• You were meant to bring joy, not to be a mood stabilizer.

    I want to talk about a source of burnout that I think is incredibly relatable, however is too often overlooked and not nearly spoken about enough. I’ll share some personal anecdotes to hopefully normalize these problems for anyone else who experiences them too, because after all, if a therapist deals with them you can’t be so bad, right? (News flash: therapists are no better than you.) 

    I often get so frustrated when I’m finding myself burnt out even after I do all the things I’m supposed to be doing. I drink more water, I move my body more, I get better sleep, I eat better, I spend time doing my hobbies. I try to spend time doing all the things I feel like I haven’t been doing for awhile. But the source of my frustration that I don’t usually see until it all but hits me right in the forehead, is what I have been doing. 

    Becoming really burnt out, like for most of you, isn’t solely from neglecting my own needs. I become burnt out when I am spending my days anticipating others’ needs so much so that I ignore my own. So it isn’t enough that I begin drinking more water or moving my body, because I’m still anticipating others’ needs on top of adding those things to my to-do list, which actually stresses me out even more.

    What does this look like, you might be wondering?

    As a part-time working mom and business owner, sometimes it looks like this:

    My husband’s alarm wakes him in the morning, and while I have the option to sleep in a bit longer before the kids awake and my day begins, I anticipate his need for a packed lunch, a made breakfast, and a poured coffee, so I get up with him and meet those needs while he gets dressed for work (not bad, many spouses do this for one another). 

    I make a to-do list for the day, including things that I’d like to do and things that need to be done, knowing full well that the “like to do” items will be the first to go as others’ needs arise throughout the day, but they go on the list just in case. (Make yourself a priority, please)

    Children awake, I begin some housework making note of what we are running low on in the house, whose favorite foods are running out and how many necessary household items we have left to get us through til our next grocery shopping day. I schedule appointments, make plans to drive kids where they need to go while balancing my work schedule and the responsibilities of running a business. (Schedule time for you, too)

    I watch the kids navigate the struggles of their own lives, and stand close by, letting them know that I’m available for gentle guidance but that I trust them to make smart choices as often as I can. (Remember to mindfully take pride in these moments, rather than to mindlessly lose yourself in them).

    I shoot my husband a text to ask how his day is going, and look for the hidden message in his tone or the words not said, to determine how it’s actually going so that I can plan accordingly to tend to his needs when he gets home (don’t do this, this isn’t healthy).

    I check in with friends and family through phone calls, texts, and social media, and listen intently to their response to the question, “how are you doing?”, again looking for hidden messages. All-the-while I’m giving them an insincere “oh, can’t complain” when they ask the same of me. (This. This is why I feel disconnected and a lack of intimacy in my life at times. Don’t do this.)

    I spend my evening trying to manage the mood of the household by anticipating everyone’s wants and needs and resolving issues before they become issues, because the thought of my loved ones being uncomfortable makes me uncomfortable, and because frankly, others’ negative emotions are easier to face than my own (can you relate?). Before I know it, I’ve spent days (or weeks) without actually checking in with myself, distracted by my focus on others’ emotions, and I’m burnt out. 

    Does this sound familiar? So how do we fix this? So often we think that when we’re fixing a problem like this we need to jump from one end of the spectrum to the other. Well since I am focused way too much on others, I just need to stop focussing on them completely and focus on me instead. Who says? Nothing about that makes sense, even though that’s typically our first instinct. 

    Instead, when I’m at my best is when I’m striving for balance. It’s not a me or them issue, saying that I choose to focus on me doesn’t have to mean I can’t focus on them. It’s a me too issue, it’s saying “I can focus on me just as much as I focus on others”. It means searching for balance in the day, setting aside time to check in with your own emotions, not reading between the lines and accepting that people are responsible for their own emotions. My therapist once said this to me, and I will leave you with this powerful message: You were meant to bring joy to their lives. You were not meant to be a mood stabilizer.