Dec. 7, 2022

Burnout Is Not Good

If you listened to this week's episode, you'll understand this question: how are you and Betty White doing?

This week's guest, Dr. Hollie Sturgeon, shared her own experience of hitting her breaking point with burnout. After a late night working as a clinical pharmacist, Dr. Hollie found herself driving on the freeway for two hours in a dazed state. She pulled up to a Walmart with a dead phone, where she parked and was left in hysterics - until someone knocked on her window, causing a moment of panic as her true-crime-loving self assumed she must be meeting her abductor. Instead, she saw an older woman who resembled Betty White (may the queen rest in peace).

Tired is having that moment of panic: Betty White, you scared me there!
Burned out is being stuck in that panic: It's been six months and I'm still scared of Betty White.

Burnout can look a lot differently for us, it turns out, depending on our personality traits that make us prone to burnout. I'm detail-focused, meaning I am giving in spirit but also perfectionistic. This means that I need all of my own work to be pristine, and that I will do your job as well so it gets done without a hiccup. It also means that I love Excel, particularly when its color-coded. 

When I think about burnout, I think about grad school. I was a full-time student completing an unpaid 20 hour/week internship where I got bullied by my supervisor, and would commute 40 minutes straight from there to work a 4-9 waitressing shift. I would then write papers until the wee hours of the morning, sometimes with a glass of wine. I was having panic attacks in the car, and Lexapro was giving me nightmares. I was in an abusive relationship. And honestly, when I look back on it, I have a really difficult time remembering it. It all seems like a blur defined by a handful of memories, most of them sitting at my desk.

I don't say this for sympathy, but because I think in my story you might see yours. We all go through seasons that feel like the end of our rope. We're exhausted and can't catch a break. It doesn't have to be work-related, either. Dr. Hollie also targets caregivers burnout. If you're dealing with both, it's a hybrid.

Our bodies are in overdrive when we're burned out - like pushing the pedal of a car with no gas to the floor. So how do we fill ourselves up a bit more? Dr. Hollie recommends the science of play.

Play releases all of our happy hormones: oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. Scientifically, these all help balance our nervous systems when we're feeling stressed, allowing our bodies to rest and restore, and therefore decreasing burnout. So, what does playing look like as a working adult? It could look like a lot of different things:

  • Taking out a board game with the family
  • Getting outside for at least 30 minutes/day
  • Taking walks on your lunch break
  • Using an app throughout the day for 5 minute play breaks (ex. Candy Crush)
  • Picking up a new hobby to enjoy regularly (my husband and I once joined an adult recreational kickball league)

All of these trigger reward responses in our brain, and these boosts can really make a difference in how we feel. Of course, as mentioned in the episode, incorporating play in your life will not resolve work environments that are abusive, too demanding, or just not the right fit for your personality. If that is the case, a new job might be the fix.

How can you incorporate play into your daily life? 

- MJ