I’m one of those people who’s always told, “I don’t know how you do it all.” I was aware that I’d been working hard for the last four years or so. Rarely did I take a day off from work—let alone disconnect myself from other obligations. I sit on two non-profit boards, lead several committees, have a high-profile day job, and run a business on the side. What this means is that I work nights and weekends and haven’t had a vacation in half a decade. I was a perfect candidate for toxic burnout.
Luckily my son is older, so I no longer have daily child-rearing responsibilities. Therefore, I would imagine many of you have schedules that are even crazier than mine. Those 25 hour days felt normal to me. Last year, when I began feeling physically exhausted, dragging my feet around all the time, and constantly fatigued, I knew something wasn’t right.
What really caught my attention were the flashes I began seeing in front of my eyes. They were so bad that I had to leave the office early and go home. I’ll get a good night’s sleep, I thought, and tomorrow I’ll be all right. But I wasn’t. The same thing happened the next day. The flashes started up and I had to leave early again.
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This scared me, and it’s when I started looking at my symptoms carefully and decided to get some help. My doctor told me I had the classic signs of burnout and that I was having a mid-life crisis, the physical kind. She also diagnosed me as a classic workaholic, as if that was a bad thing… What? I don’t feel like I’m middle aged. But, guess what? I am.
The doctor reminded me that I needed to take care of myself and that I shouldn’t continue functioning at the pace I had been. I finally had to listen to my body and realize that if I didn’t start taking care of myself, I was going to pay a seriously high price. So I finally let myself sleep as much as my body wanted, and for over a month I slept ten hours a night. I was freaking out! As you can imagine, I didn’t think I had the TIME to sleep that much. “How long is this going to last?” I asked my doctor with concern. “Give yourself 90 days,” she said. Well, at least I had a deadline.
Before long, my body began to reset itself and my equilibrium was back. Today, I pay closer attention to when I’m working too much, and guard the time I need to exercise, play, relax, and spend time with loved ones. I realized I couldn’t work constantly, I had to become more efficient, and I had to make time for relaxation and play—go figure!
What happened to me is not uncommon. I’ve seen similar symptoms in close friends, women who have had panic attacks (for no apparent reason), vertigo, or other unexplained health crises. Sometimes, they last a day or a few days, and then go away. And often, we take care of the immediate issue, and then go right back to our previous ways of doing things. In short, we run ourselves into the ground.
I know many of you have demands that simply cannot wait. You’re raising small children (ones that won’t allow you to sleep), working full-time jobs, taking care of elderly parents or taking on community responsibilities. I understand, truly, I do. But if you’re having any symptoms of burnout, take care of yourself now. Because, eventually, your body will rebel and the recovery may take more out of you than it would have if you’d simply taken better care of yourself now.
I share my personal story because I know I had to make some real changes, of the permanent kind. I no longer work seven days a week, I give myself more time to relax, and I am dedicated to taking the vitamins and supplements my health professional recommends. As Latinas, we tend to put everyone else first. We take care of all of those around us, but fail to tend to our own needs. I’m here to urge you to make some time for you—no matter what it takes.
Tell us if you’re experiencing symptoms of physical or psychological burnout. How do you take care of yourself?