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Escaping Burnout: How Women Can Help Each Other

Meaghan Hunt  |  March 3, 2022

Harness your community, connect with the women around you, and kick the burnout for real this time. No, we do not recommend a bubble bath.

The burnout struggle is real. Going on two full years of a global pandemic, women are trying to work, parent, and salvage their social lives amid the continued hazards of COVID-19. There’s no doubt that women in this country are reaching their limits. We run into friends at the store or in the break room at work, laughing it off– “Haha, I’m totally at my breaking point!”– but the implications can be serious for our physical and mental health. 

Self-care is the overhyped buzz term of our time, but the reality remains: no bubble-bath-and-wine regimen or luxury spa weekend will solve the underlying issues we’re up against. Problematically, the very concept of self-care shifts the onus of societal stressors back onto individuals– which only contributes to the isolating sense that there’s something wrong with us for feeling this way. 

So here we are. Living in a state of perpetual burnout, ambiguous grief, and exhaustion. This is no longer a “just make it for a few months” situation; this may be the “new normal.” Luckily, women have long turned to each other and to a community approach for support. How can we channel our support networks in this moment to reconnect and refresh in meaningful ways? Here are some ideas for how to protect your energy and sanity.

Socialize and Schedule Strategically

Zoom Happy Hours were a creative move in 2020 when quarantine was still a novelty and folks weren’t suffering video chat fatigue just yet. The next time you’re invited to a social “event,” whether in person or virtual, consider carefully.

Before committing to something, consider: will this connection revitalize you, or will it just be another appointment on your calendar? Connecting with an old friend is different from a larger-scale networking event or a venting debrief with coworkers. While both kinds of occasions have value, prolonging your workplace angst may not be the best use of time right now. Similarly, be careful about expending your limited energy with “parent friends” or casual acquaintances. Reserve your limited time and energy for the interactions that will energize and encourage you. 

If you have the scheduling bandwidth, earmark one night a week to share dinner with a close friend or two. This can be something to look forward to in your regular calendar lineup. Bonus: if the host cooks and guests just bring wine or dessert, that’s one less meal you’ll have to plan or think about. Alternatively, a potluck can keep things simple for everyone.

Protecting your time and energy is key to breaking out of the burnout slump, says Candace Good, M.D., of Psychology Today. “Take radical responsibility for your schedule; do not overbook or overcommit. A pandemic is not the time to overdo it. Don’t let the time you save on commuting turn into an evening of reports and emails.”

Share the Load

Who knew that a grocery or Target run could be so profoundly draining? Especially given the supply chain woes of late now is the time to consider larger-scale supply runs in cooperation with your social circle. Shopping services like Shipt and Instacart are life-savers, but service fees and delivery costs can bust your grocery budget.

If a friend has a Costco or Sam’s Club membership, ask to organize a group trip once a month. This will not only trim down on the number of desperate *Please* Have Almond Milk grocery runs you make, but such team efforts are likely to make you feel less alone in tackling this regular chore. Heck, throw in a coffee run before or a lunch stop after, and you will have successfully combined a chore and a girls’ brunch in one effort.

Another take can be the long-honored practice of shared childcare. Combine forces with some of your best parent friends, and you can arrange a schedule rotation that allows “mothers’ day out” hours without the cost of enrolling your child in a group care setting. If every parent involved can bet on two or three protected hours without their littles each week, this freedom to tackle chores and errands outside the home can be a huge relief. Especially if you’re remote working and feel as if you never leave the house anymore! 

Maybe you just need one night off a week– alone– to read in complete silence or zone out scrolling TikTok. If your babysitting cooperative can ensure you get three Wednesday nights off in exchange for one Wednesday night making large-batch mac and cheese for some kindergarteners, the tradeoff could be well worth it.

Reconnect with Your Exercise Buddies

Home gyms were a fun change of pace at the beginning of the pandemic, but even the beloved Peloton has taken a hit recently as consumers are craving a change of scenery. With gyms and workout facilities reopening, you might be eager to get back into a more structured, third-place exercise setting with supportive peers in orbit.

While you may not be eager to line up for a turn on the treadmill, that’s totally fine. Consider reconnecting with a group yoga or pilates class once a week, which can be beneficial for both your body and sanity. Not all of us are dying to peel off the couch and abandon our Netflix binges for movement. But burnout experts and medical professionals agree that exercise is a critical habit to improve your brain space. “One of the most powerful everyday actions for optimal mood and mental health is regular exercise,” says Robin Berzin, M.D., author of State Change: End Anxiety, Beat Burnout, and Ignite a New Baseline of Energy and Flow

How can you support your fellow women and motivate yourself to get back out there? Here are a couple of ideas to get started:

  • Pool resources to hire a private instructor. A private yoga class can run in the neighborhood of $80, but with a few friends, you can share the cost if your instructor is amenable. This gives everyone the chance to dip their toes back into group class water in a low-pressure environment. Plus, if you’re surrounded by friends, no one will judge the ill-fitting workout yoga pants that you haven’t touched for the last two years. (Does anyone have a pair left that fits properly?)
  • Go for a walk… with a purpose. Visit a local farmer’s market with your friend group to support local businesses and also get your steps in. Or, if you need something more intense, register for a 5k run or walk in your area. This will give you a goal to work toward in community with colleagues, old friends, or family members who may also want to get back into moving more.

On the whole, re-engaging your support networks is key to combating burnout in real and meaningful ways. Let’s be real, a $5 face mask from Sephora is not going to revolutionize your life and magically reverse the toxic stress you’re under. But there are steps you can take toward a more supported life with the women around you. 

Make an outdoor walk with friends to your favorite coffee shop. Indulge on a date night with your partner while the kiddos are at a babysitting pool at the neighbors’ house. Or knock out a month’s worth of grocery shopping in one power trip with your sister or bestie (and her Costco membership). There is no single magic bullet to feeling better but tapping into the support networks around you will help you to feel stronger and empower you to tackle more. Your happy hour group of coworkers, the mom friends from library storytime, relatives who live in your area, and neighbors who live nearby are all likely to be desperate for connection and support too.

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