Learning to Avoid Emotional Burnout

I have a secret for you. It’s one that you’ve probably guessed at, maybe even figured out through experience. Here it is: caring about people sucks. It’s exhausting to worry about everyone else in your life all the time, and it’s even worse when they’re all dealing with their own issues. I have this tendency to take on all the emotions and issues of everyone around me all the time, and I can’t turn it off, as much as I wish I could sometimes. My therapist calls this being an empath; I like to blame it on my Cancer ascendant. Either way, it’s not something I’m getting rid of any time soon. Right now, the world is scary and hard, and I can’t help but add to my own worries by taking on all the ones of the people around me. Because of this, I’ve had to learn how to develop ways of still giving as much as I want to without getting burnt out.

As cheesy as it sounds, the easiest way for me to do this is some good old-fashioned self-care. A LUSH bath bomb, some hot chocolate, even just a mindless movie: they all accomplish the same thing. The important part of practicing self-care in this scenario is the fact that I’m focusing on me. Giving space to my own emotions, my own fears and desires, is the easiest way for me to reorient and figure out how I can make myself happier. In the end, this actually lets me focus more on the people around me, and that’s what I like the most. Sometimes, self-care takes different forms. It’s giving myself time to actually write more than one draft of the paper I’ve been stressed about. It’s doing laundry, even though I really, really, don’t want to. For me, these things are important because they clear up space in my head. If I’m stressed about my own life, when I try and take on other people’s lives it just makes everything worse.

I hate to admit it, but sometimes there’s times when I’m burnt out because I really have taken on too much. I read the news every morning, I check in with my girlfriend and my friends, I engage too much in classroom debates, and by the end of the day I’m really and truly drained. Those days are the times when I need to look at why I’m doing what I’m doing. Sometimes, I put all my effort into caring about other people and other things, so I don’t need to care about myself, and that’s not healthy. I know I’m not the only person who does this, because I’ve talked to my friends about it multiple times. It’s a kind of coping mechanism we’ve all developed: compassion as self-neglect, exhaustion as avoidance. It has its roots in good things, but even if it’s not consciously, I employ it so I don’t have to deal with my own emotional turmoil. I think recognizing that, and recognizing the ways each of us uses similar tactics, is key to ensuring that we can catch ourselves and save ourselves from burnout.

Here’s another secret for you: we all get burnt out sometimes. Everyone has a different threshold, so even if you’re not an empath or a Cancer, you’ll probably experience it at some point. The only real way to keep yourself from being emotionally exhausted all the time is to figure out what works for you, and to take care of yourself. Self-care isn’t selfish, and especially not when its intent is to revive yourself in order to keep caring. 

Image credit: 1, 2, 3