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Soul-Care: Why 'Burnout' Is Not An Individual Failing And How To Protect Yourself From It

Dr. Joy Harden-Bradford on the power of unplugging, changing the systems that contribute to spiritual fatigue and more.
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By Victoria Uwumarogie · August 5, 2021

Soul-Care is a three-part series about ways Black women can practice self-care when it comes to resting their souls, with input from experts in medicine, psychology and theology.

We’ve talked about coping with spiritual fatigue and the ways it impacts us physically and spiritually, but you can’t complete such a discussion without covering the obvious — the ways in which a weariness of the soul can affect you mentally.

As has been shared by our previous experts, spiritual fatigue can occur when we feel burdened from carrying around too many things, whether they are actual responsibilities or emotional weight that we don’t confront.

“I think that overwhelm is a hallmark indicator of this, feeling [unsure of] where to start,” says Dr. Joy Harden-Bradford, licensed psychologist and creator and host of the popular mental health podcast Therapy for Black Girls. “Things may be really confusing. You just really feel like there’s no clarity.”

This feeling has become more common, of course, since COVID-19 upended life as we know it. However, she says that upheaval has benefited us because it put the spotlight on the ways in which the loads we’ve been carrying and the expectations of us, as employees, partners, friends, parents and more, needed to change.

“I think really what has happened this year more than any other year is that we have been shown just how many systems in our lives are unsustainable. It wasn’t until they all crashed at the same time,” she says. “And so I think when we have this conversation around burnout, we have to be really careful because it’s not an individual failing. It wasn’t that you just couldn’t keep up, it’s that you never were meant to keep up in the first place.”

One way to both cope and keep soul weariness at bay as we figure out what works and no longer serves us is to know when to unplug. That includes from actual devices, but also to just take a step back from everyday stressors (PTO day, anyone?).

“I think when we get into this feeling of like, just weariness, you really have to refit and really kind of look at like how many inputs there have been, and figure out how to unplug yourself from all of those things,” she says. “I think really kind of going inward and tapping into silence is really going to be important because you really need to give your body time to reset.”

She also says people should allow themselves permission to do the things they dream about, to go after the opportunities that feel good to us and our souls now that there is more flexibility in how we can go about work and life. That will certainly aid in avoiding spiritual fatigue.

“Maybe you wanted to work for Netflix before, but the idea of moving to California wasn’t feasible. But now there’s a policy in a place where you could work from North Carolina and still have that job,” she says. “So I think giving yourself permission to explore and to look at opportunities that might not have existed before is a great exercise to engage in right now.”

While spiritual fatigue, or burnout as the mainstream refers to it, has been in the spotlight more due to the pandemic, it’s something people have been struggling with for a very long time. Dr. Joy is encouraged to see that our shared experiences have allowed us to have more open conversations and she hopes they will continue.

“I feel like we have been kind of trending in this direction even before the pandemic, but definitely now, when everybody feels like they were so stressed for these pasts months or year and a half, I think it has become even more de-stigmatized to kind of talk about how we’re feeling,” she says. “I’m really glad that people are continuing to have those conversations. I’m encouraged by the increasing resources that we see.”

Still, Dr. Joy says soul unrest can’t ultimately be put to rest until a better job is done to ensure that outside of our personal efforts, things are being done to change the systems that have played into the overall underwhelm so many have felt.

“Therapy is not going to be the answer for everybody and therapy cannot take care of everything. We still need to look at the systems that are in place that actually lead people to not feeling mentally well,” she says. “There are other things that need to work in conjunction with therapy in order for us to really be mentally well.”

“I think really with this pandemic, it has given us an opportunity to re-imagine what sustainable looks like when all these systems fail,” she adds. “How can we reimagine these systems? Like in this effort to go back to the normal, do we really want to go back to the way things were? And the answer is no for a lot of things.”