by Ektha Aggarwal, Clinical social worker (LCSW) and CEO of Shakti Therapy and Healing Services
The content provided here is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek your physician’s advice or other qualified health providers with any questions regarding a medical condition.
Many South Asians—often typically stereotyped as over-achievers—are coming out of the pandemic, priding themselves on how hard they have worked. This co-exists with the duality that many people are also uncomfortable when we’re not producing or achieving something. Burnout is known to impact people who are highly dedicated to their work and effective in their job duties.
Perhaps there is an underlying expectation from yourself or others that if you’re not ready to put in 24/7 work hours, you may not be worth it. Or, with the stay home orders, you may not be able to separate pleasure from work since it’s always at your fingertips.
Burnout has historically been a widely accepted disorder that has been getting more attention since the pandemic. Since burnout happens over time, many people do not notice the symptoms.
Key Signs of Burnout:
- forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating
- diminished enthusiasm or pride in your work
- losing sight of yourself and your short or long term goals
- difficulty maintaining relationships and being present with loved ones
- frustration and irritability with colleagues
- muscle tension, pain, fatigue, and insomnia
- negatively affecting work performance
- keeping you from enjoying hobbies or relaxing outside of work
- increasing risk for health concerns, including cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, depression, and suicide
Once burnout takes over, it can impact your functioning across all areas of your life. Here are 7 tips to manage burnout amidst the pandemic:
1. Take a Break
Take a break at your earliest – this is not a 5 minute break or a day off, but a full disconnection from work for at least a couple weeks. Yes, that means the vacation out of office email message goes into full action. It is recommended to take 2-4 weeks off with no office communication or contact. This means that the work cell phone is turned off, calls are automatically forwarded, and no emails are checked. Creating this break and doing what makes you genuinely happy can help manage the harmful effects of burnout.
Can’t afford to do so? This would be a good time to take advantage of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a federal law that provides some employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year without the threat of losing their job. It is commonly used for major life events, such as child birth or significant illness, however, severe burnout and mental stress does qualify as a FMLA protection. Talk to your therapist to learn more about this. In many cases, four weeks is ideal to recharge and manage the symptoms of non-severe burnout.
Sleep is the third pillar of wellness, in addition to diet and exercise according to Tuck co-founder and sleep coach, Bill Fish. People require eight hours of restful sleep a night to be effective and have sufficient energy to perform. A couple months of consistent and restful sleep will allow you to manage burnout in a healthier way.
3. Eat Healthy
Taking charge of your physical health is one of the keys to managing burnout. When you are stressed, you’re more likely to look for ways to soothe and comfort yourself with food, alcohol and/or other substances. These activities do not cure burnout and, actually, can make you feel worse as well as increase stress levels. Putting down that bag of chips or skipping on that glass of wine for more veggies and exercise fuels your body and your brain.
4. Set Boundaries
Setting boundaries can help you manage stress by not not accepting too many commitments. Too many commitments can overwhelm you and increase burnout. Part of boundary setting is learning to say no with self compassion. By being selective about your commitments, you are taking care of your mental health and managing burnout. Before making a commitment:
Pause and process what will be required to complete the task or project at hand.
Check-in with yourself to see if you have the emotional or mental energy to handle this.
Identify how this project aligns with your purpose or what value it brings you.
5. Ask for Help
When you are experiencing burnout, you may feel that you have to do everything yourself. Confronting burnout is not easy since it can provoke feelings of helplessness. It can be difficult to ask for help when you’re stressed, overwhelmed, and your quality of life has gone down. This is the most important time to ask for help from a therapist so you can process how burnout, stress, or anxiety may cause you to not perform your duties and how it is impacting the quality of your life. A therapist can guide you to identify causes, learn the right set of coping skills, and navigate the challenges of burnout so you can transform your struggles into strengths.
6. Practice Self Compassion
Burnout can bring forward feelings of helplessness, sadness, and guilt. It becomes difficult maintaining relationships and being present with loved ones. You may feel that you can’t do anything right or you’re a failure. This point of burnout is considered severe. Healing begins with love and compassion. Start with offering compassion and empathy to the person standing in front of the mirror. You have been through so much and are still showing resilience. Give yourself love and support for not giving up. Remind yourself that no one is perfect. It is okay to take a break. It is okay to not feel excited, motivated, or happy. Your chances of moving through burnout increase when you offer compassion and play on your strengths.
7. Remember, You Matter
Whatever is going on in your life, remember you are human first before an employee. Your feelings matter. Your thoughts matter. Your experience matters. It is important to put yourself first and take the time you need to re-center. Choose to make yourself and your wellbeing a priority. Center your feelings and your needs. Show up for yourself. You are worthy.
Burnout is a serious disorder and only gets worse with time if it’s not addressed. The effects of burnout on your mental, emotional, and physical health should not be disregarded or underestimated. The best way to prevent or manage burnout is to put your wellbeing first. It takes constant awareness and self-reflection to put yourself first.
“We are constantly trying to hold it all together. If you really want to see why you do things, then don’t do them and see what happens.”-Micheal Singer, Untethered Soul
Ektha Aggarwal is an experienced licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) and CEO of Shakti Therapy and Healing Services based in Los Angeles, CA. Ektha specializes in working with South Asian communities and people of color to break the stigma around mental health to instill immigrant and cultural resilience. To learn more about Shakti Therapy and Healing services, please visit www.shaktitherapyhealing.com or email Ektha at firstname.lastname@example.org.