5 Simple Ways for Parents to Overcome Job Burnout6 min read
I was burned out on my job and it was affecting my parenting. I’d arrive home emotionally and physically exhausted. My four-year old daughter would ask me to play with her. I just wanted to eat, recline on the couch and watch TV. I needed to clear my mind from the stress of work.
At work, I felt anxiety, stirred up by job pressures and a micro-managing boss. My commute drained me, too. I thought about looking for another job, or a career change, but couldn’t stir up enough motivation to pursue something different.
After dinner, I looked forward to rushing my daughter off to bed so I could lay in bed and watch more TV. My wife and I didn’t communicate much. At least we weren’t fighting.
According to the Mayo Clinic, signs of burnout may include having to drag yourself to work, becoming cynical or critical at work, lacking the energy needed to do your work, and lacking job satisfaction. Other signs may be loss of appetite, sleep problems, physical complaints, and using food, drugs or alcohol to numb yourself or feel better.
The effects of job burnout usually carry over into the home with negative effects on marriages and parenting. Spouses can grow distant, or conflict can increase. Parents can be emotionally unavailable for their kids, or lose interest in their needs.
There’s also a remote possibility that changes at work can restore your enthusiasm for your job. But, rather than helplessly waiting, taking action to overcome burnout will give you control over your situation. As your happiness at work improves, you can become more engaged in and have more energy for your family and responsibilities at home. That’s my experience.
Having overcome job burnout, and having worked with a number of people who’ve struggled with various stages of burnout and its negative effects on their family, I usually recommend a few or all of the following steps. But, if you’re overwhelmed, consider taking advantage of your company’s employee assistance program, or visiting a professional counselor.
1. Take Breaks at Work
About 50 years ago, pioneering sleep researcher Nathan Kleitman discovered that our bodies operate on a 90-minute rhythm during sleep and when awake. During these cycles, we shift between low and high levels of alertness.
When we’re awake, about every 90 minutes our body sends us signals that we need rest. These signals may include fidgeting, hunger, fatigue, or loss of focus. When we push ourselves beyond the 90-minute cycle, ignoring the signs we need a break, it puts extra stress on the body that can contribute mental and physical deterioration.
Relieve symptoms of burnout by taking 5 to 10 minute breaks every 90 minutes. Visit the restroom. Drink water and take some refreshing breaths. Check in with your wife or kids. If you’ve been standing, sit or lie down. If you’ve been sitting, stand up and move.
2. Create Boundaries Between Work and Home
On Monday mornings, I often find emails in my inbox sent over the weekend by people I work with on weekdays. Smartphones and the growth of telecommuting have made it easier to stay connected to our work. Allowing work to intrude on our off hours makes it difficult to clear our minds of work-related stress and unwind.
If the boundaries between your work and home life have blurred, employment can start to feel more like enslavement.
Make a commitment to start and stop work at a specified time each day. Give your job all you’ve got during work hours. After hours, turn off the work email and work phone, and be present for your family. Unexpected events may require you to fudge on those boundaries, but make fudging the exception.
3. Enjoy Recreation
Fifty-five percent of Americans didn’t take all their vacation days in 2015, up from 42 percent in 2013, according to the U.S Travel Association. Sixty-one percent of Americans work while on vacation. One-in-four report being contacted by a colleague about a work-related matter.
I’m one of those who’s taken my work with me on vacation. But, if you’re experiencing burnout, leaving your work behind is better. Planning and taking a vacation offers an opportunity to hit the reset button.
If your work won’t allow you to take a week or two off, schedule a long weekend at least four or five times a year. Plan some quality time with your family in a place where you can put work out of your mind and connect on a deeper level with your loved ones.
4. Remember to Rest
Franz Halberg earned recognition for discovering the internal “clock” that influences our sleep-wake cycle. He called that clock “circadian rhythm.” Since Halberg’s discovery, numerous studies have established the importance of sleeping routines in helping us manage stress and remain in good health.
Making time for restful sleep is important to preventing and overcoming burnout.
Halberg also proposed that our body has a built-in weekly cycle. The sun gives us our annual cycle, the moon our monthly cycle. Halberg believed that like circadian rhythms, our body operates on a weekly cycle.
The Bible teaches that the weekly cycle came from God. After six days of working to create the earth and everything in it, God set aside the seventh-day as a Sabbath, or day of rest from work. We tend to forget the importance of weekly rest, so God added a reminder to His Ten Commandments.
Beat burnout by allowing yourself a weekly Sabbath rest from work to refresh and recharge in activities with your family.
5. Rewrite Your Job Description
Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, recommends the following exercise based on research about what makes people happy at work. Turn a blank sheet of paper horizontal. On the paper’s left side, write a task you perform at work that feels meaningless. Ask yourself, “What’s the purpose of this task? What will it accomplish.” Then, draw an arrow to the paper’s right side and write the answer. Keep asking these questions and writing the answer until you get an answer that’s meaningful to you. Repeat this task for each task you perform at work that feels meaningless.
By doing what Achor recommends, you can connect every small thing you do to a bigger picture—a goal that keeps you motivated. For example, if you’re a billing clerk for a doctor’s office, and you’re tired of the hassles of getting claims paid by insurance companies, draw the arrow until you can connect it to something you care about like helping people get care for injuries and illnesses.
When you’re happier at work, you’ll have more of yourself to give to your family when you’re at home.
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A version of this post also appeared on LifeZette.com.