Phewwww. The irony of not being able to write a blog about burnout because I’m burnt out is not lost on me. And do excuse me if I am preaching to the choir – I have a feeling a lot of us are in the same boat.
Ahh burn out. To be honest, you may even be experiencing it without even knowing.
Burnout is usually caused by prolonged stress, and leaves you mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. For me, work has been the most stressful it has ever been, I’ve been working on my Masters, and I’ve been going through the house buying process. Oh, and living through a pandemic – now that’s a period of prolonged stress. I’ve been doing, doing, doing, and now I’ve reached a point where my engine has run out of gas; I’m pouring from an empty cup; I have burnt-out.
I can tend to recognise when I’ve tip-toed over the edge into burnout territory. It starts with clenched teeth, and that leads to clenching all of my body without realising. I’m walking around with muscles like a stone gargoyle. My emotions tend to get caught up inside of me and end up rattling about all day until one tiny thing sets them all running. It takes me so much longer to do tasks because my brain feels like it’s stuffed with cotton wool. I can’t even get my little hands into gear to do things that I love, like writing for the blog or playing Animal Crossing (and that little island gives me joy, even with that swindler, Tom Nook)!
That’s how I’ve been feeling for the past few weeks. And I’ve tried to get myself out of it! This ain’t my first burnout rodeo; I know what’s worked for me before. Normally, the self-care queen within comes out, and with a few days rest, hot baths, yoga, and mint tea, I’m back on track. But this year, and these past few months have fully taken it out of me. It’s going to take a little bit more than sugary self-care to help here.
Thankfully, I was curled up in my duvet after work, trying to muster up the courage to work on a Masters presentation, and a thought hit me out of nowhere. I’ve been treating all of my balls like glass balls.
Wait. Hold up. Let’s go back a bit. Balls? (Oi oi). Glass balls? What are you on about?
I’m talking about the idea of juggling plastic balls and glass balls in your life. I originally saw a thread about this on Twitter, and there’s a great article discussing it over on Working Mother (I’m not a mother, I can just appreciate a good article!). Originally, this concept came from author Nora Roberts, and it’s the idea that we are all juggling in our lives to achieve balance. Some of those juggling balls are made out of glass, and some are made of plastic. You can drop a plastic ball and it might bounce but it won’t break; no worries there. However, if you drop a glass ball, it will break on impact and shatter. So, you’ve got to learn to prioritise – to catch the glass balls before they hit the ground, you’ve got to drop some of the plastic ones.
As the thread says, it’s not about juggling a few balls (another ‘oi oi’, just for fun). It’s about every task in your life being a ball. That ranges from brushing your hair and taking the bin out, to showing up to work and paying your electricity bill. And these balls can change from plastic to glass or vice versa, depending on the day, or even the hour. For example, work should be a glass ball for me in the week, and a plastic one at the weekend (I am not paid enough to have work be a glass ball on the weekend, hell no).
My problem, and the cause of this burnout, is that I’ve been treating every task in my life, every ball, like a glass ball. Skincare? Glass ball. Folding my washing? Glass ball. Getting eight hours of sleep? Glass ball. I’ve been prioritising everything in my life when that is truly not healthy. Sure, it’s annoying to drop a plastic ball, because you’ve got to pick it up later, but it’s still going to be there.
So, I need to learn to work out the differences between my plastic balls and glass balls. And that’s what I’ve been doing this week.
Already, I’ve been feeling a lot better. Me and my balls (sorry, I’ll stop laughing now) are much more balanced. My glass ball tasks are defined by asking the question ‘do I actually, (and I mean actually, Rosie) need to do this today?’ I’m talking about taking my medication on time, logging into work, dealing with deadline tasks, nourishing my body with food, sorting finances etc. And the plastic balls? Well, that’s everything else! Some days my plastic balls, like essays for my Masters and cleaning the house, will turn to glass balls. And some days, my glass balls will turn to plastic, and I might just have to drop them.
Right now, if you were to shake my shoulders, you won’t hear my emotions rattling about. I feel stretched out and unclenched, and my brain is starting to feel light again. Sure, I’m still stressed (thanks capitalism), but I know what’s important and what I can put to the side. I’m finding more time for me and I can feel that creative cup starting to fill again.
Thank you for reading, and I hope this post has helped you think about the way you deal with balance in life. Let me know in the comments if you’ve struggled with burnout before, and what has helped you get back on track.