By Mary Kilpatrick
Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Amy Sullivan, a Cleveland Clinic health psychologist says that burnout strikes women more often than men because men are better at focusing on one task at a time, while women are great multi-taskers, who can seamlessly manage work, family, kids and other obligations.
Rebecca Kondrich balances a career as a social worker and counselor, with roles of wife, house cleaner and mother of her 4-year-old daughter.
Sometimes, it can be a lot, and the 35-year-old Avon Lake mom experiences burnout: a feeling of emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment that builds up when you’re trying to juggle it all.
“The work doesn’t stop when you get home,” Kondrich, who also treats people with burnout, said. “Everybody has to eat. So then you’re doing laundry and you’re cooking and you’re trying to pick up toys and they want to play with you.”
Burnout isn’t a recognized mental disorder. And its definition may be tough to pin down.
You’re likely tired, cranky and drained. You’re giving to everyone else and not making any time for yourself.
Burnout strikes women more often than men, said Amy Sullivan, a Cleveland Clinic health psychologist who treats the condition. That’s because men are better at focusing on one task at a time, while women are great multi-taskers, who can seamlessly manage work, family, kids and other obligations.
For example, Sullivan said when she’s at work, she’s focused on her job: her patients, her administrative roles, the fellows that she’s trained.
“But I’m also focused on making sure that our children’s doctor’s appointments are taken care. What’s for dinner. Making sure that this bill is paid or making sure that I’ve signed my children up for camp. Where are they going after school? I’m fielding phone calls from their school during the day or our nanny during the day,” Sullivan said. “Whereas when my husband goes to work, he focuses on his job. He doesn’t have to have this chaotic mind where he’s doing a number of different things, he can just kind of focus.”
But women aren’t so great at taking time for themselves. The constant go, go, go leads to burnout. Women are also more susceptible to stress than men.
“We put everybody above ourselves as women,” Sullivan said. “We just don’t take care of ourselves very well.”
Kondrich had experienced burnout in her career, which is common in helping professions. But the feeling compounded when her daughter was born.
“It became much harder to organize my life. It was much harder to find pockets of time for myself, and a one-hour yoga class — which I do make time for — that wasn’t enough,” she said.
Burnout affects worker productivity. About two-thirds of employees surveyed in a Gallup study said they have burnout. Burnt out employees are 63 percent more likely to take a sick day, and twice as likely to be looking for new work.
Burnout can also significantly interfere with happiness and quality of life — whether you have a job, kids or both. It affects stay-at-home moms, empty nesters or retirees.
The factors that lead to burnout in women are everyday, accepted aspects of our society.
Women often have more unpaid responsibilities. Working women often put in the same number of hours as their male counterparts, but sometimes don’t see the same promotions. Moms face over-the-top expectations of Pinterest-perfect birthdays for their children. Older women pitch in to help extended family, while keeping up with their own activities.
When you find yourself overly-tired or overwhelmed by your daily routine, you may be experiencing burnout. Here’s a few ways to start feeling better.
Acknowledging that you are experiencing burnout is an important first step. Taking time for yourself, even if it’s just for a moment, is essential to help curb and prevent burnout. Combatting burnout means prioritizing yourself.
It could be as easy as taking a walk during work, or meeting a friend for lunch. A face mask, or a good book. What works for one women may not work for the other. And no, you don’t have to do yoga.
“It’s important to recognize that not everybody is the same,” Sullivan said. “There’s not one cookie cutter approach.”
Rebecca Bittala, a 28-year-old social worker from Middleburg Heights, said she thinks society equates self-care with bath bombs and meditation, but that’s not what works for everyone.
She helps curb her burnout by hitting the gym.
“For me, self-care is going and punching a punching bag,” Bittala said.
For 34-year-old counselor Arnetta Matthews of Garfield Heights, it’s reading her Bible and getting a manicure.
“I know that’s cliché but just doing things that make me feel good and happy,” she said.
Evaluate your responsibilities
Sullivan said she sometimes asks patients to write down all their household obligations. That gives women a chance to acknowledge all the work they do.
Every time you are thinking of adding a new responsibility to your list, think of one that you let go of.
“If you’re going to take on something you need to be willing to say no to something else,” Sullivan said.
Eliminate some of the aspects of your life that aren’t important. For a mom, maybe that’s accepting that it’s OK that you don’t volunteer in the classroom once a week. For a retiree, maybe that’s stepping back from caring for a relative.
For Kondrich, it was letting go of her image of maintaining a spotless, magazine-worthy home.
“One of the things that was really freeing for me, and I still have to work on, is letting go some of the stuff around the house. Like it’s just not going to be done. It will be there tomorrow. it’s not the end of the world,” Kondrich said. “Everything doesn’t have to be clean.”
Manage your stress
Many Americans are stuck in fight-or-flight mode: an evolutionary behavior developed because hunter gatherers were scared they were going to be killed.
In modern times, the threat level is different, but the response is the same.
“We are sitting at a bank signing an additional mortgage for a pool in our house or we’re sitting in traffic or looking at our retirement funds. We are stressed from things that are not necessarily going to kill us,” Sullivan said.
Change your thinking: an obstacle isn’t a threat, it’s a challenge.
Prioritize your relationships
Developing meaningful connections can help prevent burnout.
“We’re more connected than ever via social media,” Sullivan said. “But the relationships are struggling because of that, because there’s a layer to social media that may not be reality and it doesn’t call for deep relationships.”