Burnout is that wall that you hit when you cannot mentally, emotionally, or even physically handle any more stress. It has become so common that people are starting to consider it a normal part of daily life. And the more normalized it is, the harder it is to recognize and fix. Today, Meaghan Lamm talks about what burnout is, how it shows up in your life, and how to work through burnout to make life a little less stressful.
In This Episode:
- What is burnout?
- How to recognize burnout in your daily life
- What you can do to avoid burnout in the future
Listen to the podcast here:
Burnout has become so common that we are starting to consider it a normal part of daily life. The more normalized it is, the harder it is to recognize and fix. Today, we’re going to talk about what burnout is, how it shows up in your life, and how to work through burnout to make life a little less stressful.
Burnout is that wall that you hit when you cannot mentally, emotionally, or even physically handle any more stress. You’re chugging along doing all the things, managing all the moving pieces every day—over and over again—until you run face-first into a brick wall and it knocks you flat on your ass.
It’s really hard to keep going once you hit burnout level because burnout makes you apathetic, burnout breeds mistakes, burnout leaves you feeling overwhelmed and empty. The problem though is that recognizing burnout is actually really difficult! It is important to note that burnout is not just a fancy buzz word. It’s actually recognized by the World Health Organization as a disease. The WHO classifies burnout as “chronic unmanaged stress specifically in the workplace.”
The stress of being overworked, underpaid and hustle culture spins up into burnout. You combine all those things and you have burnout. Then you leave the office and you have to go home and figure out what the hell to make for dinner, which is my daily struggle.
I think that burnout really is a rising phenomenon, thanks to technology. The technology that makes our online businesses possible is also contributing in large part to burnout because when you leave the office, you can now take the office and work with you in the palm of your hand. There are different surveys that have different percentages, but somewhere like 46% to 61% of people check their work email within the first five minutes of waking up. I personally am a Facebook checker, which is an issue for different reasons.
Almost half of us are starting ourselves off with work stress before our feet even hit the floor—which is fucking bananas! We can always be available, so a lot of the times, we feel like we should always be available. I personally do not respond to work emails on the weekend anymore. I used to and that’s a terrible habit. Don’t do that. If you’re doing that now, please stop it.
But I am absolutely guilty of checking my work email when I’m not working, either in the evening or on the weekends. I can pretend that I opened my email app to check my personal email when I’m not working, but we all know that I’m also slipping in there and checking my work email too. What I’ll do usually is I’ll read the email and then I’ll mark it as unread so I come back to it. I have no idea why I have this compulsion to read the email even though I know I’m not going to respond to it. It has absolutely led to some very stressful situations. I highly recommend not checking your work email at 1:00 AM on a Friday. You will not enjoy it.
Once we get in the habit of always being on call and always being available, like once this becomes the normal, it’s almost like our bosses start to expect that from us as the norm. Especially if they’re also a workaholic who’s checking email late at night or working on the weekends or whatever, they expect that other people are doing the same.
I remember working for a boss who actually reprimanded me for not responding to a work-related email that she sent to me at 10:30 PM on a Friday night when I got back to work the following Tuesday. I addressed it when I got back to work on Tuesday, but I didn’t answer it over the weekend. She told me that was “unprofessional.” Those were her words that she used.
I used to know someone who actually prided himself on working 10 to 12-hour days because he thought it made him seem more committed to his job and to the work. I’m not sure how he thought that because all it really did was ruin his marriage ultimately.
I am talking about this in relation to corporate culture. One, because there’s a lot of literature on it. Two, because whether we want to believe it or not, how we experience work-life balance—or in today’s day and age, the utter lack thereof in our corporate careers—is what we bring to the table when we start our own businesses.
I see many discussions on social media around this topic and all the things that contribute to it. It’s like in the world of online business, it’s not bosses, it’s demanding clients. It’s that attractive quality to work whenever you want that somehow morphs into fourteen-hour days or staying up until 3:00 AM to finish that project or that ever-present “work from anywhere” draw that has people working on vacation.
I can take my laptop with me to the beach and I can get some work done if there’s a good Wi-Fi signal, but when I’m at the beach, I want to be at the fucking beach! Not doing work. When I’m on vacation, I want to be on vacation and not working. It is nice to be able to do both, but because you can do both doesn’t mean that you have to.
When I first started my business, I would work from anywhere. The first couple of years really I was homesick. I traveled back and forth from Michigan to Virginia a lot. I was babysitting for a family that I know back there, then my family also still all lives in Virginia.The technology that makes our online businesses possible is also contributing in large part to burnout. Click To Tweet
I was traveling back and forth a lot for holidays to babysit for this family for some extra money and things like that. I would take my laptop with me, and I hated it. I absolutely hated working outside of my office environment. At the time, my “office environment” was a leather rocker recliner. I absolutely did not like working when I felt like I was on vacation. I found it really difficult to motivate myself to work when I wasn’t at home in my normal sort of at work environment.
I thought that I should. I didn’t really know how to take a vacation at that time. I was a teacher before then, so you didn’t really take vacations then either. All your vacations were built into work usually. So I did what I thought I was supposed to—I bought a super-light laptop that was good for traveling. I replaced a really heavy one that was such a pain in the ass to lug around. I bought a nice little carry-on bag that had a good laptop sleeve in it. I schlepped my laptop around with me everywhere for about two years while I was doing all of that traveling because that was a really big marketing tactic back then. Everybody was all about that “laptop lifestyle” and being able to work from anywhere. It was very attractive to be able to travel the world and work at the same time. But I’m just that person where I would rather take a month off and travel the world than travel 24/7 and also have to work at the same time.
So there was a point where I was like, “I can’t do this anymore.” I think it was when I turned 30 in 2017. I was like, “This is the worst.” I took a couple of trips for my 30th birthday because 30 is a big one and I was very excited to turn 30. Those were the first trips—honestly that I took probably in two years—where I did not take my computer. I took my iPad because my iPad was a great way for me to do a little bit of work if there was a straight-up emergency, but it also allowed me to be fairly unplugged because there are lots of things that you actually can’t even do from an iPad.
I was at a place where I didn’t want to anymore. I wanted to be on vacation when I was on vacation and I wanted to work when I was at home in my space to work now. In my opinion, burnout doesn’t just happen at work. The WHO defines this as workplace-related. I can respectfully agree to disagree with them on this one. When you come home from a long stressful day at work, or you step out of your office, or you get up out of your leather rocker recliner, or whatever, and you’re staring down the sink full of dirty dishes, and the stove that hasn’t been cleaned for god knows how long—not that I have any experience with that at all!
The pile of kid toys, whether it’s human kids or fur kids, the problem is the same or the mail that keeps piling up because you’re always too tired to open it—this is burnout too. It should be no surprise to anyone that this extended level of burnout beyond the office tends to hit women harder than men, because the physical and emotional labor of running a household is one, exhausting, two it’s invisible and three, it’s still largely thought of as “women’s work.”
Truly, this can happen whether you’re a couple where there are just the two of you or you have kids. I’m thinking specifically in terms of hetero-couples here because I would imagine the work-sharing dynamics. The emotional labor of running a household is different in same sex or non-binary couples.
But sometimes this even happens to us single ladies. Being single during this pandemic has really pushed me over the edge into my own burnout. At this point, I wouldn’t even say that I blame it on my business either, because I have an amazing team that I trust to make a lot of decisions on my behalf—I know that my business is in good hands when I’m not around—but there are still many decisions that I have to make every single day. It becomes fucking exhausting, especially when many of those decisions lately have been literally life or death.
During the downtown protests, when I lived downtown, it was like deciding whether or not I should stay in my apartment because people were starting fires. It was like, “Should I leave? Is it safer to leave? Is it more dangerous to leave?” Because then I’m out there on the street and it’s like, “If I have to go stay with a friend, what happens to the cats?” That was incredibly stressful to have to make those decisions all by myself but the decision has to be made. It’s almost like you pack it away and you deal with it because you don’t have the luxury of breaking down and letting someone else make the decision when it’s just you.
There has been an ongoing struggle for the last six months of weighing the safety of going out into public, especially when I know that the majority of people where I live are anti-mask and then you stack those bigger decisions up against the mundane everyday decisions like, what to make for dinner and should I figure out how to do reels on Instagram. They eventually become too much when there’s no one to share the decision making with. At least they have eventually become too much for me. It’s like the emotional labor of figuring out whether or not we’re out of cheese.
That can be true whether you’re single and you live alone, or whether you’re single and you have roommates, or you have a partner who they can’t be bothered to write cheese on the shopping list when you run out.Recognizing burnout is so critical, but if you recognize it, you also have to make sure that you do something about it. Click To Tweet
This is why recognizing burnout is critical but if you recognize it, you also have to make sure that you do something about it. Let’s talk about recognizing burnout. From my own experience, I recognize burnout in myself in two ways.
First, I find it absolutely impossible to make small decisions. I become paralyzed trying to figure out small things like what to make for dinner. I recently spent more hours than I’m going to admit to you reading an endless amount of reviews for placemats. You would think that it would be big decisions that would trip me up, like business-related decisions, but it’s almost like I use up all my energy—I have to make those big scary life or death decisions. I don’t have any other choice but to make them. It’s like I almost have nothing left for shit like placemats and what to feed myself. Oftentimes, I don’t want to make anything, but I also have absolutely no idea what I would order if I was going to order something for delivery. Those are the nights where I end up eating like cheese and crackers or cereal or toast for dinner.
The second way that I recognize burnout in myself is I get super irritated with people who criticize or don’t agree with my decisions. It happens fast—in a finger snap. My sincere apologies to my sister, if she’s listening to this, who was on the receiving end of my tantrum about Instagram reels a couple of weeks ago. There’s something in my brain that spins out of control. It’s almost like I’m over here spending so much emotional and mental energy, making all these decisions, so how fucking dare you criticize one of them?
Once I recognize the burnout, if I don’t do anything about it, it gets worse and worse. I’m a human being and feeling shitty sucks. You have to feel shitty to move through the burnout. I’m a human so I tend to avoid it as long as possible which isn’t healthy. I don’t recommend it.
I’m getting better at this. I’m learning better coping skills and things like that from some coaches and some friends. I’m a work in progress. Once I do finally stop fighting it with numbing or cheese and crackers or whatever it is that I’m numbing it with, or reading endless reviews about placemats, the fastest way for me to release all that pent-up stress for my body is to have a really good cry.
I remember watching the show Everybody Loves Raymond. It’s such a throwback, but if you’ve ever watched that show, there’s an episode where Debra, Ray’s wife, he walks in and he finds her sitting on the couch sobbing. Nothing is happening. I don’t even think the kids are home. She’s just sitting alone on the couch and she’s sobbing. He gets really worried about it and of course, some comedy ensues with him trying to figure out what’s wrong and whatever. In the end, she basically tells him, “Sometimes I just need to sit down and release all the tension from my body, all the emotions and whatever by having a really good cry.”
When I was younger, I thought that was the most ridiculous thing I ever heard. Why would anyone want to cry on purpose? But in my adulty adult world, sitting down and having a really good cry is so cleansing. If you don’t do this—if you avoid this because you think that you should only cry when you’re sad or whatever—I highly recommend it. It is the fastest way to release all that energy from my body.
I usually crawl into bed. I cuddle up under the covers, sometimes the cat if he feels like it, will come to cuddle up next to me and I let it all out. I sob into my pillow, I wipe the snot every once in a while and I cry until all the tears are gone. And despite the morning after headache that usually comes from that, I genuinely feel a lot better by allowing the emotions to release from my body.
What I do is I usually reach out to my support system. This one always takes me a few days because I think the way that we think about mental health in our society sucks. I’m conditioned in the same society as everyone else, so I hold back on this because I don’t want to bother people—everyone’s life sucks right now and I don’t want to make other people sad—all these things that people think when they feel uncomfortable reaching out to their support system, even though if a friend came to me with similar struggles, I would never ever be like, “I don’t have time for this. It makes me too sad.” I would sit there, listen and empathize with them.
Once I’ve cried it all out and probably cried it out a little more with my friends, I feel a little more even, a little less pent up. I then attempt to do what I can to lessen the stress of decision making in the future.
If you’re partnered, that might look like a heartfelt conversation over the house or chore responsibilities or emotional labor. For me, since I’m not partnered and I live by myself, I have started instituting new rules for how long I’m allowed to get sucked into reading reviews before buying something that costs less than $50, like placemats. I’m no longer going to spend several days reading reviews for placemats.Having a good cry is so cleansing. It is the fastest way to release all that energy from your body. Click To Tweet
I am still figuring out how to cope with the never-ending struggle of having to feed myself 2 to 3 times a day, seven days a week though. So if you have any good suggestions for me on that—for someone who doesn’t really like to cook—please find me on Instagram or hit me up via email and help a girl out!
The point here though is that burnout is very real. Burnout is insidious and hard to recognize. We learn it from our corporate lives and we observe it into our businesses. It’s a fact that women bear the brunt of burnout. Especially if you’re in corporate, you spend all day making eighty cents on the dollar or less if you’re a woman of color, then you come home and you have to do everything else for everyone else. Please!
We spend our days working at work and then we spend our evenings and weekends working at home. It’s fucking exhausting. But knowing how to recognize burnout, how to work through it, and then how to give it the middle finger so that it and the patriarchy don’t win is everything because you deserve a life you don’t need a vacation from. It’s cheesy but true. That’s it for me. Bye y’all.