Beyond stress: Women and burnout

Beyond stress: Women and burnout

Key takeaways:

  • Stress is about “too much” and burnout is about “not enough.”
  • Women spend almost 20 hours more every week than men caregiving and housecleaning, sometimes while also managing a career.
  • Follow tips from the checklist – embrace hope and don’t be a heroine.
  • Providence takes care of burned-out frontline caregivers.

[4 MIN READ]

Quick quiz. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I always exhausted?
  • Do I feel like every day is a bad day?
  • Do I feel like nothing I do matters or is appreciated?
  • Do I go through most of my days doing things that feel overwhelming or incredibly dull?
  • Have I been feeling like I’m wasting my energy on work and my home life?

One more question: Are you burned out?

First of all, there’s nothing wrong with answering “yes” to one or even all of the quiz questions -- based on the kind of day or even week you’ve been having. Most of us have times when we feel like no one cares, there’s too much to do and not enough time to do it, or the burden of caring about anything or anyone is just too heavy.

But if you feel like you could answer “yes” to those questions for months on end, you may be dealing with more than occasional stress. Think of the words in that quiz: always, every day, most of my days. Those aren’t “occasional” kinds of words. They reflect an extreme, ongoing problem. And that problem may be burnout.

What’s the difference between stress and burnout?

Burnout and stress aren’t the same. As one expert describes it, the major difference between stress and burnout is that stress involves too much: too much work, too much caregiving, too much to do. While on the other hand, burnout involves not enough: Not enough energy, not enough appreciation from others, not enough hope.

Stress is when you’re facing too many demands, yet you feel like they’ll eventually ease up or you will be able to handle the situation. Relentless stress — it feels like it will never let up — can cause burnout. Burnout is described as feeling empty and mentally exhausted, having no motivation and being beyond caring. People who are burned out often don’t see any hope of anything changing in a positive way.

Causes of burnout — by the numbers

Women especially feel the intense heat of an overworked, overstressed life.

According to recent research by LeanIn.org and Survey Monkey, results show that among women and men who have full-time jobs, partners and children, women are spending an average of:

  • 7.4 more hours per week than men on childcare (39.8 hours vs. 32.4 hours)
  • 5.3 more hours caring for elderly or sick relatives (10.4 hours vs. 5.1 hours).
  • 7 more hours than men on housework (57% of women are spending 21 hours or more, while 60% of men are spending 14 hours or less).

It’s a difference of almost 20 hours more every week. If you’re juggling all of those activities at the same time, that difference is equal to a part-time job.

Because of the pandemic, women are even more likely to be dealing with childcare, caring for sick relatives, cleaning up a home that’s now family headquarters 24/7 and still working full-time. It’s not surprising that more and more women are burning out.

A checklist for change

The warning signs of burnout may be looming in front of you. Or you may already feel the exhaustion and emptiness of burnout. Whatever your situation, now is the time to change direction.

It’s been shown that exercise, eating right, meditation and gratitude help, but there are other ways to deal with burnout. Try the tips in this checklist to help you regain your sense of well-being and get back to feeling energized, focused and positive.

  1. Pay attention to your life. Check how you’re doing physically, emotionally and mentally. Being aware of what’s going on with you in those areas helps you keep yourself from sinking into depression and illness.
  2. Don’t isolate yourself. Social contact can help ease stress and steady your nervous system. Reach out to family and loved ones, build friendships with your coworkers, make new friends within your pod and join online community groups. Just as important, try to avoid interacting with negative people as much as possible — they’ll only drag your mood back down.
  3. Take a breather. Head into your day after taking five to 10 deep breaths. Doing this can help settle your nervous system and give you strength for whatever lies ahead. Try doing the same thing when you’re going into a meeting or helping your child with homework.
  4. Take a break. Get away from work for a few minutes — or a few days. Go for a drive, a walk, or watch a movie. Use your sick days or vacation days to carve out some time for yourself or go on a safe outing with a friend or family member in your social bubble. Taking a break is a much-needed way to recharge body, mind and spirit.
  5. Ask for help. It’s hard to take a break if all the responsibilities you’re juggling are still up in the air. Ask a caring family member or a friend in your social bubble to step in for you, even if it’s just so you can take a 20-minute walk. Negotiate with your partner about taking turns to make dinner, bathe the kids (or the fur babies) and other ongoing duties. The truism bears repeating: You can’t care for others if you’re not caring for yourself.
  6. Disconnect from technology. And connect with yourself. Disconnect to put distance between you and things that may be causing stress. Set a time every day to step away from your phone, laptop, emails and social media. Then use the time for hobbies and activities that help you focus on something that’s enjoyable and not too demanding.
  7. Get moving. Then try resting. It’s important to engage in some form of exercise to get energized and boost your mood. Do something you enjoy so you’ll stick with it. The other side of the coin: Make sure to have some relaxing time. Try yoga, meditation and deep breathing to achieve a state of restfulness that can lower your stress response.
  8. Don’t be a heroine. It’s okay that you’re not Wonder Woman — remember, she only exists in comic books. Accept that you’re not superhuman and let go of the perfectionism that causes so many women to burn out. Hand-in-hand with the need to be perfect is comparing yourself to others. Keep in mind that no one is perfect and there’s not a superhero cape hanging up in anyone’s closet.
  9. Embrace hope. Your thoughts play a major part in how you feel, so try to keep things in perspective. Life won’t always go your way, but you do have the strength to handle whatever happens. When you believe good things will happen to you and you can make good things happen for you.
  10. Plan something fun. A recent poll conducted by The Institute for Applied Positive Research found that 97% of respondents said planning a future trip makes them feel happier. Thinking about and preparing for a pleasurable activity can energize and uplift you. If you’re not ready to schedule a getaway, apply the same planning principle to a garden, spa day, concert or other event you know you’ll enjoy when the time comes. Put it on your calendar and look forward to fun!

Helping Providence caregivers beat burnout

The pandemic has exposed our healthcare workers to extraordinary stress in their efforts to deliver care. Providence knows that caregivers need care, too. There’s a need for greater access to convenient mental health and wellness services, so Providence created Telebehavioral Health Concierge. This new offering grants access to virtual appointments for confidential, convenient mental health care when and where it’s needed.

The concierge is the latest initiative in Providence's long-standing efforts to address caregiver burnout. We’ve also partnered with other health systems and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in an initiative called Joy in Work. This resource offers new thinking and support related to joy in work — to share principles and techniques that enable the workforce to truly thrive, not just persevere.

Even if you’re not a healthcare worker, you may find these tips and articles as helpful as our frontline workers do:

There’s professional help for burnout 

These are all helpful tips, but if you’re still not sure you have the energy to take the first step, think about meeting with a psychologist or social worker. It may be just what you need to help you rise from the ashes of burnout — healthy and whole.

Have you found ways to deal with burnout? Share your tips and results with readers @providence.

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