Despite some efforts on my part, I’ve been working more. Like, much more. This is partially exciting, as I’m starting up a whole new work venture (Learn about it here and here!!) and it brings me a lot of joy and meaning. And, of course, it’s a colossal amount of work, in addition to my already full private practice, which requires a good amount of my mental energy to run as well as I prefer it to.
I’m trying to pay attention to the effect this might be having on me, and the first place I noticed it (which is always the case with me) was physically. More specifically, in my Neck. My Neck is like my own in-home psychic, alerting me to potential emotional breakdowns long before I experience them. A good hearty cry is three months in the distance? I don’t know about it yet, but I can’t turn my head sideways, so…something is a comin’.
In addition to the physical toll, I’m also trying to pay attention to how I’m interacting with the people in my life. I’m not articulating as well as I usually do, and I’ve mis-stated a few things both in my personal life and my professional one. These mistakes are good markers that it’s time to slow down, and I’ve got a mini-vacation this weekend with my name on it, where I’m going to leave all my work at home and spend three days playing. I need to do it. My people need me to do it, too.
It’s important to watch the impact of burnout on how we interact with others because there is a strong connection there. Our relationships with ourselves inform our relationships to the people in our lives. Have you ever had a terrible, rotten, no good work day and then come home and just emotionally exploded all over your partner? Or had no capacity to listen well to your friend talk about their day because you exhausted all your personal resources? Or walked through life generally irritable for days on end because you couldn’t prioritize your sleep for days, or weeks, or months, or just ever?
This is all of us at times, right? But does it have to be?
In the therapy room, I tend to work with hard-working, brilliant folks that put their jobs at the top of the list and prize their work ethics. Confronting burnout and over-work can be very difficult because, for many of us, what we do feels tantamount to who we are, but I assure you this isn’t the case, or at least isn’t at all the whole picture. The people we choose to have in our lives – our families, or our dear friends, or our coworkers, or our communities – our relationships to those people matter at least as much as our careers, and I would implore us all to consider how well we are nurturing those relationships if and when we are overly focused on being productive and end up getting our assholery all over the people around us.
Listen, I know this is a hard one. It is so hard to choose to take time out for ourselves, and to step away from our work, and to limit how much we produce. Even I can’t stomach the term “self-care” most of the time – but I believe deeply in the general tenets of caring for oneself in a consistent and intentional manner. What might it look like if we could redefine what it means to be a productive human? What if it means doing only ten productive things a day? Or five? Or two? What if it means naps are not a luxury, but a necessity at times? What if it means that fun should be part of our daily lives? What if it means asking for help so we can juggle all the tremendous stressors that seemed to have found their way to us in this miserable excuse for a year?
What would you do if you were really taking care of yourself, and how would it impact your relationships with those you love?