Before the pandemic, work-life balance was already difficult to maintain for many women. Schools, daycares, and offices closed leaving many women with more responsibility and less time to manage. According to recent statistics, around 2 million mothers suffer from burnout and women have lost about 5 million net jobs since the start of the pandemic. Now more than ever is it important to start working towards work-life balance again.
Burnout means more than feeling occasionally stressed. Burnout is defined by the CDC as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy.” The Mayo Clinic put together some questions you can ask yourself to assess if you are experiencing burnout:
- Have you become cynical or critical at work?
- Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started?
- Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?
- Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
- Do you find it hard to concentrate?
- Is there satisfaction from your achievements?
- Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
- Have your sleep habits changed?
Consider what stresses you out daily and decide if it can be resolved. If you are stressed by your workload, then set a meeting with your boss to reevaluate. If you need more help taking care of your kids, then discuss with your significant other or family members how they can support you. Not everything has a simple solution, but identifying what is causing you to feel stressed or burned out is a good first step.
Not everyone feels burnout due to the same reasons, but there are some common factors that induce workplace stress.
Lack of control — Too much on your plate can be the cause of your workplace stress. Stretch opportunities and challenging projects may show initiative and the ability to do senior-level work. Yet, it will not be impressive if you overload yourself with more work than you can accomplish within their deadlines.
Lack of support — Most jobs require teamwork as a skill and, if you are not feeling like a team in your workplace, that can lead to stress. No one wants to be the one doing everything in a group project. Communicating with your coworkers and managers about your stress may lead to a more supportive environment.
Lack of boundaries — With work-from-home situations, the boundary between work and home may have blurred too much. It can be easy to respond to that email in five minutes, but that five minutes turns into a half-hour of responding to emails. Try silencing notifications during specific times of your day. If your work environment demands you take personal time, discuss with your manager about adjusting the workload.
Toxic work environments — Dreading work is not a healthy day-to-day lifestyle. Sure there might be that one co-worker who always jams the printer, but a toxic work environment is when there are multiple negative aspects that go unaddressed. Not getting paid correctly for the workload, an abusive boss, and unrealistic deadlines are examples of problems that create toxic work environments.
There is no single or instant way to prevent burnout as many factors contribute to stress. The best we can do is recognize what causes our stress, address the issues we can solve, and incorporate calming techniques in our schedules. The more you feel you need to overcome stress, the harder it will be to reduce. Work with your stress, so that you can do more of what calms and relaxes you to let those feelings pass. Below are some everyday tasks you can do to improve your mental health.
Take a Break — While it might not always be possible to take a vacation, try to take smaller breaks that start to create boundaries between work and home. Maybe that looks like getting out of your office for an hour of lunch, or it could be turning off notifications after work.
Exercise — Between working all day at a desk and staying within the confines of your home, it may seem difficult to imagine working out. Start small with some ten-minute full-body stretches and walks around your neighborhood. Bring your family into it as well to make it a habit for everyone. Plus, it boosts endorphins!
Sleep — Constant stress often leads to a lack of consistent, deep sleep. The less sleep you have, the harder it will be to focus and complete tasks. Burnout already contributes to increased negative feelings towards your job, the last thing you need is to make simple mistakes. Step up the ideal sleeping environment and take a twenty or thirty-minute nap when possible.
Reduce Caffeine Intake — While that pot of coffee might feel like it is helping you, caffeine exaggerates the body’s physical response by increasing blood pressure and stress hormones levels. Going cold turkey will not be the best solution. Try drinking alternatives that are not as caffeinated as coffee and slowly decrease the amount over time. The best thing to feel energized is getting the right amount of sleep.
Practice Mindfulness — Mindfulness is an awareness of your breath, body, and your mind in the present moment. If you are unfamiliar with mindfulness, this article is a good place to start and includes a video with Jon Kabat-Zinn, who founded the very first MBSR program.
Getting Support — The most important thing to remember is you are not alone in your struggle. Lean on family, friends, and your IAW community to help you. They might be able to help resolve some of your stressors or give advice on how they overcame burnout.
Eliminating workplace stress takes time and will not disappear entirely. However, it is possible to manage workplace stress, prevent burnout, improve work-life balance, and reduce further health risks. If you are taking steps to deal with stress and still feel burned out, then it may be time to find professional help.
Interested in learning more about mental health? Norby Forero is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Certified Play Therapist, and holds a Master’s in Clinical Health and Post-Masters in Child Play Therapy. She and her husband shared a vision to help the Latino community and educate them in a free, accessible, and culturally sensitive way. Thus, they started a YouTube Channel over the pandemic called “Preguntale a Norby,” which now has over 2.3k subscribers. You can listen to her talk to IAW’s President, Megan Bozzuto, on Unlimited HERizons here.