End-of-year burnout and what to do about it

It’s the end of a long year, and we’re all tired. But what if tiredness is a symptom of burnout – and what should one do about it? 

Every meeting I’m in, every person I talk to, the same refrain comes up: end of year, tired, no brain, can’t wait for the holidays.

I know how people feel – it has been a long year: we can start with two wars that hit the headlines (and some that don’t) and come back home to load shedding and corruption and crime. You know these things: I am not going to carry on with such a dismal list. 

For me, and probably for some of the people that I talk to in those meetings, there’s something else going on though: burnout.

I’ve hit that burnout wall in the past and so I know the signs, which for me are always deep irritation with things that I previously would have found amusing, or not even noticed; an inability to feel that I care about any of the work that I do (and which I love, and find meaningful); and a feeling of exhaustion and what I can only describe as loose-endedness, of not being able to settle to anything, even the hobbies and pastimes that usually sustain me.

So, one morning, I did what we all do in such circumstances, and typed into Google: what to do about burnout when you can’t take a break? (My planned holiday only starts on December 23).

I got many results saying pretty much the same thing: giving the WHO definition of burnout and recommending various kinds of self-care – mini-breaks, mindfulness, exercise, healthy diet, get lots of sleep.

Thing is I already do all those things, and I’m still ending the year feeling as though someone hit me in the solar plexus and took my mojo with them to a fabulous beach holiday (to which I was not invited).

So I did some other searching, and found something that made more sense. 

An article called Self-Care Won’t Fix Your Burnout. The basic premise is that the “tips” to fix burn-out won’t solve the problem. “They will mitigate stress. Maybe. But stress isn’t burnout. And burnout requires more than self-care. Burnout is a systemic problem, usually caused by lack of resources, infrastructure, and poor leadership,” the article says.

The article is aimed at people in full-time employment and says: 

People want to do good work and be compensated appropriately for it. People want to contribute and feel valued. Being encouraged to drink more water while sitting at your desk while you’re worrying about your kindergartner isn’t sustainable. And it’s not self-care either.

All that made a whole lot of sense, even though it doesn’t apply to me. I work for myself, so any systemic workplace issues that are leading to burnout sit with only one person: me.

The article recommends three things: Setting boundaries, prioritising your health and asking for help. I’m already doing a fairly decent job of taking care of my health – but when I thought about it, I’m not sure how good I am at boundaries. And I do need help. So I have signed up with a burnout coach.

I’m looking forward to getting to the root of this recurring issue, and learning some new skills. I plan to share what I can in future articles. 

And I am glad that the endless parade of self-help articles that so depressingly fill the Internet weren’t the place where I stopped in my search.

READ: Thoughts at the end of a long year

Main picture: Taken by Dawit (Unsplash)

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