The Challenges of Accepting Burnout

06/23/2019

“I don’t do burnout”! I have heard this statement from clients more than once. 

Acknowledging and accepting that we are experiencing burnout can be quite challenging.

We all identify with certain narratives and expectations about work, career and our own professionalism. These narratives and expectations are personally created, culturally constructed and very often a blending of both.

If we see ourselves, for example, as the professional who always goes above and beyond, the worker who willingly puts in hours of overtime, the colleague available to work 24/7, jumping to take on additional projects, the experience of burnout can often feel like a crisis of personal capacity and professional identity.

On the flip side, work environments also uphold their own entrenched attitudes and narratives that influence and shape how work is to be done. We are expected to adopt and execute these expectations for better or worse. And then there is technology, multiplying our expected availability. This has normalized a new work ethic: work life also means being constantly “on”. 

As the boundaries between work and the rest of our lives become increasingly blurred, the openings for burnout also increase. 

The experience of burnout is very real and very personal. Acceptance is necessary to step through burnout and acceptance is also a challenge in the face of these complex expectations and narratives around work.

“Why can’t I simply cope”?

When unmanageable stress and burnout hit, many clients I have worked with feel anxious and discouraged that they cannot simply cope and carry on with the extreme physical and emotional exhaustion they are experiencing. 

I hear clients express stress, anger and frustration for experiencing burnout. 

I listen to clients who feel further shame and guilt for not being able to work. 

I often witness clients who are constrained by the tyranny of the shoulds; that mix of attitudes, expectations and narratives that are both personal and internalized from the broader work culture. These include uncompromising directives to do better, work harder, be more efficient, be more productive, make no mistakes, be the best, be at the top of one’s game, be perfect.

How familiar do the following statements sound?

“I am exhausted everyday, all day, but I have to carry on, its simply part of being in business”.

“I feel increasingly angry and resentful. I know I am bringing this attitude to work everyday but what can I do? This is life, this is the way this job rolls”.

“I have a good job, good benefits, I am better off than a lot of people. Being burnt out doesn’t make any sense, it isn’t logical”.

“I am the consummate professional, I lead, this is what my employees see and expect. I can’t let anyone down. I can’t be burnt out”.

“I have to work 16 hours a day – my job demands it. I have to be available by phone, text and email all the time. If I am not, someone else will do my job”.

“I am stronger than this, I don’t get burnout, but why do I feel like bursting into tears almost every day now”?

“It’s a weakness to have burnout. Business is tough, life is tough, get over it”.

“I should be stronger, my emotions are getting the better of me. I need to try harder”.

“I feel so flat. Everything at work feels hard. I should be able to handle this. What is the matter with me”?

Acceptance and self-compassion are crucial in stepping through burnout

Experiencing burnout may feel incongruent with how we identify as a professional, with the expectations we have of ourselves and how we work. 

Burnout can be experienced as unacceptable. When we label as unacceptable what we are feeling and experiencing we take on a further emotional burden – “I am unacceptable.” This can be overwhelming and difficult to put into any perspective.

Awareness and acknowledgment are first steps. Acceptance and self-compassion are crucial

Acceptance of burnout does not mean resignation to it. Acceptance helps to reduce the energy we are expending to minimize, deny, judge and/or fight against what we are experiencing. 

Acceptance is a continuous practice that includes:

  • not judging ourselves so harshly – not minimizing what we are feeling and experiencing
  • monitoring our fluctuating energy and motivation
  • offering ourselves a daily dose of self-compassion
  • integrating and managing our evolving experiences
  • staying connected to our lives and being flexible with ourselves
  • regaining personal agency and being active and decisive in creating and implementing healthy changes in our lives
  • exercising our reflective muscles and re-examining our internal narratives and expectations about work and our relationship to it.

Practicing acceptance allows us to re-gain some much needed energy and perspective on our feelings and experiences. Acceptance opens space for self-compassion. It gives us the “internal” room to see, feel and create possible changes to our lives. 

These possibilities include: 

  • re-examining the narratives and expectations we carry about ourselves
  • shifting our attitudes towards how we work 
  • making necessary changes, if possible, to how we work 
  • implementing appropriate boundaries between work and the rest of our lives
  • integrating appropriate, healthy and manageable strategies into our lives that benefit us physically, psychologically and relationally.

Burnout has meaning and requires our acceptance

Burnout is in fact a form of self-protection.

Burnout is a beacon for change. It forces us to re-think time - our time. It forces us to take a closer look at our values, our internal narratives and expectations about work and career, about how we work and how connected we are to our lives, our feelings, our health and well-being.

Each one of these items offers on-going information about how we are feeling, engaging, reacting, perceiving and contributing to our lives and to life around us. When we do not heed this information, our ability to practice the art of staying present, being mindful of, and engaged in, how we experience our daily lives and work is diminished. And this opens the possibility of our experiencing burnout. 

When we can identify, acknowledge and accept the full range of our feelings and experiences without judgment we create preventive measures against burnout.

Britt-Mari helps clients to create and implement positive and personally empowering solutions to stress and burnout. To book a 20 minute initial conversation or to inquire about coaching options please contact her at brittmari@brittmarisykes.ca