Summer … we all know to get the sunblock and hats out to shield us from the intense and dangerous rays. But, what about protecting ourselves from other, less obvious burns … like summer burnout? No, I’m not just talking about feeling rundown and exhausted from one too many pool party cocktails, or the stress of packing up a camper with your family for some long road trips. No doubt, those types of summer activities can make a person feel “burned out” by the end of this season.
What I’m referring to is how we can get maxed out and feel the burn with respect to our careers. Gone are the days when summer implied endless leisure hours at a cottage, extended camping trips, or sleeping in with no worries about homework or exams. Most of us grownups still must work during the balmy summer days, while trying to juggle all the “fun” extra social activities and events that come with summer.
For the average adult, summer doesn’t necessarily mean a break. 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 caused by hot weather or the prevalence of Hawaiian shirts, socializing on patios, summer weddings, 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 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 work-related troubles. For many hard-working professionals and entrepreneurs with heavy workloads and responsibilities the stress never really ends.
What is Burnout?
To make sure that we’re all on the same page regarding burnout, ‘summer fatigue’ or ‘summer burnout’ is that sluggish feeling that you sometimes experience because of the effects of warmer 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 find a balance between work and personal demands. This burden goes beyond the challenge of juggling your priorities to make it to your cousin’s summer solstice themed wedding while writing also finishing a report for your boss on time. Although, I do believe this is where a lot of summer burnout begins.
People with demanding careers 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 numerous summer engagement and wedding invitations. Then there’s the pressure to book a cottage or road trip before the leaves change colour and it’s too cold to swim.
Then, there’s the additional stress due to 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 we 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. Create some ‘unavailable hours’ for yourself and stick to them.
We’re all human so there are times when we’ll procrastinate, or our work will take longer than we expected. This means that sometimes, we’ll need to work late or work at home even after putting in a full day. To prevent this from becoming a habit, one strategy is to have a set time every day where we give ourselves some time to relax without being beholden to technology or social media. This could mean putting our phone in ‘do not disturb mode’ or not responding to emails until after your morning meditation or coffee. There’s something to be said for having some time every day when we don’t worry about what other people want from us and we just catch our breath a little.
2. Don’t over-schedule yourself, 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 Check-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:
- Is there someone to whom I can delegate this?
- Can this task wait until next week without creating any problems?
- 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 reducing your obligations.
For information about the differences between clinical psychologists, psychotherapists, and psychiatry, please read this guest blog post.
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