Take a Step Back: Getting Perspective and Planning Recovery
Life can be hard. Millennials are sometimes mocked by the media for struggling with the difficulties of “adulting” but journalist Anne Helen Peterson has astutely pointed out that “errand paralysis” can actually be an early sign of burnout.  Maybe you don’t feel entitled to burnout, because you’re not a high-powered corporate executive or a doctor serving in a 3rd world country with Doctors without Borders, but the reality is that modern life, with its constant on-task demands and the culture of productivity propaganda (go back to Lesson 2, if you need a reminder) leaves most people constantly aware of their to-do lists, their smartphones, and their social media feeds. Never having an actual break makes it hard to take a mental break, and that constant psychological effort makes you more likely to burn out. Just recognizing that it’s not you – that life is hard – that no one enjoys chores – can help you cope.
Recognize That Life Is Hard
Maybe you look back on your childhood and adolescence with the hazy memories of youth. Instead of looking back on the past with the rose-colored glasses of childhood memories, take your mom out for coffee, tea (or a drink) and ask her to talk to you honestly. She’ll tell you: she didn’t enjoy constantly cleaning the kitchen, packing your lunch, or taking out the trash. She wasn’t a magical fairy who loved chores, she was doing what needed to be done. Adulting doesn’t mean loving all the chores. There is no magical moment or trick when you learn to love cleaning the toilet. Adulting means accepting that someone has to clean bathrooms, do laundry, and take out the trash, and then making a grown-up decision to do hard work.
But, being a martyr who cleans up after others while holding a grudge against your loved ones is not an adult decision, either. Sometimes the grown-up decision also includes the hard work of talking honestly with your family, spouse, or roommates about the chores that need to be done, so you can split the load evenly and fairly.
After you’ve acknowledged that life is hard because you’re a grown-up, you can decide which hard aspects are necessary (i.e., cleaning the toilet) and which hard aspects could mean it’s time for a change.
Name and Face Your Fears
Remember the third component of burnout? Feeling a reduced sense of competence and efficacy. When your fears and anxieties feel all-consuming and vague, it’s hard to feel competent in the face of them. One key step in taking back psychological control is to be really clear with yourself about what, exactly, is stressing you out.
Sit down with a pad and pen and start writing.
First, write down everything that makes you sad, stressed, nervous, anxious, mad. If it is causing you to have a negative emotional state – write it down. Get it all down on paper.
Second, go through your list and identify which things are actual things in your life, and which things are future could-bes or maybes or worst-case scenarios.
Third, for the actual things – brainstorm some strategies for how to deal. Be creative, and think of a wide variety of techniques that you could use to improve each circumstance.
Fourth, for the maybes and the what-ifs, write down what the worst possible outcome is, and how you would deal if that happened. Then ask yourself – how likely is it that this will actually happen?
It’s important to do this exercise on paper, so that you can really face the things that are stressing you, and see your own ability to cope, both in the present moment, and in the future as needed. Just having a better sense of what you’re facing is an important step in feeling capable of facing it.
For today, give yourself at least fifteen minutes to really work on your list. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about strategies to manage the stressors in your life, and before the end of the course, we’ll consider how you might make big changes to feel more hopeful and engaged for the future.
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