The Common Habit That Can Worsen Burnout Symptoms — and How to Fix It

·8 min read
Photo credit: FG Trade - Getty Images
Photo credit: FG Trade - Getty Images

Scrolling through Instagram and TikTok, you'll find thousands of influencers who seem to juggle family, work and social life flawlessly. If you've hit your limit, woke up late for the second time this week and ended up eating take-out rather than cooking, you're not alone. Between a career, parenting, home management, safeguarding your family's health in a new COVID world and all the other responsibilities that come with being a fully functioning adult, it's easy to feel like there aren't enough hours in the day to do everything you need. And those social media influencers who seem to be managing everything flawlessly certainly don't help.

In a study by TrueveLab in academic collaboration with The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Industrial and Organizational Psychology graduate program, co-principal investigators Dr. Darria Long, Dr. Christopher J. L. Cunningham and Dr. Kristen Jennings Black looked into burnout in women, why it's so prevalent and what you can do to keep from feeling it yourself. The study was done in partnership with Good Housekeeping.

In a group of 4,205 participants, more than 40% of working women reported experiencing feelings of burnout, and 87% of all participants felt like they "never had enough time to get everything done at home." What does this mean? That burnout can affect all aspects of your life, bleeding into your social life or work no matter where it originated. Here's why you may be feeling like everything keeps falling through the cracks, and what you can do to help get yourself back on track.

Burnout comes from many sources, not just work.

Most people link the term "burnout" with being overworked at their job, and think that it can be remedied by taking a few days off or having a relaxing weekend. In actuality, burnout can originate from any aspect of your life whether that be your health, social life or home management.

As women take on more and more roles in their day-to-day lives, burnout can come from a variety of spaces. This was especially true during the height of the pandemic, when stay-at-home measures required women to take on additional childcare and homeschooling responsibilities, but still persists even after schools have reopened their doors. Whether it's being overwhelmed by a project in the office or the feeling that it's impossible to get on top of household chores, burnout can strike hard and leave some women feeling like they're failing, while everyone around them is somehow thriving.

While there's no way to find more hours in the day, a strong support system was positively linked to less burnout in subjects, so having support systems at work or home can help you manage everything on your plate. But unfortunately, women are often in the role of the support system rather than the one being supported. As one participant says, "I provide emotional support for my father, mother, kids and spouse [it's exhausting]. Who is looking out for me? I bet you can guess the answer."

The "Do It All Discrepancy" is real.

While just 7% of women actually feel they can "do it all," somehow 82% feel they should be able to. This is the "Do It All Discrepancy" — the difference between what women are actually able to achieve and what they feel they should be able to, or is expected of them. It's nearly impossible to get everything you want done in the day, but many women deal with the pressure of balancing a few different roles and expecting to be able to put 100% of their energy into each of them. One study participant said, "I have an overall feeling of guilt as a parent that I could be doing more. I don't feel like a bad parent, just that I could and should do more or better or different even though I don't know exactly what else I should be doing. It's just a general anxiety or unease of 'am I doing enough?'"

So why the huge gap? One thing we know for sure, your favorite mommy-bloggers and parenting influencers may actually be causing these negative feelings. More than 60% of women compare themselves to those that they feel can "do it all," which is exceptionally easy to do when you have thousands of picture-perfect influencer accounts right at your fingertips.

Increased time on social media makes the burnout worse.

While it feels like scrolling through Instagram or watching a few videos on TikTok will help you take a break during a stressful day, it can actually be contributing to your overall negative emotions. According to the study, after using social media, "women are more likely to feel negative rather than positive emotions in self-comparison to others," predominately when it comes to feelings of envy or worry. Unfortunately with the rise of social media, the average woman is surrounded by influencers who make them feel guilty for not also being able to wake up at 5 a.m., spend an hour at the gym, pack a fancy lunchbox for their children and clean the house all before an eight-hour day at the office.

Before you frantically check your screen-time, keep in mind that it's not the time you spend scrolling, but how you feel while doing so. Because social media helps give us a window into other people's lives, it functions as a platform for wider comparison. While looking at that influencer's perfect family pictures, you're missing all the behind-the-scenes drama that comes with day-to-day life. Striving for perfection every second of the day will certainly lead to burnout and as one study participant says, "I always have a feeling of anxiety of never being good enough or knowing if I am doing the right thing at either work or home."

So what can we do about it?

Monitor your social media use.

The likelihood of putting your phone down and deleting every social media app forever is near zero, so while there's nothing wrong with taking a well deserved break from Instagram, you luckily don't need to go off the grid to start feeling better. While scrolling through your feed, take a minute to gauge your feelings. Are you excited about learning something new or are you starting to feel that pit in your stomach because you can't help but compare yourself to influencers or friends who seem to be doing it all?

Step one: acknowledge what you're feeling and accept it for what it is. Whether you're worried or envious of those you see online, know that what you're seeing is far from the whole story. Each picture or video is a glimpse into what that person is willing to share with the world, and is only showing what they want you to see. You may post a picture of that cake you just baked but conveniently leave out the mess you left in your kitchen, the bill from the expensive ingredients and the fact that it didn't taste so good after all. Keep in mind that everything you see is just one piece of the story and don't let it fool you into believing other people have picture-perfect lives outside of social media. If you find an account that is particularly triggering for you, unfollow. You'll feel better in the long run not having to confront accounts that make you feel worse.

Figure out what's most important to you.

There's only so many hours in the day and you simply can't do it all, no matter what it seems like everyone else is able to do. Instead of spreading yourself too thin, focus on a few things that are especially important to you. And don't forget to incorporate things in your daily life that bring you joy. Rather than doing a mediocre job of everything, focus on trying to do a great job on a few things that mean the most to you. This will help you feel less like you're failing at everything and give you clear goals that are manageable.

Make a change.

The best way to getting yourself out of that rut and feeling less like you're drowning in a sea of unfinished work? Make a systematic change.

According to the study results, employers and policies need to change by reducing the number of demands in female-identifying workers and giving more access to resources to help manage these demands and side effects of burnout. However, you can help make this change on an individual level as well. Speak with your employer, partner, family or friends to see if there's anything you're responsible for that you can redistribute to someone else.

Remember, burnout isn't just from work, it can be from home management, parenting and more, so use clear communication to discuss what you need moving forward to help prevent you from feeling overwhelmed. Having a strong support system in place to help you manage everything will keep you from feeling like you have to go it all alone, and shifting some of the responsibilities to others nearby will free up some of your energy and time.

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