The real reason we’re all burnt out right now


Remember Sally from last week?


Highly productive.

Totally has her shit together.

The only problem is, Sally’s exhausted. And she can’t quite figure out why.

She’s getting good sleep. She’s exercising every day. She’s eating well. So why is she so grumpy with her family in the evenings and on weekends? And why does she have zero patience with everyone around her?

Here’s why.

Her kids:

Muuuuuuuum, I don’t want to go to cricket this afternoon. Whyyyyyyyy do I have to go?

Her husband:

Honey, remember I was telling you about Craig? How he undermined me in that meeting last week? Well, he did it again today. What am I going to do about that guy?

Her friend:

Sal, did you hear what Jenny did? She’s organised dinner at [insert fancy, expensive restaurant]. I can’t afford to go there. Why does she always do this? You need to get her to change the venue. She won’t do it if I ask.

Her mum:

Sally, you need to talk to your brother. He’s refusing to come to Aunty Val’s for Christmas drinks because Fleur is going to be there. This has gone on too long now and you’re the only one who can fix this so, fix it.

Her sister:

Sal, what did you say you were bringing to dinner next Friday? If you’re doing a salad then I need you to organise Mel to bring dessert, ok?

Her husband:

Hon, is it ok if I catch up with Kevin on Sunday?

Her kids:

Mum, what’s for dinner tonight?

Her boss:

Sally, our contact on the Anderson account is pissed off at how long this is all taking. I need you to work your magic and buy us some time.

A client:

Sally, I don’t understand this latest invoice we’ve just gotten from you guys. I need you to show me where I agreed to pay for all this stuff.

Her kids:

What are we doing on the weekend?

Another friend:

Sal, I’m so stressed about the house. If we can’t find a buyer by the end of the month we’re in deep trouble. I need to download over a bottle of wine.


Recognise the above? It’s relentless, right?

Every problem Sally solves, sore feeling she soothes and decision she makes depletes her capacity for giving people what they need from her: patience, understanding, counselling and problem solving.

It depletes her emotional bandwidth.

So, while you’re thinking the reason you’re so tired right now is because you’re too busy or over-committed, the real reason is likely this: your reserves of emotional bandwidth have been completely tapped and need to be re-filled.

Here’s what I do when the well is dry:

1. Take a little holiday

Lots of people wait till after Christmas to head away. Taking a short break at the start of December, however, is an amazing circuit breaker. It makes everyone in your household a little less angsty and tired, which means you won’t have to do as much cajoling to get people to do the simplest things. And they’ll also be more willing to solve their own problems.

2. Have a staycation or daycation

Not everyone can go away at the start of December, however. (Especially if, by the time you’re reading this, the start of December is long gone.) You and your family can get the same effect, however, by taking a ‘staycation’; a weekend ‘away’, at home. Whatever you’d do on a weekend away – watch movies, play board games, eat take out, lie on the couch and read – that’s what you do on your staycation. Anything you wouldn’t do while away (chores, work, fixing up the house, catching up with friends, solving the problems of the world) – you don’t.

Can’t take the whole weekend off? Take just one day. (That’s a ‘daycation’.)

3. Set some boundaries

While it’s not possible to avoid every person who wants you to solve a problem or make a decision for them, it’s definitely possible to cut back. The mum at school who’s always got a drama to share, or the co-worker who loves to bail you up in the kitchen telling you the latest crime against humanity Francine from accounts has committed – I give you permission to avoid those people for now.

Anyone who wants to have an argument with you or engage in a way that is going to be draining – just tell them ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t have the emotional bandwidth to have this conversation with you right now.’

4. Remember other people’s problems are not yours to own

When you’re the fixer/listener/problem solver for the people around you, it’s hard not to take on all those problems as your own. But, like any other skill, you get better at it the more you practise. And practice starts now. Repeat 10 times: “I can help this person with their problem, but it’s not mine to own and I’m not responsible for their happiness.”

5. Find some space, no matter how small

Whenever I find myself right on the edge of completely losing my shit – I put myself in time out. That might look like 20 minutes in the toilet with my phone. Or taking off for a walk the second my husband gets home from work. Or locking myself in my bedroom for half an hour with a good book. Again, it’s a circuit breaker you’re looking for here. Something that will help you re-charge the batteries before heading back into the maelstrom of whining, whys and can yous everyone is throwing at you right now.