It’s Not Your Fault You Feel So Overwhelmed: Three Root Causes of Burnout You Might Not Be Seeing
Women feeling burned out, overwhelmed, and over-stretched, pressured to do more with less – less time, support, and resources -- is not a new phenomenon. It’s been true since women entered the workforce more fully over 50 years ago.
So why are our levels of emotional and mental stress and physical disease getting worse, not better? And why are the signs of stress showing up so much earlier in our children than was ever true for us?
Before the pandemic, most women were already stretched too thin. Add in the stress of home schooling, a chaotic world, and changes in how we are working, and it’s a miracle we are still standing.
And there’s something more to all this overwhelm we’re feeling. If we were having a real honest woman-to-woman talk, we’d admit this: Even before the pandemic, we women have become so resilient that we’ve become too tolerant.
Tolerant of ways of working and managing it all that don’t work, and that don’t have our best interest – or those of our family, planet, or society – at heart. In many ways, the chaos we are witnessing in our collective world is a reflection of a world that has been out of whack for a long time.
While there’s no doubt we are all feeling more pressure than ever (did you even know that was possible?), this intensity also offers us a tremendous possibility.
It can shake us loose from patterns, routines, and ways of working that we’ve come to accept as normal, but that are anything but natural or healthy. So we can wake up to our power to do things differently.
Imagine this: What if instead of becoming more resilient just to keep things working, we become more empowered and find different ways to design how we work, set expectations and set up the systems that define and run our society, so they actually support us and all people and the planet to thrive? Not as an inspirational ideal, but as a real reality that is possible for all working women.
[Related: Ten Career Tips for Every Working Woman]
What are the root causes of burnout and overwhelm that we don't see?
I’ve been researching the root causes underneath the burnout, overwhelm, and pressure that women have dealt with as a daily reality for over a decade.
This mission started because I knew just focusing on me-time and self-care tips might give a woman space for a moment, but would not free her from the cycles of burnout. Nor the feelings of resentment and exhaustion that come from feeling responsible for too much for too long.
I also had experienced myself that the work/life balance, stress/time management, and productivity strategies I was told would enable me to do, be, and have it all were really band-aids that were masking a seriously unsustainable way of working and living.
My research took me deeper, beyond the surface symptoms and solutions, to find out what was really going on.
What I found was: Most of us have been so busy just trying to keep our heads above the water, keeping our families, lives, teams, and work afloat, that we’ve been blind to the root causes under all the pressure we feel.
And you cannot change what you cannot see.
Here are just three roots to burnout and overwhelm.
1) It’s not your fault you feel so stretched and overwhelmed. The systems we work and live in were built for burnout.
Designed to start an industrial evolution, feed an age of information, and fuel the growth of technology, in which profit, productivity, short-term results, and continuous exponential growth are central, our current systems lack human sustainability and wellness at their core. Which is why, no matter how hard you personally try to maintain sustainability and wellness, you can’t.
2) We accept the ways we work and live as how things have to be. But humans made the systems, which means we have the power to change them.
The financial and consumer markets, education, corporations, government, healthcare, agriculture, and religious institutions are all human designed. Which means humans — of which you, and I, are one — have the power to design different systems and ways of working and living.
We didn’t have the mass of women in positions of influence even a decade ago. We had to play by the rules that were set for us. Today, we are in positions within our organizations, communities, societies, and families, and together we have the mass consciousness to create the world we desire to live in.
[Related: Five Steps Women Can Take to Self-Advocate]
3) Your personal “internal operating system” is programmed to work hard, take it all on, and sacrifice your personal needs. Even if you want to change, your internal wiring is set against it.
If you do not elevate the consciousness within you, the reality on the outside cannot change. You’ve got a boatload of programming for self-sacrifice and overwhelm, such as:
I have to work hard to succeed.
Taking care of my needs is selfish.
If I don’t do it, no one else will.
These internal programs are not just beliefs in your mind; they are deeply ingrained imprints in your being, heart, and body. This is why even if you really want to change, you resist. You cannot mentally think, plan, strategize, or hack your way out of burnout and self-sacrifice.
As you start to see what was previously hidden, you gain the power to change it.
When you can see both the systemically-created and the self-generated roots of overwhelm, burnout, and self-sacrifice, you become empowered to make changes not previously available to you.
Now don’t get overwhelmed, thinking, "Oh great, more I have to do to change the world!" Here’s the good news: Systemic and social change starts within yourself. Which, as it turns out, is where you have 100% of the control and power.
You start with what’s happening within you and within the immediate circles and situations you have influence over. Not with big sweeping changes, but in what I like to call "simple but significant" ways.
All change starts with awareness.
Start by becoming more aware of the self-induced pressure you are putting on yourself – with unrealistic expectations or unnecessary timelines for how fast and how much you should be able to get done.
When you feel yourself pushing or feeling overwhelmed, stop, pause, take a breath, and ask, “What can I release or reflow to a different day?” or “What would doing just enough look like?”
And then start to open your wise woman eyes to the systems around you that you operate and interact with, and question, “What is real? What is really needed? What can we change?”
If every woman embraced her power of systemic transformation through self-transformation, we’d bring about a tidal wave of awakening that would catalyze and change things in potent ways.
Christine Arylo, MBA, is the bestselling author of Overwhelmed and Over It: Embrace Your Power to Stay Centered & Sustained in a Chaotic World. As a transformational leadership advisor, three-time author, and host of the popular Feminine Power Time podcast, she is recognized worldwide for her work helping women to make shift happen — in the lives they lead, the work they do, and the world they wish to create. She offers trainings, retreats, and workshops globally and online. Visit her at her website or tune into her podcast.
Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.
Feminine Leadership Advisor, Mentor & Coach, Best-Selling Author & Speaker,
Christine Arylo is a feminine leadership advisor, transformational speaker and best selling author who leads retreats, workshops and programs around the world, working with leaders to make shift happen – in the lives they lead and work they do. She combines her 15 years of corporate MBA experience in marketing, strategy and leadership communications with her 15 years of personal transformation study using the feminine, yogic and earth based wisdom traditions to guide women how... Continue Reading
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