A few weeks ago, I was moved by an article in the NYtimes (How Burnout Became the Norm for American Parents), darkly exposing the burden of overwhelm that I’ve been feeling the last several months.
Parenting or not, many of us are dealing with exceptionally strange circumstances amidst the pandemic. Even as some parts of “life before COVID” are reemerging, it can be difficult to cope with this new normal.
Thankfully, I’ve been able to rely on a great deal of understanding and support from friends, loved ones, and the communities I’m a part of. Still, seeing articles like this shared in the mainstream helps me validate the particularly vulnerable daily struggle.
As nice as it is to feel seen and be reminded that I’m not the only parent struggling, the article leaves me uncomfortable and found wanting. Frankly, after reading the piece, the weight of the everyday burden of suffering feels a bit heavier on me, leaving me with an even stronger sense that my resilience is lacking.
I already know I’m overwhelmed and burnt out, in fact, I’m overwhelmed by the overwhelm. This is my cursed burnout cycle.
Just as the Time’s article suggests the millennial tendency to persist, I find myself engulfed by a responsibility to “fix” my situation and try harder to make it work, perpetuating the dangerous cycle – so what am I to do?
The piece suggests establishing small communities of support, and while I agree that relationships and community are a considerable factor in reducing and preventing burnout, this isn’t exactly easy or approachable for many of us right now. Cold weather and flu season are around the corner, so social gatherings and playdates will become all the more challenging to navigate safely and still enjoy.
To be fair to the advice offered in the NYtimes article, I have made a point to connect more with friends and family, and it has made a world of difference for my stamina and spirit. With monthly girls nights and standing play dates on my calendar, it’s true that things feel a little less strange and bleak, but it’s not the whole picture.
I still struggle in a dazed survival mode each workday, consumed in the messy work-life integration.
I still feel a pressure in my heart to solve my way out of this feeling: the insidious sense that I have a problem I can barely define because it’s made up of a million little things.
How can I fix a problem I can’t rightly define? How can I pick it apart when all the details are fuzzy, and I’m too tired to find my glasses?
A google search of “burnout” yields more than 94 million hits, offering plenty of treatment tips, all too overwhelming to consider implementing for those of us with little to no energy to spare. In my current state, even micro self-care can seem an impossible feat -So what can I do?
Breaking in my resilience to tamp out the burnout cycle
My years-long relationship with my imposter syndrome would have me believe that I am not resilient, that I am not able to persist in adversity. Even with plenty of evidence to the contrary, I’m not inclined to see it myself. A daily scroll of instagram #inspoquotes further affirms my resilience, but those only go so far.
Honestly, I need to give myself a break; cut myself some slack; loosen my grip on this “problem” of burnout that I’m not ready or able to let go of yet.
I can’t look at this as an insurmountable obstacle, and I can’t look at it as something that I can gratifyingly demolish in one fell swoop of productivity mastery. I must look at it through a different frame.
Breaking the burnout cycle will require a daily practice that, like building a habit, is bound to be full of setbacks intermingled with progress.
Without being prescriptive or regimented (because I seriously don’t need ANOTHER thing on my to-do list), there must be a daily dismantling of the hold that stress has on my life.
Like breaking in an unworn pair of shoes, I need to walk around a bit in my resilience until I can wear it proudly and comfortably. Here’s how:
- When I notice myself slipping into the deep end of stress, I’m going to do just that — notice. » This is mindfulness.
- When I feel the “problem” of overwhelm coming on, I’m not going to make a grand plan to upend my life to fix it, I’m not going to get down on myself for all the ways I’m failing. I don’t need to make this harder on myself than it already is. » This is kindness.
- When I don’t have time to find a positive affirmation, give myself a compliment or find the exception in my behavior, I’m not gonna worry about it. I can save my energy and skip the labored self-cheerleading. I’ll accept my awesomeness as a fact. » This is self-love without effort.
All that to say, that with fresh eyes, I can at least agree with the authors reflection, “Overwhelmed and overworked parents are on the brink. They need to cut themselves some slack.”
As we all try to get through each day, just doing our best, extend some kindness to yourself and give yourself a break.