BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

Are You Burnt-Out?

Posted by gansie on November 4, 2010

Women try to balance a myriad of responsibilities. This new era of a 24/7 world makes it hard to physically, mentally and emotionally shut off. Burnout can be a serious condition that must be confronted and treated. Here are some ways to see if you are under too much stress.

High-Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout
by Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter

The first test is to leave work on a Friday and commit to treating yourself to a relaxing, stress-free weekend (or to any two consecutive days off). Although relaxing can take on many forms, for the purposes of this exercise (and for what I suspect your level of exhaustion is if you’ve decided to do this exercise), let’s keep to a traditional relaxing, stress-free weekend. You cannot bring any work home. You can’t take any work-related calls or respond to any work-related emails or texts or any other new methods of communication the techies may develop. If your family is a source of stress, try to get away from them for the weekend. Basically, your “job” is to remove as many sources of stress from your life as possible and infuse as many stress-reducing elements (mostly in the form of rest) into your life for two and a half days.

Try to sleep in both days. Eat right. Occupy your time with relaxing activities that you rarely allow yourself to enjoy. If you like to read, read. If you like to cook, cook. If you like to write, write. If you don’t like to do anything, don’t do anything. Just don’t expose yourself to any stress for two and a half days.

If you awaken on Monday morning feeling tired and dreading your day, you are very likely suffering from burnout. If you want to determine the severity of your burnout, you can take a second test. But first, take a deep breath and remember to exhale, because it’s going to involve your taking some of that vacation time you’ve probably resisted using all these years.

So here’s the test. Take two weeks off from work to see if you can recover any of your strength and vitality. The same rules apply as for the first test. Remove stressors. Add stress reducers. Have fun. The whole nine yards for the entire two weeks. Because it’s two weeks, and I don’t want you pulling your hair out over a two-week period, you don’t have to stick with the traditional stress relievers. You can try a few of the high-octane stress relievers described in chapter 8. But don’t do anything too physically exhausting. Try to get at least eight hours of sleep each night and to eat at least three meals a day, preferably healthy ones.

After two weeks, if you don’t feel like you’ve recovered very much, your problems are very likely severe and you should consider making some significant changes in your lifestyle in order to return to a normal level of functioning.


If the tests didn’t turn out the way you were hoping, it’s normal to feel upset. No one likes to hear that she’s burned out. But the good news is that burnout isn’t a terminal illness. There are things you can do to make changes, things that we’ll go over in the next section. The important thing to keep in mind is that you are still the same person you were when you entered the race, maybe a little wiser to the not-always-so-pleasant ways of the world, maybe a little older. But at your core, you are the same. Your drive, your enthusiasm, your passion, and your energy may have gotten buried under the weight of the stress you’ve been carrying around, but those qualities and all the other good ones are still inside you. You just need to find ways to reach inside and find the sparks that first ignited your engine so that you can climb back into the driver’s seat and reenter the race.

From High-Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout (Prometheus Books, 2010). Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

photo credit


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