There’s a large part of me that can’t believe I’ve been in grad school for an entire year already. It feels like time has gone by in a blink of an eye, and I honestly can’t believe everything I’ve accomplished over the last twelve months. But, as weird as it may seem, there’s another part of me that feels like I’ve been at this for far too long, and I’m not quite sure how I’m ever going to survive the next six months left in the program. I’m tired! In fact, I’m mentally exhausted. I’m the most exhausted I’ve been since my boys were babies and treated me to back-to-back sleepless nights rocking in the Lazy Boy recliner. “It’s only a phase,” everyone would say as encouragement as I wearily made it through another day.
You’re probably wondering why in the world I’m sharing this with you. You may find yourself questioning whether this is a cry for help or, better yet, an attempt at getting some sympathy and perhaps a “pity grade” on my Marketing final or upcoming Business Finance assignment. Fortunately, neither is the case. I’m sharing because I see an opportunity through my role as a blogger and my willingness to be transparent to take time to check in on all of you. Through all my interactions with people, I understand it’s been a long, tough year. Everyone has dealt with stress we’ve never dealt with before in our lives, and for many of us, this stress has led to mental exhaustion. In fact, a Forbes article titled “Leaders and Employees are Burning Out at Record Rates: New Survey,” reported that up to 60% of leaders feel used up at the end of each workday which is a strong indication of burnout (Segal, 2021). Can you relate? If the answer is yes, it’s OKAY, you are not alone. This blog has been written just for you!
Is Acknowledgment of Stress & Exhaustion Weakness?
Some people may argue that we shouldn’t acknowledge or profess feelings of stress or exhaustion as it could be misconstrued as a moment of weakness as a leader. Instead, we must trudge along and continue to fight with every last ounce we have left in our bodies and deal with our exhaustion privately or continue to run ourselves into the ground. I don’t believe, though, that this is an achievable expectation for leaders by any stretch of the imagination. Leaders need to acknowledge when they are tired and need not be ashamed of how others perceive them. If being run down continues to get ignored and goes on unaddressed, this issue could inevitably worsen and take a serious toll on one’s health, career, relationships and potentially lead to burnout. This doesn't sound like something worth keeping quiet about.
Signs of Burnout
Although I’d like to jump right in and offer suggestions to treat and prevent mental exhaustion, I want to first begin by going through a list of signs to watch for that may indicate you’re struggling and need to take better care of yourself. There are lots of resources available online with similar lists, so I’ve only included the symptoms I’ve recently experienced or heard acquaintances say they’ve felt:
- Quickly finding yourself irritated by your co-workers, family, and friends
- Find it hard to sleep even though you’re physically exhausted
- On the weekends, you have an overwhelming desire to lay in bed all day instead of getting outside to enjoy some fresh air or take care of routine weekend tasks
- Dozing on your commute to work
- Making excuses not to exercise
- Drinking more coffee and caffeinated beverages than you usually do
- Drinking more alcohol than usual
- Binging, mindlessly snacking, or you've experienced a lack of appetite
- Becoming overly emotional about things happening in life
- Unable to handle a stress load that you've been able to take on the past
- Finding yourself not feeling well or experiencing some health issues
- Forget important dates, meetings, and assignments
- Having a hard time enjoying activities you typically find enjoyable
- Found the snooze button that you’ve never used in the past
I am not a doctor, and I’m not here to give professional advice when it comes to your physical or mental health. But, as a fellow leader struggling with mental exhaustion and as someone who cares about you and your success, I feel that if you can relate to at least a few of the items listed above, you may want to consider calling a brief time out to focus on getting yourself physically and mentally restored. As I stated previously, this has become a real issue for me recently, especially after completing a licensing exam I needed for work. On top of my everyday work, school, and home life commitments, this test was difficult and required multiple hours of studying to prepare. As I look back, the signs of exhaustion were beginning to show well before, but my body and mind let me know that there was an issue in the days immediately following the exam. I found myself unable to get out of bed, and I found it incredibly hard to prepare myself and my family for Easter, which happens to be my favorite holiday that fell on that weekend. My abnormal behavior was my wake-up call, and trust me when I say, it was loud and clear.
Ideas for Pursuing Rest & Peace
So, I quickly decided I needed to take control and put what I've learned and tended to ignore up until this point from various leadership workshops, books, and articles into practice. Like many of you, taking time off work and ignoring my duties as wife and mother were simply not options. So, I made the following list of things that I could relatively quickly put into action and move towards a feeling of self-rejuvenation and mental acuteness once again.
- Let your spouse (significant other or friends) know how you are feeling and see if they have any suggestions or are experiencing the same issue
- Participate in a mindless activity you enjoy (i.e., a puzzle)
- Start your day with a devotion and prayer
- Walk and enjoy time outdoors while taking in some vitamin D
- Send the kids to a friend or family members house and get caught up on sleep
- Avoid drama and issues you don’t need to get yourself involved in
- Take time off from people who zap your energy levels – surround yourself with people who are uplifting and make you happy.
- Eat a clean, healthy diet, and detox your system
- Read a book for pleasure – not a required book for work or school
- Reclaim the television and binge on Netflix, the Hallmark channel, or your favorite movies
These are all relatively easy ways to re-energize without much effort or expense. However, depending on your level of burnout or health, seeking additional help from a professional may be needed. . If you believe that’s you, please reach out to a pastor, doctor, or counselor. Remember, it’s okay to let people know you’re struggling. It could be your first step to begin your journey towards feeling better once again.
Action Steps to Avoid Burnout
So, once you’re feeling better and refreshed, it becomes imperative to take the steps necessary to avoid becoming exhausted once again. To assist with this, I’ve compiled another list of practical ideas for you to consider implementing into your lives for the long haul:
- Pray and spend time with God daily – I find it extremely helpful to begin my day with a cup of coffee, devotion, and quiet conversation between God and I
- Aim for 7 to 8 hours of rest each night and avoid pushing the snooze button
- Exercise regularly
- Eat healthily and drink plenty of water
- Meditate – there are YouTube videos available to guide you
- Determine what you must get done, what can wait or come off your list altogether, and what you can delegate to someone else
- Protect your time by building a schedule to include time for activities you enjoy and find relaxing
- Write in a journal
- Learn to say “NO!" Actually, let's practice now. "No, I can't help this time." "No, I'm just too busy right now." "No, I have to decline at the moment." See, it's not complicated.
- Consciously avoid spending too much time with people or situations that tend to drain you
- Plan for your busier periods by investing in alternatives that will make life easier. For example, hire a cleaning person, do grocery shopping through Instacart or subscribe to a meal delivery service, reach out to other parents for carpooling, and allow yourself time each morning to organize and plan out your day.
As I close, I realize I may have repeated things you already knew and were well aware of. However, my intention was not to bore you, but rather to draw attention to something essential that so many of us leaders too often ignore, OURSELVES! I wanted to step outside of my typical entries that tie in my current coursework and use my recent experience as an opportunity to remind all of you how important you are. As leaders, we are no good to those who count on us if we aren't taking care of ourselves. So, please take this seriously and remember to care for yourselves, get some rest, and remember, it is okay to feel and say you're exhausted from time to time, but follow up by doing something about it before it gets too out of control and serious consequences result.