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The real reason we’re all burnt out right now

burnout

Remember Sally from last week?

Super-organised.

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.

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      Honestly – I find having a ‘name’ for the thing makes everything so much easier. It’s easy to think ‘oh I just need more sleep’ – but then when more sleep doesn’t help we start blaming ourselves and feeling we should have more patience when really what we need is half a day off doing everyone’s thinking for them!

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  1. Another fantastic post Kelly! I feel so burnt at the moment that I feel like crying (but can’t, which is really frustrating!). I hadn’t considered the effect of other people. Gee, they can be demanding (as I know very well that I am too – of myself and others). Thanks for your honesty – especially about going for a walk the moment your hubby gets home! I love mine to bits, but he’s been going through (understandably) a really rough time and while I want to help in whatever way I can, it’s exhausting. Phew, that felt therapeutic! 🙂

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      Yep – when people we love are struggling with something it’s important that we’re there for them. But we also can’t underestimate the emotional toll it takes xx

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  2. Could not stop laughing at the dialogue.

    Reminds me of the cartoon of the man and woman when they go to bed.

    Him: goes to sleep.

    Her: thinks of all the things.

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  3. Loved this piece Kel. Of all the points you state, I wholeheartedly reinforce number 3. Once boundaries are in place all the other points you suggest – which are essentially acts of self love – will fall into place. Also it’s said that ‘people pleasers attract takers’ – when you engage with people firmly but fairly they will quickly stop counting on you to fix them, even kids are adept at picking up how far they can push you. Boundaries FTW!

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  4. Thank you so much for writing this post. I feel drained and exhausted ALL the time. Sometimes during the day and in particular after work I need some down time – where I don’t have to relate to anything, No demands I have meet. I have always seen this need for breaks as a weakness, but you post reframes it. The breaks are my breathing spaces my healings and I need them to survive (maybe a bit over dramatic). From now on I will acknowledge that need – and see how I avoid carrying everyone’s problems. Thanks.

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      Oh I am so glad Jane. Taking time out is absolutely not a weakness. It’s the thing that allows you to continue being good to others (and yourself)!

  5. “Emotional bandwidth” brilliant. I’ve been respecting the hell out of mine (before I know what to call it) for quite a few months now. The breathing space is liberating. And guess what? No one has been harmed during the process at all! They survive! Who knew! Beautiful writing as always Kelly. Xx

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  6. Great article Kelly. This year I have learnt so much about myself. I take on peoples stress and I am slowly learning to reject it and say to myself this isn’t mine. It is not my problem and step aside.

    At the moment I feel exhausted ( no matter how much sleep I have) – I have 4 kids and a busy time of year. I everything I am learning about myself and also things that have gone on has had such an emotionally draining effect on me.

    I am rediscovering what I love doing again to re energize and refresh myself after coming through post natal depression.

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      Learning *not* to take on other people’s stress is a pretty big thing. It took me years to let go of that habit, but now that I have, it’s really reduced a lot of angst and emotional turmoil in my life!

  7. all so true thanks Kelly!
    I don’t know how you deal with all of that business! it does my head in!
    I try not to get too involved with hooking in to needy people!
    it’s life though and one can’t avoid every sticky situation!
    at this stage of my life i’m happy to step back and observe! … that’s my job!
    the human condition is a very complicated thing!
    much love m:)X

  8. I’m only just catching up on this, and it’s all so true, but my biggest takeaway is the word daycation, and the amazement that I’ve never heard it before and now I want to take a billion daycations.

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