Incredible Women and Burnout
Burnout is an experience that can affect anyone. Our previous blog, Do I Have Burnout?, explains some causes and how to care for burnout.
Another layer to understanding burnout is recognizing the impact of gender role expectations. For women in today’s demanding society, burnout is all too common. From how women are expected to behave and dress, to unrealistic body image expectations, and pressures to balance work and life demands, etc., women are constantly dealing with multiple stressors. While there are many expectations outside of ourselves, we may also deal with pressures that come from within (e.g., perfectionism, people-pleasing, caregiving).
What Does Burnout Looks Like?
Burnout is a normal and reasonable response when performing at a high level, being chronically stressed, having limited support, and insufficient rest. Our society praises burnout as these are the people who are the hardest-working and self-sacrificing. People who are helpers like teachers, nurses, doctors, and therapists often experience burnout. Burnout is also common for those who are caregivers and stay-at-home parents; of course, those who are working parents/caregivers.
Burnout can look different for each person, and the severity can look different depending on the day/situation. These are some common signs:
Feeling exhausted and fatigued despite the amount of sleep or caffeine
Headaches, migraines, and stomach issues
Feeling overwhelmed and crying uncontrollably
Numbing out (e.g., bingeing shows, overeating, doom-scrolling, using substances)
Difficulty with concentration, paying attention, and/or decision paralysis
Negative beliefs about the self, others, and/or the world
Because we are human, the physical, emotional, and mental burnout discussed above can cause us to lash out at others
We may also self-isolate as to not worry or feel like a burden to others
12 Stages of Burnout (adapted from Freudenberger, 1974)
Burnout tends to develop over time, and sometimes, we don’t realize it until we are in the severe stages of burnout. We can also experience multiple stages of burnout at the same time.
Early Stages - Burnout actually starts when we are feeling highly motivated like when we start a new job. We want to prove we can take on the responsibilities given to us. To do this, we may work after hours, take on more tasks, and neglect our needs, such as eating, sleeping, and even going to the bathroom. As women, we are often taught to say "yes" and prioritize the needs of others before our own. These messages and expectations in our personal and professional lives make us more vulnerable to burnout.
1. Desire to prove self
2. Working harder
3. Neglecting needs
As our needs get neglected, we may try to rationalize by telling ourselves our wants and hobbies are unimportant, so we can focus more on work/caring for others. We may invalidate our own struggles by comparing ourselves to others and criticize our perceived shortcomings.
4. Dismiss/ignore arising problems
5. Shift our values
6. Denial of problems
Middle Stages - Our burnout is more noticeable at this phase, and our loved ones may express their concerns. We may be turning down social gatherings and instead choosing to isolate ourselves. Our communication style may be more blunt, irritable, and impatient. Outside of work/family, we don’t have much of an identity as we become more distant from others and our own needs. We also may turn to substances, including caffeine, to keep us going.
8. Noticeable changes in our behavior
9. Detaching from our life
Severe Stages - At this stage, we have been running on an empty battery for some time. We may feel lost, hopeless, and exhausted. To fill our void or avoid depression/emptiness, we may rely more on coping with substances, overeating, and/or bingeing shows. We may also be experiencing mental, physical, and/or emotional breakdown(s).
10. Feeling empty
12. Burnout syndrome
Burnout, like many mental health symptoms, is our body and mind’s way of telling us something has to change, so we can get our needs met. Being burnt out is not our fault. As women, we are often a part of systems (e.g., work and family) that benefit from our efforts. People, who promote our self-sacrifice, may not have our best interest in mind as chronic burnout can lead to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, serious overall health issues, and even suicide.
If this blog resonates with you as you are experiencing burnout symptoms, you can reach out to us here.
Freudenberger, H. J. (1974). Staff burn-out. Journal of Social Issues, 30, 159-165.
Written by Susanna La, Ph.D.
Edited by Elena Duong, Psy.D.