement and thinking becomes clouded. It’s unhealthy.
But it sometimes seems unavoidable. I know that I haven’t always even realized it was happening until it had gone way beyond what was reasonable. The first time. The next time I felt it coming, but felt powerless to stop it. So – how do we avoid it? What steps can we take? How do we learn to set boundaries – even with ourselves?
Here are a few ideas that I have learned in the last few years. These first ones focus on a few things to consider when thinking about burn out and deciding what things to give your time and energy to.
Things To Consider To Avoid Burnout
You Can’t Be The Best Parent You Can Be if You Are Burned Out
This is really, really difficult for many parents and care givers. We are taught, and we believe, that our kids needs are number one. And that’s true. BUT – we often mix up their needs and their desires. And our own feelings of guilt and what we “should” be doing. Your kids need you to be fulfilled, calm, centered, and healthy. It’s the best example you can give them. Modeling setting boundaries, advocating for yourself, and taking care of yourself are lessons we should all be teaching our kids. AND – if you just keep doing and doing and doing for your kids – and never take care of you – you will burn out. You may get physically or emotionally exhausted or sick. You can’t do all the things you want to do if you are so exhausted you can’t get out of bed or think clearly. Take time for your needs, self care is not a gift – it’s a necessary part of living and parenting.
You Can’t Save The World By Yourself
This is one I’ve been super guilty of. Not that I, or you, actually thinks “I’m the only one in the world who can do this job.” But people who have a passion for serving often find themselves feeling like if they don’t do “this very important thing.” – then it won’t get done and something “very bad” will happen. I have seen this happen in almost every grassroots type social justice work. I myself spent several years holding tight to a job I was long, long burned out of because I was absolutely 100% convinced that if I didn’t do the job, no one else would and it would fall apart. So even though I was beyond burned out, I kept attempting to save the world. Which blinded me to how poorly I was doing the job. It’s a vicious cycle. And believe me when I say – you can’t possible do it all by yourself. And really, no one wants you to!
Evaluate Your “Helium Hands”
What are “helium hands?” Several years ago, someone I knew told me that one of my problems was that I have “helium hands.” When I inquired what the heck that meant, I was that every time a group said “we need someone to…..” my hand would mysteriously float up into the air, as if my hand was being held up by a bunch of helium balloons. I volunteered for WAY. TOO. MUCH. I was very well intentioned – I always wanted to help – and STILL struggle with this. I feel unproductive some days because I no longer have my days and nights 100% filled with “things to do for others.”
Pick Your Passions and your Parenting Values
While you are evaluating those helium hands, take a look at *all* the things you’ve committed your time/energy/money/other resources to. Take a look at all the things you do as a parent because you feel like you “should.” Then evaluate how much of those resources you can *realistically* manage, and start to evaluate which things mean the most to you. When parenting, make sure that you are focused on the things that YOU feel are important for you, your child, and your family. Focus on those passions and values, and consider letting the other ones go, at least for now.
Remember That “No” Is A Valid Answer
So now you have remembered that you can’t do it all, you’ve picked which things are your passions, your parenting values, and you’ve learned you shouldn’t volunteer for everything. Now is a difficult part for some of us. Remembering that “No” is a perfectly acceptable response when asked to do something. Learn to say no. Practice it if need be. It’s perfectly cool to say, “Thanks for thinking of me, but I have enough on my plate right now.” It’s okay to give a reason. But remember that NO can be a full sentence. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for setting boundaries for yourself. I find this one tough – especially if the perception is that whatever I’m being asked to do is something “small”. I have to continually practice saying no, and more importantly – reminding myself again and again that it’s GOOD to say no.
Practice with a friend if you need to, it can be helpful. And don’t forget to check back next week for some more tips on avoiding burn out!!