It happens to the best of us – in fact, the most invested in your job you are, the more likely it is to happen to you. Burnout. Your alarm goes off, and you don’t want to get out of bed. It’s not just tiredness and lack of sleep, although that’s part of it. You have given and given, worked and worked to make do with less and less, constantly striving to demonstrate the value of your library program and what you bring. Now it feels there is nothing left.
Burnout is common to leaders –so take some comfort in knowing that as lousy as it feels, it’s a sign that you are acting as a leader. Going into work when you’ve been feeling this way for a while leads to little getting accomplished. Worse, because you are not at your best, you are less likely to handle situations with your usual skill. This, in turn, will give you more work to do in repairing any damage to relationships and the last thing you need is more work.
Although the feelings of burnout are most likely to happen during the school year, vacation is a good time to prepare for the likely possibility of this condition. Knowing in advance how to deal with this challenge will help you get past it quickly.
Once again, I’m using advice from the business world to address this. The first suggestion Mark Ellis offers, in his article entitled What to Do When You Can’t Face Your Team, is to take some time off. During the school year, that’s probably limited to one “mental health” day (personal or sick – your choice) but it’s vital that you use it if you truly need it. And when you do use it – do what you can to make the most of it. Since you’re reading this during vacation, make sure you currently are taking the opportunity to replenish yourself. It’s also a good time to stop and think about what makes you feel burned out and what most helps alleviate the stress. This way when “symptoms” appear, you have a plan.
Ellis’s next suggestion is to remind yourself why you do what you do. In other words, connect with your Why. Read last week’s blog as a reminder. And if you still haven’t defined your Why, this should be a further incentive to do so.
For those of you who can, meditation is another one of Ellis’s methods for breaking out of burnout. There are not only shelves of books to help you with this, but videos and apps as well. If it works for you, you’ve got a great new tool to use whenever you need it. I use walking to get out of my head and find an inner peace. You deserve to find an equivalent that works for you.
If you have been beating yourself up because your library program doesn’t “look’ the way you want it to or you are comparing your library to someone else’s—give it up. As Ellis says, “putting that much expectation on yourself as a leader will only leave you chasing something that doesn’t exist.”
Wendi Pillars, writing for ASCD, presents Eight Burnout-busting Self-care Strategies that can also help. The first is Monitor Connectivity. We are far too attached to our digital devices and need to schedule unplugged time for ourselves. I now shut my computer down for the day at supper time. Watching some of my favorite television programs after dinner (I’m hooked on several British mystery series) is a great way to tune out and give my brain a time to rest.
Create is Pillars’ second recommendation (and – bonus! – it’s one of the four Domains of our new National School Library Standards). There are many ways to create. Knit, crochet, draw, doodle, take pictures, scrapbook, or put together a puzzle. Adult coloring books can bring out the artistic side of just about anyone. Is it any wonder they are so popular. Look to things that give you pleasure. Even writing a snail mail thank you is a form of creativity.
Pillars follows that with Get Back to Nature which can mean camping, walking even simply going to a nearby park to sit on a bench and relax.
Review Your Diet and Sleep are her next two suggestions. When you are feeling burnt out you are likely not eating wisely. Usually, that means too many sugars or carbohydrates which leads to worse eating and also affects your sleep. Figure out how much sleep you need and do what you can to get those hours. You deserve them and your career and relationships will benefit from it.
Choose Your Frame is about mindset. Negative self-talk makes everything worse. Find a better way to see the situation. What are you doing well despite the challenges?
Enjoy Friends and don’t say you haven’t time because you have too much to do. You will always have too much to do. Time lost with friends and family can never be recovered. And you will feel restored after being with them.
Finally, Practice Gratitude. This is advice I love. It also helps your mindset. When you see how much you have to be grateful for, you are much less likely to indulge in negative self-talk. Keep a list, a journal, or even jot it down in your calendar at the end of each day. As the list grows you’ll find yourself feeling better.
None of these ideas are earth-shattering. You probably could have come up with many of them yourself, but now you have them laid out. As Ellis concludes in his article, don’t consider burnout as a failure. “Leadership is tough, and we all have to go through these difficult periods if we are to grow and thrive.”