Seasonal Summer Burnout?
By: Dr. Helen Ofosu
Seasonal Summer Burnout?
Summer … remember when that season inspired you as a kid to throw your school papers carelessly in the air while trading in your backpack for a beach towel? Those were the days … right?
For most adults, summer doesn’t necessarily mean a break. And, although it remains a popular season for people to book time off for a ‘staycation’ or vacation, I think it’s still safe to assume that those two sun-filled months don’t always imply fun and relaxation. In fact, over the years I’ve seen a common trend where many professionals experience some form of burnout during the summer, either feeling distracted, unmotivated or overwhelmed. Clearly, this isn’t actually caused by hot weather or the prevalence of Hawaiian shirts, patio parties, or umbrellas in our drinks. We aren’t dealing with a case of ‘fun-stroke’ … so, why do people report feeling burned out when the calendar gets closer to July and August?
For starters, following a yearlong stretch of working through autumn, winter, and spring, summer starts to feel like that inviting pool you just want to plunge into and finally forget all your occupational troubles. It becomes that mirage of hope after running a grueling marathon where you keep seeing that finish line, but somehow it never gets closer. I say this because for most professionals, especially with challenging workloads and responsibilities the stress truly never ends.
What is Burnout?
Before going any further, I’ll break down what a ‘real’ burnout is, just so that we’re on the same page. Summer fatigue or summer burnout is that sluggish feeling that you sometimes experience because of the effects of good weather. In contrast, ‘real’ or ‘classic’ burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to:
- physical and emotional exhaustion
- cynicism and detachment
- feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment
Often, summer’s rise in temperature matches the increased need to perform a balancing act between work and personal demands. This burden goes beyond the hassle of juggling to make it to your cousin’s summer solstice themed wedding while writing a report for your boss. Although, I do believe this is where a lot of summer burnout begins. All at once, people with demanding professions are expected to attend a greater number of social and family events, and yet, still maintain their work efficiency. Suddenly, the kids are out of school, and depending on their age(s) you’ll need to find proper supervision, either in camps or daycare. You might also start dreading the mail, which may include a smattering of summer engagement and wedding invitations. Not to mention the pressure to book a cottage or camping excursion before the leaves change colour and it’s too cold to swim. It’s no wonder so many are exhausted when they’re expected to put in the same number of hours in their work- week while doing these extra activities. And what is additionally stressful is the unspoken assumption that we should all appear happy about it because … hey, it’s summer! Unfortunately, not everyone can manage the multitasking of ‘extra’ fun without feeling overwhelmed by the added demands on their time.
Coping with Summer Burnout
So, how can you cope and also avoid summer burnout? Well just like you’d prepare for an outing in the scorching heat with a slathering of sunscreen, large hats, and plenty of water, you need to identify the risks and take preventative action.
1. Plan ahead. This means taking the time to sort out your calendar in advance so that you can schedule your vacations, book your children’s activities, and also to ensure you don’t accidentally over-schedule yourself.
2. Learn how to say no. This applies to both professional and social demands. If you can’t juggle two expectations that will occur at the same time (or too close together), try being honest. It’s amazing how others respond when you are forthright about your limits.
3. Career Tune-up. Despite the potential for lots of leisure activities, summer is also a season when you should take advantage of this time away from the office to consider the state of your career. Long road trips, lounging by the pool, camping, hiking, biking or canoeing is a great opportunity to reflect on what’s going well and what could use some improvement. Now might be the time to re-evaluate your career path. Do you enjoy your work? Are you earning enough? Feeling secure in your position and industry? Maybe it’s time to prepare for a promotion or learn some new skills that might help you improve your career progression.
4. To Don’t List. Eliminate some stressors by creating a weekly to-don’t list of tasks. Evaluate each bullet point on your to-do list by asking: 1) Is there someone to whom I can delegate this? 2) Can this task wait until next week without creating any problems? 3) Can this assignment be altered to make it simpler or less time-consuming? These simple questions will help you to prioritize your workload while also de-cluttering your obligations.
5. Stay Healthy. Maintaining a routine of good nutrition, plenty of sleep and exercise can go a long way. This will not only boost your immune system and energy levels to deal with additional activities and work but help your overall mood so that you can enjoy the summer the way you did as a kid.
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