A Surprising Way To Recover From Burnout

“It’s not your job to like me – it’s mine.”
― Byron Katie, American author and speaker

Burnout. That moment you open the window and scream; “I just can’t take it anymore!” Have you or someone on your team experienced an episode like this? 

A July 2020 survey from FlexJobs and Mental Health America reports that 75% of workers have experienced burnout, and 40% of those polled said it was a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic. A 2020 Women in the Workplace study revealed that one-quarter of women in the workforce are thinking about downshifting or quitting thanks to unprecedented stresses sparked by the pandemic.

Self-compassion is the solution.
Surprised? Wait. Before you tune out and decide that you want a more evidence-based approach, let me share some valuable information. Dr. Kristin Neff is a psychology professor at the University of Texas. She has done extensive research on the benefits of self-compassion.

According to Neff, we live in a society where our self-esteem depends on our performance. We judge how we feel about ourselves based on how we compare to others’ performance or our own expectations. We do it in the areas of our career, appearance and wellbeing. When we perform well, we’re confident in ourselves. When we don’t, we’re insecure.

The challenge during the pandemic is that we have less control over our performance. The way we work, socialize and maintain health is upside down. Nothing is measuring up to the way we think it should be and our self-esteem is suffering.

According to Neff, self-compassion is a healthier and more sustainable way to feel good about ourselves regardless of our performance.

Real-life example.
Arnie is in his mid-thirties and suffers from burnout. He works at a medical research facility. Since his job is essential, there was never a chance of being furloughed during the pandemic. On the other hand, he’s working longer hours to cover those struggling with the virus with no increase in pay. His father recently passed away from a long-term illness, leaving his mother alone in another state. Unexpectedly, his wife became pregnant with their second child while his company announced cutbacks in health benefits.

Throughout it all, Arnie has done his best to overcome each challenge. When it worked, he was elated and could see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. When it didn’t, Arnie was disappointed, frustrated and angry.

Today, Arnie hit his lowest point after another misunderstanding with his manager. He reached out to his contacts. Within hours he had an interview for another job. Immediately he felt better, but something still bothered him.

The night before his interview, Arnie became distressed about his reaction to the trouble at work. He spoke with a friend who suggested that Arnie not be so hard on himself. That’s when he recognized how difficult it had been to be the capable employee, father, husband and son amid such turmoil. He realized he didn’t have to be perfect and that life didn’t have to be perfect. Over the last seven months, even though he was lucky to have a job, 2020 was just as hard on him as it was on everyone else.

The next day Arnie went to the interview with a more realistic eye about changing jobs. He also realized he needed to have an honest talk with his manager to see what positive change could happen if he chose to stay.

Self-compassion defined.
Neff suggests, “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?”

There are three actions that comprise self-compassion:

  1. Be kind to yourself when you fail in some way. Treat yourself as you would treat someone you care about who is having a hard time.
  2. Accept that you are as imperfect as every other human being, no matter how perfect others seem to be. Recognize that failure is a part of every person’s life.
  3. Mindfully acknowledge your painful feelings, instead of distracting or denying them.

When you practice self-compassion before you move into problem-solving, you operate from a less judgmental and more empowered state of mind. You see situations with a balanced perspective where kindness, clarity and common humanity form the basis of your choices instead of harshness, confusion and isolation.

Why it works.
Self-compassion works because it’s within your control. You can do it regardless of how much you fail or fail to get what you want or believe you deserve. Self-compassion is less fragile than relying on outcomes to feel good about yourself. Especially when you judge yourself too positively based solely on your successes. Your inevitable failure at some point in the future will be much harder to take.

If self-compassion sounds a lot like unconditionally loving and forgiving yourself, it is. Although, don’t tell anyone that. Most people believe that self-criticism is what keeps them in line. With self-compassion, they may think you’ll become lazy, weak and irresponsible; the three most significant doubts people have about self-compassion. Here’s how Neff says the research debunks those suspicions.

What the research says.
Motivation: Self-compassion increases motivation because it reduces your fear of failure and the bad feelings that come with it. A study of test-takers reveals that students who practiced self-compassion studied longer in preparation to retake a failed test than those who didn’t. When it’s psychologically safe to fail, you are more likely to try again. You have more confidence when you don’t condemn yourself all the time.

Resilience: A study of combat vets shows that self-compassion helps them cope better with traumatic events. They are less likely to have PTSD, a mental health condition where flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts about the triggering event are common symptoms. Self-compassion also strengthens coping and resilience skills for people dealing with divorce and aging.

Accountability: Self-compassion helps you see yourself more clearly so you take more personal responsibility for your choices. It also makes you more likely to apologize when you make a mistake.

Compassion in leadership.
You can help others avoid burnout by sharing this information with them. Be kind when someone on your team fails. Let them know failure is a great learning tool to excel in the future. Ask them to share their feelings and listen empathetically. Remind them of their common humanity.

Burnout is like being at the end of your rope with no more options. With compassion for self and others, you give the gift of more rope and options that couldn’t be seen before.

Self-compassion and compassion do not mean giving yourself and others a pass for inappropriate behavior. It’s leading yourself and others through difficult moments from the highest, not the lowest expression of who you are.

Action items to work your Inner Genius.

  1. What are you dealing with right now that seems unmanageable?
  2. How kind are you with yourself about it? How much can you accept that you’re an imperfect human like everyone else? What negative feelings can you acknowledge?
  3. With your increased understanding, what new options come to mind about what to do next?

Thanks for reading. Until next week, 

Jo-Aynne von Born, Certified Professional Coach

Authenticity instigator. Success accelerator. Creativity engineer.
Mindset shifter. Trusted partner. ww.readysetmore.com
YouTube: ReadySet…Reboot! 

Reprinted from the Authentic Success newsletter. Subscribe here.

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