By Sandra Possing – Life Coach, Regula Badertscher – MSW, LGSW, Laura Miller – LCSW, Christy Jordan – MA, CAP, LMHCI, Margalis Fjelstad – Ph.D., LMFT
“Promise me you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head above the waves that you forget, truly forget, how much you have always loved to swim.”
~ Tyler Knott Gregson
Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and even physical exhaustion brought on by long periods of stress.
It can happen at work, but it can also be the result of caretaking a dysfunctional emotional environment in a relationship.
Being in a relationship with a partner who is emotionally disabled by narcissism, borderline symptoms, depression, high anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, or other problems that make them incapable of being fully functional will inevitably bring you to a state of burnout at some point.
By definition a relationship is an exchange of caring, love, mutual support, and sharing of life experiences.
Life has its ups and downs, and when your partner is hurting or overwhelmed you may end up carrying more of the weight of the relationship for a while.
However, when a partner or family member has on-going or recurring emotional malfunction or dependence that never resolves, you can end up feeling exhausted, angry, irritable, even cynical and resentful.
In addition, emotional dysfunctions may lead your loved one to blame you for how they feel, not appreciate your help, and still demand more and more of your time and attention.
Many people with emotional dysregulation, mental illness, or negative personality traits have no sense of anything being wrong with themselves.
There is even a psychology term—agnosia– for this lack of self-awareness. They commonly believe that all of their troubles are caused by the person closest to them, YOU, and that you’re being mean, inconsiderate, uncaring, or purposefully hurtful to them even as you’re trying to help. As a result, you may even start believing that their pain is your fault.
Taking on responsibility for another person’s emotional anguish caused by mental illness or a personality disorder will inevitably lead to your feeling overwhelmed, powerless and burned out. Your loved one may never be medically diagnosed, which makes it even harder for you to sort out what you are responsible for and what you can or can’t do to help.
This type of burnout is called compassion fatigue.
Doctors, nurses, therapists, ministers, and other types of helping professionals commonly face compassion fatigue. They give and give and feel like nothing ever gets better as more and more people need their help. You, too, can find yourself overwhelmed, confused, and unable to cope effectively if you are trying to manage someone else’s ongoing, never-ending emotional turmoil.
What causes relationship compassion fatigue?
- Giving out continuously without getting recharged.
- Feeling the other person’s pain more than your own.
- Ignoring your own needs.
- Believing that you are the only one who can help.
- Feeling responsible for the other person’s pain.
- Belief that you’re not doing enough.
- Lack of self-compassion.
- Lack of boundaries.
How can you deal with burnout compassion fatigue?
1. Clarify your situation. Even if your partner won’t seek medical or psychological help, start doing your own research. Check out medical web sites, like WebMD or the Mayo Clinic, for information. Even better, talk to a therapist or your family doctor about the behaviors you’re seeing, and ask for their help. Read articles and books by professionals for information on symptoms, behaviors, prognosis, medications, and so forth.
2. It’s not your fault. Emotional dysfunction, distorted personality, and mental illnesses are not caused by other people. They are internal health problems. You didn’t cause their problems, even though they may blame you. Thinking that you are the cause of your loved one’s problems is tempting to believe, because it makes you believe that you can do something to fix or change the situation, which you can’t.
3. You can’t cure your partner’s mental illness. There is nothing you can do to cure someone else’s emotional problems or change their personality. Doing everything your partner demands will only reinforce their dysfunctional behaviors and beliefs. Let go of thinking that you have the ability or even the right to force them to change. It can take a load off your shoulders.
4. Stop feeling your loved one’s pain. Empathy is not about feeling another’s pain. Empathy is caring about another’s pain. Being concerned, compassionate, and kind are empathetic responses. Actually, feeling your partner’s pain is the fast track to burnout.
5. Increase your self-compassion. Believe in your own good will. Obviously, if you’re sinking into burnout, you have a great deal of compassion and caring for your loved one. Now is the time to have the same amount of compassion for yourself and your needs.
6. Expand your self-care. Burnout happens when you’re doing so much for another that you ignore or refuse to care for yourself. Caring for another to the detriment of your own health is reasonable only in life or death situations. Long-term caring demands that you recharge yourself so you can keep going.
Take time for yourself on a regular basis to exercise, meditate, and enjoy your life, even if that means you won’t be available for a short period of time to attend to your partner’s needs. Actively seek out support from friends, family, and professionals. Don’t fool yourself that you don’t have the time or energy. You have to take the time or you may fall ill or say or do something you’ll regret.
7. Set boundaries for yourself. Don’t take responsibility for anyone else’s behaviors beliefs, or feelings. Don’t let yourself be bullied, manipulated, abused, or taken advantage of. Walk away when things get tense or you’re feeling uncomfortable. Leave the house, hang up the phone, stop responding to texts or emails until the person calms down.
8. Stop fooling yourself. You can’t fix or cure someone else’s negative personality traits or emotions. Being supportive does not mean giving up your life, needs, friends, or healthy activities. You also need help to get through a partner’s emotional deterioration. Practice good self-care, and strive to make rational, grounded decisions. Be in charge of your own emotional health.
Margalis Fjelstad, Ph.D., LMFT – www.margalistherapy.com
This is not okay.
As a culture, we’ve normalized being chronically busy. We have convinced ourselves that busy = productive = valuable, and decided to make our very worthiness as human beings contingent upon how busy we can make ourselves.
We have accepted “burnout” as a reasonable cost to pay, in order to prove ourselves and be considered “successful” by our family, friends, and peers. But this is NOT okay. It’s NOT healthy. And it’s NOT sustainable.
Here are 5 proven tips for overcoming burnout:
1. Practice radical self care
I say “radical” self care, because simply choosing to put yourself first may feel like a radical act, when societal conditioning has likely trained you to put yourself last. But, like with the classic oxygen mask on the airplane metaphor, you MUST take care of yourself first, or you’ll be pretty useless to everyone else.
Neglect your needs, and you’ll not only have little left for helping others, but you’ll soon begin to resent them too.
Practice self care, and since you’ll be more rested, grounded, and energized, you can then show up and serve from a place of desire, rather than obligation.
Please note: self care is unique to you.
Look for the activities and routines that make YOU feel energized and renewed. Introverts, for example, may require more alone time. Artists and creatives may feel most energized by carving out time for self expression. People whose love language is “quality time spent” may need more meaningful conversations and less small talk. Make space for what feeds your soul.
2. Set healthy boundaries
Burnout is often exacerbated or accelerated by weak boundaries. I know it’s tempting to say yes to everything. But get clear on what is actually acceptable to you and not.
Start saying no when you mean no! And say yes ONLY when you mean yes.
This may mean suggesting that a colleague hand off a project to someone else, rather than to you as they normally do. It may mean declining family or social invitations when you’re tired. It may mean spending less time with that friend who drains you with all her whining and complaining.
You are always training your world, and if you do not train the people around you to know what your boundaries are, they will likely violate them.
People aren’t mind-readers (as much as we want them to be), so you’re actually doing them a favor by clearly communicating your preferences to them.
3. Simplify your day
Take a brutally honest look at how you spend your time every day. What are you actually doing? Do most of those tasks and activities even need to be done? Do they really need to be done by you? Could they be done more efficiently in a different way?
Write down all the things you typically do every day and every week in your personal and professional life.
Then, decide the following:
- What can you eliminate?
- What can you delegate to someone else?
- What can you automate?
- What can you optimize?
This may look like taking social media apps off your phone to eliminate distraction and unhealthy comparison… Hiring a housecleaner, tutor for your child, or virtual assistant for your business… Using email templates and scheduling software to automate digital tasks… Or simplifying a project workflow to save time and resources. Most of us overcomplicate things most of the time.
4. Train your mind
While overwhelm can result from very practical real world responsibilities and tasks piling up, it can ALSO result from not managing your mind properly. This is where mindset and mindfulness come in.
Most of us live in the past and in the future. We waste time and mental energy replaying past events and feeling shame, regret, and guilt… even though there is literally nothing we can do to change the past! Or, we waste time and energy worrying about things in the future that haven’t even happened yet, even though we can’t predict or control the future, thus living in fear and anxiety… Not helpful!
What you want to do instead is live in the present, as much as possible.
I know, it’s not easy. But you can get there with consistent effort and commitment. Mindfulness practices like meditation, breathwork, and yoga can help. As can simple mindset work.
For example, if you notice yourself feeling shame, guilt, or regret, you’re likely thinking about the past. Pause, breathe, forgive yourself for thinking those thoughts, and then focus on the present. Or, if you’re feeling worried or anxious, you’re likely thinking about the future. Pause, breathe, forgive yourself, and shift your focus back to the here and now.
Or even better, focus on something you are grateful for. As often as you can. Gratitude is one of the most simple, yet effective ways to rewire your brain.
5. Personal development
A decision to improve yourself and your life can work wonders for burnout. Simply putting a little attention and intention toward your relationship with yourself can profoundly change how you experience your daily life. And don’t worry, it doesn’t have to take much time.
Spend just 5 or 10 minutes every morning on “me time”. And do the same at night. Do something that helps you get in touch with yourself. Then, gradually increase the amount of time you spend on these rituals as you feel better. Activities like meditation, reading self improvement books, visualizing, affirmations, journaling, or writing out your intentions for the day are great ways to charge your battery and set the tone for the day.
Extra credit: If you’re truly ready to overcome burnout and uplevel your life, consider hiring a coach to facilitate your transformation in a fast and effective way.
A mindset coach, for example, can help you become a high performer while still feeling grounded, calm, and at peace.
Sandra Possing, Life Coach – www.sandrapossing.com
A woman in a supermarket checkout line was shaking and crying as she paid for her purchases, clearly at the end of her rope.
Another woman in line kindly commented to her that this must be a super hard day for her. The first woman said that she was totally burned out and didn’t know how she could cope anymore with the stresses in her life.
The second woman listened compassionately and handed the first woman what looked like a calling card.
The woman in distress thought the card was probably promoting something like a counseling service and started to tuck it in her pocket as the second woman walked away.
But then she glanced at it and saw that the only words on it were You matter. She left the store feeling comforted and standing a little taller.
- How close are you to burnout?
- Are the many demands you face from trying to meet the needs of family members, friends, employers, co-workers, or other prominent people in our lives leaving you at the end of your rope?
The truth is that you matter as much as everyone else.
In fact, putting yourself first is essential for your well-being. No one else will make sure your needs get met if you act as if you don’t matter. Putting yourself first is not a selfish act, it’s a self-honoring one.
You will most certainly burn out if you give all of yourself away to others and neglect to keep yourself filled up.
What can you do to fill up in the face of burnout? To remind yourself that you matter?
First, get super honest.
Ask yourself what needs to change to ease the pressure you are under? Is it time to move out of a job, a relationship, or another situation that you treat as mattering more than you do?
As the saying goes, if nothing changes, nothing changes.
To remind yourself that you matter, think of one step you could take to make a change in the right direction.
Do you need to have the talk with someone who controls too much of your life, letting them know you are done giving in to their excessive demands? Or maybe you need to start a job search? Eat healthier food? Part ways with someone who doesn’t value you?
Only you know for sure what that first step needs to be, but don’t hesitate to ask someone you trust to offer you an idea as well. Sometimes others see our self-destructive habits better than we can.
Taking that first step to take better care for yourself can seem overwhelming, but you can start small.
Try asking yourself a question and rank the answer on a scale of one to ten.
For example, ask yourself “How healthy am I eating on most days?” If your answer is five, then ask yourself “What would it take to move myself to a six?” Then celebrate your progress as you move up the scale.
Another way to pull yourself back from the edge of burnout is to take mini-breaks. Several times a day, stop for a couple minutes to fill yourself up emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
Here are a few ways you can give yourself a couple minutes “off.”
- Stop to look – really look – at something around you that gives you pleasure. A piece of art. A photo of a dear one. A plant in bloom. Even the colorful cover on a notebook. Let your breath slow so you can enjoy this bit of beauty fully.
- Move your body slowly, mindfully. Do a yoga stretch or a qigong move. Gently pat your shoulders and arms. Step up to a window or just outside your door and look around.
Giving mindful attention to your body moves you out of the routine habits of your day and connects you to the pleasure of feeling alive. It also “wakes up” your energy.
- Set a gentle-sounding bell or tone to ring on your phone at regular intervals throughout your day. Use this gentle reminder to pause and think of something you are grateful for. You can download a mindfulness app that will make this easy.
- Ask someone for help. People love to help each other so you’re actually doing someone a favor by reaching out and asking them to lend you a hand. And of course, you’re easing your load as well.
Don’t let burnout become the norm for you. Treat yourself like you matter – because you do!
Regula Badertscher, MSW, LGSW – www.regulabadertscher.com
While life often ebbs and flows, it is understandable that we may easily fall into periods of burnout. The question isn’t usually how we got there, but rather what do we do now?
Here are a few ideas to consider that may help you recharge your 0% battery:
1. Set Some Limits and Boundaries:
If you’re burned out at work or in your relationships, consider setting some healthy limits for yourself. Learn to prioritize tasks and assign time limits to spend on each one.
Set realistic goals (No, Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor are most problems or dilemmas solved in one either!), and remind yourself that you are taking small steps in the right direction.
Allow “No” to quickly become the most important word in your vocabulary as you’re tempted to continue to do too much!
Find encouragement that not overextending yourself is good for both you and for others! Instead of doing many things poorly, try focusing on a few things and do them well.
2. Practice Self-Care:
Set aside at least a couple of hours every week for an activity that builds you up. Is it time for a massage? When was the last time that you read a good book (that wasn’t related to your job)? Connected with a friend? Went for a bike ride?
Self-care is NOT selfish!
Whenever we fly, our flight attendants politely remind us that, in the event of an emergency when the airbags drop, we are to put on our own mask before helping the child next to us.
We are at our best, physically, emotionally, and spiritually when we take time to care for our own needs!
Find what fills you up (a hobby, time spent with others, etc.) and do just that.
3. Limit Negativity:
Negativity can come at you in many forms: other people, social media, the news, etc. While we cannot completely escape our realities, it is important to limit the amount of negative information we let in. Let that call go to voicemail or respond to that text or email later.
Set a time limit when scrolling through your social media accounts, and then promptly log off.
Consider taking certain apps off of your phone to limit the temptation to overexpose yourself, and disable notifications that seek to draw you in.
You can stay informed without being overwhelmed when you limit the amount of information you take in. If it’s a particular person that is overly negative, consider limiting contact or severing the relationship altogether.
Finally, be encouraged that you are not alone!
Burnout affects all of us at times in our lives, and this year has been an unusually trying time for most of us. By practicing good habits, you can lessen both the frequency and the intensity of burnout and move towards increased emotional health.
Laura Miller, LCSW – www.millerfamilytherapyinc.com
Set boundaries with yourself and others!
Common reasons we tend to burn out is because of a lack of boundaries, a need to overcompensate, people please, have a scarcity mindset and run into not having balance.
Be assertive, utilize benefits and resources whether that is EAP therapy sessions through your employer, utilizing a planner, saying no to additional projects and overtime at work if possible and unmanageable. Seek out and increase your support system to maximize accountability.
Having a lack of boundaries with work can cause burn out and a decline of productivity despite working more hours or taking on more projects. Set aside time for rest and passions to recharge so you can be more productive and prevent burn out.
Overcompensating for others, yourself or from childhood trauma leads to burnout. Reflect on each of these individually to see if any of these are the cause of burnout or overcompensation in your life.
Being in a scarcity mindset can cause burn out.
If you have thoughts that you HAVE to work overtime or you will be fired or need the income, cannot set boundaries at work, with family or with others due to feeling like you have to hold on to them or they will let you go, overwork, over commit and do not make time for yourself because you simply cant “afford” to you may have a scarcity mindset causing burnout.
Use accumulated vacation, PTO and sick time.
Hoarding vacation, PTO and sick time can be caused by anxiety, fear and having a scarcity mindset. Take time off when you need to create balance, reduce burn out and increase longevity and productivity.
People pleasing leads to burn out, you cannot please everyone!
If you feel like you are letting others down, failing to meet expectations of yourself and others that are not realistic it will cause a cycle of a need for reassurance and possible resentment towards others during burn out.
Acknowledge resentment that you may have towards a boss, family member or a friend.
- Ask yourself what is causing the resentment?
- Why are the needs that are not being met in the relationship important to you?
- Can you be assertive in expressing resentment to release resentment and set boundaries to have more balanced relationships and environments?
Rest, relaxation and making time for self-care IS being productive!
Create balance through creating a routine for yourself that includes self-care. Manage your time just like you would your money, have some SAVINGS in your time, budget for yourself. Create boundaries with work, family, friends and personal. Think about your priorities, distractions, obligations and passions and how you want to create a routine around what’s important to you.
Consistency is key. Create a plan but consistency is important in preventing burn out and obtaining balance.
Create an upcoming plan that includes Personal, Spiritual, Physical, Relational, Financial and Professional goals.
Create a nighttime routine that includes the 5 senses to decompress your senses that may have been heightened throughout the day. Plan ahead and set measurable short term goals.
When going out, set time frames for yourself and tell others in advance your departure time or how long you will be staying for events, set boundaries with yourself prior to social events of topics you will not engage in communication with to prevent being burned out by talking about subjects that cause you anxiety or fatigue.
Christy Jordan, MA, CAP, LMHCI – www.findinghopetoday.com