In my work with clients as a psychologist, and in my personal life as a human being with friends and loved ones, I often find myself discussing difficulties created by tiredness.
A specific type of tiredness that is not cured by sleep, relaxation nor eating better. A specific type of tiredness that seems to make activities that were once preformed with ease or with some difficulty, to now feel unbearable. A tiredness that feels like a weight which makes breathing difficult.
Depending on the activity and your role, the presentation of this in our daily life might differ.
For example, a student finds it extremely difficult to wake up in the morning, deadlines that are now approaching seem to bring with them an immense level of fear and catastrophic scenarios. In the past, deadlines signified personal freedom by releasing free time, since they imply that soon the given requirement will no longer exist.
For a hard-working individual, the day-to-day tasks and duties seem to gather up and form a wild mountain range, with no obvious path forward. The only thing visible is the wild slope, with sharp rocks and thick forests. Admin tasks bring with them a sigh of hopelessness and responding to emails feels like talking to the wall. Presenting ideas and projects to stakeholders might feel like walking towards a podium where all your skills, capabilities and ideas will be evaluated and maybe executed for a crime that was never defined.
For busy parents, their child’s crying pierces the ear drums. In the past the same exact cry was perceived as a communication of need. Bath time becomes a chore, mealtimes are dreaded, and so is preparation for outings. The child’s invitation to play feels overwhelming and thoughts might go into tangents about playing versus tidying up. Making memories by making messes, is only something experienced by others.
For life partners, what one was is no more. For example, what one loved in their partner i.e. independence, not being overly reliant on phones, their laugh, being goal oriented and hardworking, their way of thinking, is now an obstacle for getting their own personal needs met.
All of these presentations share one thing. That the tiredness felt by the person, regardless of age and sex, pushes a very egocentric perspective on life. When I say egocentric, I don’t mean that your ego is flying high and you would benefit from some grounding. This egocentric perspective taking, is merely the by-product of burning out. Where one is unable to see a given situation in any other way than the way it affects them.
For example, students might not respond to their supervisor’s emails, might miss out half of the documents they need to attach, forget to hand in papers and stay in bed feeling miserable, since they know the value of time spent studying.
The hardworking individual might slow down their pace without a reason or explanation. They might leave emails unanswered and dread going to work in the mornings. The usual workplace small talk feels unbearable, that friendly colleague is now annoying. Food prep before or after work, is a no go. Ordering food is preferred and happens far more often. Dress code is something to be angry for, while all this time putting on a tie was a daily routine. The same tie obstructs one’s breathing.
A father might look at his child having a tantrum, and only be concerned of how he feels for the tantrum i.e. you are making a fool out of me, what will people say about me as a parent, this is what I get for spoiling you.
When one of 2 life partners is tired, and is not in the mood for a chat, partner number 1, might feel personally attacked, and might even say “You don’t care how my day went. You don’t care about my feelings any more, the only thing that matters to you is your self/hobbies/friends”. The point scoring game begins. Its your turn to do “x,y,z” and did “a,b,c yesterday”. I said this and you said that.
These are all very normal reactions to have and a by-product of being a burned-out human. Your vision is limited to how it is that you are feeling in response to something, how your agenda is not being met, how your life is negatively impacted by the choices of others, how others are failing you. That might be true. What is also true is that you are taking on such beliefs and feelings as if permanent, and without recognising the other people’s needs and capabilities. The only constant and permanent component is that capabilities and needs fluctuate. When one is depleted, they need to recover before they can attend to what is a pressing matter for you.
When you notice that the only light you see others in, is one of criticism and heartache, when you notice that you’ve forgotten all the good elements of people’s characters or when you try and bring them to mind but the reminder is of no help in calming you down, then it’s time for you to act.
This action involves pausing. This action involves reflecting. As such, you need to slow down, and give your thinking mind a break. This does not give you permission to act or react without giving thought to the consequences. You are responsible for the pain your words cause when you speak in anger. Sadly, despite your tiredness you need to do an extremely difficult task. To take on responsibility for your feelings and consider meeting your own needs rather than waiting on others to meet them for you. Remind yourself that the thinking mind is not the only avenue available to understand the world and your context. Take into consideration that your capability to form assessments regarding the situation in front of you realistically, is not at its best.
Try and find moments to rest both from the demands of the world and most importantly the demands you have set for yourself. It is likely, that at some point, you expected too much of yourself, did not give yourself a break, pushed yourself too much. Pull yourself back. Reassess your boundaries. Explore the ways you relate to yourself and others. Safeguard your personal time. Release responsibilities that are not yours.
The effects of these actions will not be immediate. However, they are the only way forward. The only way to recover from a burnout is to learn from it and try hard to not let it happen again.