Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Advice for Burn Out?

I should start my post by saying this is not an entry giving advice on avoiding getting burned out. It is a post seeking advice!

This last week I believe I have come down with a serious case of burn out. I hadn’t expected to come down with this ailment this spring. In my mind, I associate burn out with getting tired of doing something – or having to do something you don’t want to do anymore. That’s simply not how my burn out is functioning – and probably why I was surprised to get it. I am not having to do something I don’t want to do. And, I’m not really even tried of doing what I have been doing. I’m just tired in general.

I actually LOVE what I do. Although, like everyone else, my life is pulled in many directions, I tend to think of myself as having two major categories of demands. One is family. The other is work. This is not unique to me obviously. I thoroughly enjoy both aspects of my life. I love my four children (and my husband) and while I find it frazzling sometimes, I enjoy being a mom. And I love genealogy and writing and all that goes with it. Overall, I feel happy and content in my life. So why am I so burned out lately?

I think it has to do with intensity. It has been a very intense spring. In fact, as I thought about it I decided that this past year has been the most intense year of my life possibly second only to my second year of graduate school when I had a toddler and was miserably sick from being pregnant with our second child. It has not been a bad intensity (unlike that year in graduate school). It has been a good year filled with wonderful things – FILLED being the key word here.

Both categories of my life – family and work – have been extra busy for the past couple of months. My kids have intense schedules in the spring because this is when sports get going full swing. We also have all kinds of end-of-the-year events now – dance recitals, piano recitals, band concerts, programs at school etc. Add to that that three of my children have birthdays and I find that just keeping up with my family is a scramble. Then, spring is also perhaps the most intense time of year in the genealogy world. I have been doing a lot of speaking and book events lately too.

The result of all of this is that lately I have a burning desire to plan trips all the time. This is generally what happens to me when life gets stressful. I have been able to justify it because we actually do have some trips coming up this summer that I need to get the plans made for. We are driving to Texas for my sister’s wedding at the end of June and then taking our time coming back, spending time in Memphis, Smoky Mountain National Park, and Shenandoah National Park. In the past week, I’ve gotten all the details worked out about hotels etc. I have also reserved our hotels for Brazil in August and planned our basic itinerary and started looking into plans for a short trip to Acadia National Park we’ll make in August also. While this all has to be done sooner or later (and in the case of Texas, sooner), I am also aware in the back of my head that I am doing this now because I can’t bring myself to do some of the other things I need to do. Soon, I am going to run out of trips to plan and besides, my to-do list is growing.

I would love to hear thoughts from others. Does this happen to you? How do you avoid it? How do you cope with it once it happens?


  1. Burn out has definitely happened to me. It comes with my personality type and with my circumstance (My husband has a chronic illness). I learned to manage it by prioritizing and controlling the commitments I make. And recognizing that sometimes it is necessary to put myself first and let anything not absolutely essential go undone--regardless of what other people might think (or what I think they might think). Read about caretaker syndrome sometime.

    If it happens despite my best efforts, I try to recognize it early because if I start corrective actions early, the burnout doesn't last as long. Last fall I couldn't control the time I needed to spend on issues involving my elderly mother and she was a priority, so I allowed genealogy, reading, volunteer work to go undone in favor of watching videos, playing solitaire (I know, Yikes!) and playing with the cats. Not an impressive line-up of activities, but who would I be trying to impress anyhow?

    Think about your mental health like you would your physical health. When you get sick, you take time to recuperate, right? Same thing applies.

    I came out of it fine and even started my blog. The key for me was that I didn't force myself out of it, I allowed it to resolve itself.

  2. This could be a number of things individually or in combination. And I agree with everything that Frances has said above. When you have young children, at certain times life is so intense that sometimes something has to give. Three things occur to me. 1. It may be that your schedule is so full that you have little control and no time to relax, so when you do have a few minutes of spare time, you do what you enjoy and what relaxes you - planning trips! Nothing wrong with that. 2. I remember coming down with all kinds of illnesses that I caught from my children when they were young, and sometimes infections would linger in a low-level form - might not hurt to get a checkup and some blood work. 3. When lots of good things are happening (for me that is when several lines of research are "cooking"), despite my euphoria, I sometimes suffer from overload and can't really organize or engage in anything complicated (such as research), but merely cope from day to day. A good period of rest and contemplation usually takes care of this one. Well, enough meddling advice from me - I'm sure after the "busy season" passes you'll be fine. Burn-out, plateaus, and the like are just part of a natural cycle that helps you build up the energy you need for more intense intellectual effort.

  3. I held this in my Google Reader for a bit, hoping you'd get lots of comments with advice. I only have two kids, not four, but I can completely identify with where you are. I feel pulled in so many directions sometimes that it's almost a little paralyzing...I don't know which fire to put out first, so sometimes I just look at Facebook instead. That's not helping.

    One thing I'm trying this week is making lists, so I can rationally prioritize (and better see when my to-do list is completely unrealistic). We'll see how that goes.

  4. Hi,
    I came to this site through Lynn Palermo (The Armchair Genealogist) who listed your book as one she's reading this summer. It's nice to see 2 blog friends here, Greta & Kerry. My kids are pretty grown up now, but what you describe is so typical of achieving women with children. I don't see many men going through the same agony of trying to do everything so well (not to be sexist -- I'm sure there are some. I just haven't met many). With hindsight, I'd say -- take something off your plate. Do you really HAVE to do everything you're doing? My favorite new expression is "Don't let the perfect get in the way of the good." A lot of things can be done "good enough." Our kids are amazingly flexible. If you can't show up for EVERY game, that's ok. You show up to most, I'm sure. If the birthday party isn't as thematically perfect of the mom who can devote 100% of her time to her kids, so what? The kids will have fun. I once just pulled out a bunch of old hats I had saved and each 4 year old (only works for really young kids) picked one and they preened around in them, having a great time. Skip any home-baking. Pay for services. There are certain things only YOU can do (e.g., write, keep up your blog, spend quality time with your kids). Get others to do as much as possible. Lists and getting organized (like Kerry says) are my only life saver when I get so confused and overwhelmed with "to dos." Gotta have that list to tell me what to do next. Vegging out on facebook or a tv show for 1/2 hour is good too. Just set the timer. Do something for yourself first thing in the morning -- just 1/2 hour to read or swim or whatever you like. Then when the day is over, you don't feel like you're only a drone on a treadmill (to mix metaphors!) Good luck. You're doing amazing things!