Lately, everyone seems to be pulled in a million different directions. But if you’re a woman, you may be especially overwhelmed. “Women today are more burnt out than ever because they’re taking on more and more responsibility in our ever-changing, fast-paced society,” says Emma Demar, LCSW, a therapist with IntrinPsych Woman in New York City.
The trend is so extreme that burnout among working women has hit a three-year high, affecting 34 percent of working females, compared to 26 percent of their male counterparts, according to a recent Gallup poll. And it’s hardly limited to the office. Recent research reveals that moms are tapped out too.
So, if all of this sounds familiar, you’re hardly alone.
Speaking of being alone, when was the last time you were alone? If the answer is ‘I can’t even remember,’ that could be part of the problem. “It’s essential to regularly take a conscious step off the hamster wheel and check in with yourself and attend to your personal needs,” says Demar. “After all, we can’t pour from an empty cup.”
Sounds great, but how do you find the time you need to replenish and recharge? Here’s what psychologists want you to know.
There’s a reason why women feel so drained
“As women, we’re expected to wear multiple hats and juggle a multitude of responsibilities,” says Demar. “On top of that we’re expected to make it look easy.” That’s tricky under the best of circumstances, but today those obligations seem to be growing (and growing). “Boundaries that were once in place, such as the separation of work and home or the division between business hours and private time, have blurred,” says Haley Perlus, PhD, a sports and performance psychologist.
“Now we move from one responsibility to another with little or no time to even think about taking a moment to renew energy, and often our responsibilities overlap.” That, she says, creates even more emotional and mental exhaustion.
Burnout goes beyond being tired
Feeling drained is the most obvious symptom of burnout. However, there are two additional telltale signs. The first — what psychologists call depersonalization — is the loss of connection to your job, friends, or even family. Maybe you suddenly dread opening your inbox in the morning or have zero motivation to schedule lunch with a friend. That’s depersonalization.
The other feature is becoming unrealistically hard on yourself. For instance, your work may be completely fine or even exceptional. Still, you seem to think you’re unproductive or are doing a lousy job.
You can take back the balance
“Many women feel guilty if they take the time to recover because that’s the time they could be spending supporting someone else or crossing things off their to-do list,” says Perlus. “Recovery is perceived as a reward and allowed if they complete all their to-do’s.”
The truth is, we have it all backward. Recovery should be part of your daily routine to prevent burnout before it strikes, not an afterthought once you’re completely fried.
Sounds great, but how do you make it happen? These five strategies can help:
Schedule a daily check-in. Every morning or evening, take a few minutes to sit quietly and observe or write down your thoughts or feelings without judging them, suggests Demar.
Start a daily movement practice. “This can be as simple as a short walk around the block, some flow yoga, or even a stretch,” says Demar. “Use the time to tune back into yourself and experience what sort of thoughts come up.”
Mix it up. Perlus is a big fan of following periods of activity with moments of stillness. “After you’ve been active, try engaging in something that brings feelings of peace, calm, and restoration,” she says. Meditation, deep breathing, or (yes!) Naps are all great choices.
Make a list of things you miss. “These can be activities or relationships that have taken a backseat in your otherwise busy life,” says Demar. “Then, on Sunday evening, take a look at your list to see where you can add one or two of these into your weekly schedule.”
Enjoy small breaks. “When you introduce short recovery pauses, you won’t require hours at the end of the day, weekend, or on vacation,” says Perlus. “Brainstorm what you can do when you have less than five minutes, ten minutes, 15 minutes, or 30 minutes and begin to insert these breaks throughout the day.” Walking the dog, listening to music, a small act of kindness, or tuning in to what you feel grateful for are powerful yet require little time.
If all of this sounds self-indulgent, maybe it’s time to see things from a different perspective. “When you say yes to ‘me time’, you are giving yourself the opportunity to be your best self for the people you love and want to support,” says Perlus. “And they’d much prefer the best version of you to the burnt out one.”
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.
Karen Ansel, MS, RDN
Karen Ansel, MS, RD, CDN, is a nutrition consultant, journalist, and author specializing in nutrition, health, and wellness. Her latest book is Healing Superfoods for Anti-Aging: Stay Younger, Live Longer.