Do you know what exhaustion feels like?
Meet Kim, she’s a nurse, or in her words ‘just a nurse’.
When she first qualified twenty-three years ago she had bags of energy, but these days she mostly feels, ‘tired all the time’. She is often tearful and feels overwhelmed, and says that most of her colleagues do too. She reminds herself that others have it worse, and she’s not one to complain.
She’d love to take time off, she knows she needs it, but her work is important to her, and she would worry about putting even more pressure on her colleagues, so she keeps going, promising herself she’ll book a holiday soon.
Meet Salena, she’s a senior accountant and has just survived ‘another hellish start to the year’.
She says she used to be much better at multi-tasking – balancing her clients’ demands, requests from her manager and the rest of the team, and her family commitments. She loves to be useful: if she can help someone she does. But she admits that it is tough right now.
She’s covering for a colleague on sick leave with ‘burnout’ so her own workload has increased and nobody has told her when her colleague will be coming back. She’s desperate to spend time with her kids during the upcoming Easter holidays but she doubts that her boss will allow it.
As we can see, even when we notice the signs of exhaustion it can be difficult to slow down, stop what we’re doing or allow ourself to take a break. Perhaps some of this sounds familiar to you.
Is your desire to help others, bad for you?
The facts are: you want to help others, you believe can help them, so you make time to help them.
This is especially true if you are a naturally caring person – you’re more likely to be sensitive to other people’s needs and you’ll be compelled to do what you can to meet them.
This is also especially true if you are conscientious – you expect to meet your own high standards at all times (and get cross with yourself when you can’t).
But sometimes your desire to help others can get the better of you. Ever since qualifying as a psychologist twenty-five years ago, I’ve noticed an unwritten rule: people who love to care for others tend not to care as well for themselves. To what extent is this true for you or the exhausted helpers that you know or work with?
The Paradox – signs and symptoms of exhaustion
The busier you are, the more you take on.
The more you take on, the more tired you feel.
The more tired you feel, the less exercise you take.
The less exercise you take, the less well you sleep.
The less well you sleep, the more you turn to caffeine, sugar and alcohol.
The more you turn to caffeine, sugar and alcohol, the more exhausted you become.
The more exhausted you become, the less likely you are to ask for help.
Not asking for help
Are you good at asking for help? No? Then I’m really glad you’re reading this. You see, most people who like to care for others are utterly rubbish at seeking out the help and support they need for themselves. It’s a strange and interesting dynamic and I’m gently inviting you to begin reflecting on it so that you can navigate your way out of this potentially devastating mode.
I’m going to cover the many of the reasons why we don’t ask for help later on in Part 2 and over on my Instagram feed. Meanwhile try answering one or more of the reflection questions below.
Speak Up – please don’t suffer in silence
Whilst I am writing a book on how to cope with being an exhausted compassionate person (read more about that here) right now I’d like to encourage you to think about – better still write down – what you are not saying.
How are you honestly feeling right now?
Who can you tell how you really feel? (e.g. a friend, an aunt, a lover)
Who should you tell how you really feel? (e.g. a colleague, manager, HR)
What type of help would you like to get from this person? (e.g. support, permission to take time off etc.)
And finally, what can you start doing in order to help yourself right now?
There’s much more to say on this subject. If any of this was useful let me know @JessBakerPsych on Twitter, IG and Facebook.
I’m keen to support you to be as healthy and energised as you can be, so that you can be the most effective helper that you desire to be.
p.s. Part 2 is on its way . . . meanwhile, please be kinder to yourself – you deserve it.
p.p.s. Oh, and here’s 52 Ways to be Kinder Yourself It’s a workbook and guided meditation that I’ve created as a useful resource for people who want to identify their own needs and learn how to meet them better.