When Tiana Clark, a 35-year-old poet and creative writing instructor in Nashville, came across an article about workplace burnout, she immediately related to the problem of pushing herself to the point of physical exhaustion. But she felt the article ignored the specific plight of Black women.
“I see so many [of us] take on so many extra roles,” Clark says. “Everyone’s tired and overworked and underpaid. That’s just reality.”
Clark was inspired to start a Twitter thread on the subject and penned an essay pointing out that many sisters don’t think we have the option to lessen our number of tasks at the job. For Clark the constant pressure of teaching fulltime while hustling to make two or three book-tour appearances a week had led to migraines, which eventually landed her in the emergency room.
“I wasn’t taking care of myself,” she says. “My body was just like, You physically have to stop. You cannot do this anymore.” The experience taught Clark that the quest to be a superwoman is killing us, and workplace burnout can no longer be ignored.
THE TROUBLING SYMPTOMS
The syndrome is the result of compounded stress, says Ebony Dennis, a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst in Washington, D.C. While it is not an official medical condition, in May 2019 the World Health Organization classified burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” that ensues from chronic workplace stress that has not been managed effectively. Feelings of exhaustion, negativity and cynicism about your place of employ, as well as decreased proficiency, are all signs.
A 2018 study by Gallup found that about two thirds of employees experience burnout. When your job stresses you out all the time, “you feel like a caged bird,” notes Stephanie Chick, a San Diego–based professional coach. You may feel trapped in a never-ending cycle of on-the-clock responsibility, but you may be also be burning the candle at both ends trying to hold things down at home too. “The reason we’re often [in this position] is because we haven’t created any pause in our life,” says Chick. “We’re just on fast-forward all the time.”
THE MONEY FACTOR
Burnout can definitely affect your mind, body and spirit, but it can also affect your finances. Feeling overworked and overwhelmed can lead to toxic behavior, says Nicole Garner Scott, a financial coach who divides her time between Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Atlanta. Instead of focusing on what you need to save for that down payment, you’re just trying to figure out how to make it through the day. “I can’t even wrap my mind around big dreams when I am just trying to get out of bed,” says Scott.
You may also be more likely to splurge on the nails or the wine or the clothes “because they make me feel good in the moment,” Scott adds. And there’s another way the condition can sabotage long-term financial success. It zaps your creativity, Scott notes, “and your creativity is where money is made.”
MOVING BEYOND BURNOUT
Exhausted? The first step toward changing your situation is acknowledging you are pushing yourself to the brink. While it may not be possible to avoid perpetual stress. Below, a few ways to handle it:
Change your mind-set.
Remind yourself that your needs are just as important as everyone else’s. “We’re always trying to look out for others and be the perfect team player, but we don’t realize that we are part of the team,” Chick says. Taking care of yourself not only improves your life but it also makes life better for everyone.
Therapy, meditation, exercise, good sex, deep breathing—all these activities can help to reduce physical stress, says Dennis. Also be attentive to your diet, drink plenty of water and surround yourself with nurturing relationships. “There’ll always be stuff you can’t control, so take the reins on everything that you can,” says Dennis.
Ask for support.
If you can’t cut back at work, see if you can reduce chores at home. For example, Chick does most of the cooking in her family, but she told her husband that because of professional demands “there are going to be some days when I just can’t do that for you, but I’ll let you know early enough so you can figure out how to fend for yourself.”
Take time off.
“Be intentional about your days off,” says Dennis. Use your free hours to disconnect from the daily demands of a busy life and social media. “So often you’re burned out because you didn’t even take advantage of the time-out you did have,” Chick says. The key is paying attention to how you’re feeling and recognizing when you need to pull back. “Use your body as a barometer,” says Chick.
That headache, back pain or feeling of lethargy is sounding the alarm that something is out of balance. “If we pay attention to those signals early and course correct, then we won’t ever have to reach a state of burnout,” says Chick.
Being pulled in 10 different directions at work? It might be time to set some limits. Here’s how:
REMEMBER YOUR VALUE
State your needs clearly. “There’s a huge cost to the organization if it fails to address your needs, because it risks losing top talent,” Chick says.
BE READY TO BARTER
Let your supervisors know how helping you helps them. “You might say to your boss, ‘I can complete A, B and C, but I need to get out of here on Thursdays early,’ ” suggests Scott.
PUT THE BALL IN YOUR MANAGER’S COURT
Sometimes your boss isn’t aware of your workload. Instead of quietly trying to perform a superhuman feat, speak up and ask which task is the priority.