Design a Work-Life Balance to Reduce or Prevent Burnout
Balance and moderation are concepts that we can apply to many aspects of self-care. When we think about burnout, we usually think about work, and how certain stressful jobs can lead to a sudden exhaustion, emotional disillusionment, and loss of interest and enthusiasm for work. But burnout can occur in any situation in which we throw ourselves wholeheartedly into the task at hand. Caregiving is known for burnout, as is the world of causes and volunteering.
We can think of ourselves as a big pitcher, and we start out full of cold, clear water. Then we give and give and give to anyone who comes by, and we take pride and satisfaction in helping people who are thirsty. But unless we occasionally take a break and fill up our pitcher, we’ll find ourselves empty. When you have given all you can give, you are left empty. You need to find a way to refill your pitcher.
This is a simplistic model, and life is, if anything, not simplistic. But many of us also have a simplistic picture of our lives that contributes to burnout. Think of a pie chart, and each wedge of the pie is weighted for how important each section is, as measured by time and resources spent. This is a chart of our life, and naturally we want to think family is the biggest piece of the pie. But if we are weighting our pie pieces by resources and time spent, what is getting the biggest piece of your pie?
Family can be a source of both stress and reward, and so can work. Think of a new pie, one that maps our rewards and happiness. What makes you happy? What rewards you for your time and effort? Jobs can provide us with money, status, social networks, challenges. Families give us identity, belonging, a community, people to love, people to protect and nurture. Do your two pies match? Does the amount of time and resources spent in the first pie line up with the rewards from the second? Is your life in balance?
When we are particularly tired and stressed, it seems like there is nothing good in either pie. The pie is a heavy black iron circle, like a lost manhole cover, and we’re dragging it around after us where ever we go. Sometimes, on a summer Saturday evening, when work has not crossed our minds all day and the kids have been angels and it’s sunny and warm, the entire pie is a cool Key Lime, with a perfect meringue on top. In one instance, our pitcher of water is bone-dry, and has been for some time. In the second, we’ve taken the time to refill, maybe even at the beach!
Pies and pitchers aside, the balance that is necessary to prevent burnout and treat it is critical for us to reach our potential as human beings–a balance between what we take and what we give. With crises of various kinds happening left and right, the only way we can make sure the world is saved is for all of us to live up to our full human potential. All of us together can take the weight of the world; that means it doesn’t need to rest on your shoulders alone. And, if we are going to reach our human potential, things have to happen that are out of your control. What we each can control is our small piece of the big pie, and sometimes even that is iffy.
Pies, again. It might be stretching the metaphor to imagine that you are a crumb on the graham cracker crust of the Key Lime pie of the world. Your only job is to taste like butter and not get soggy. You aren’t responsible for the meringue or the quality of the eggs or the flavor of the limes. But enough with the pies. Let’s fill our pitchers.
Creativity, in whatever form, is one way to tap into the joy in the world. Women have long known the happiness that comes from taking something old and worn out, and using it to create beauty–beauty that functions to keep the family warm. The slow, quiet, rhythmic work of spinning wool, or knitting, quilting or sewing, is a type of moving meditation that gives us the quiet and the creative time to fill ourselves again. Paintings do not have to be sold to have value. Songs don’t need to be sung by anyone but ourselves. Think of these small creative works as gifts you are giving the world. They may become gifts you are giving to yourself.
Sometimes women gather to work on a quilt together. The creative with the gift of human connection–we call it social interaction these days, and count out the number of people we’ve interacted with in a meaningful way outside of work and family, as if there is a minimum number for good health–but what it really means is making human connections, being a part of the human world. Listening to other people, being listened to, with respect. And maybe sharing a piece of pie.
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