Burnout is all over the news media these days, and it’s bad for your family’s health. American’s work long hours, rush around and juggle hectic schedules, and push ourselves, even our kids, to the limits of our capacities. The result? Too many of us are experiencing burnout. Medical sites around the web have added “burnout” to their list of problems you should guard against. The Mayo Clinic (http://www.mayoclinic.org/) cautions that becoming burnt out can lead not only to depression and anxiety, but also leads to insomnia, alcohol abuse, diabetes, or even stroke.
Sure, we all need to slow the pace, but sometimes the frenetic lifestyle is beyond our control. We can’t all change our work or extracurricular schedules when we need to relax. What can you do to protect yourself and your family?
Steps to protect against family burnout:
Ask for a hug
Numerous studies have shown that close physical contact is good for your health. Hugs are a great way to be close- for you, your kids, your spouse or partner, or your friends. Hugs are almost always well-received, and they benefit the giver and the receiver as a tool for lowering stress. Not sure when it’s appropriate to offer a hug? Just ask.
Sitting on the sofa, staring at television, zoning out may feel like a temporary escape, but too much sedentary time isn’t good for stress management. During downtime, families can improve the health of every member, from toddler to grandparent, by getting up and going out to play. Toss a ball around on the lawn, go explore at the park, or host a rocking dance party in your living room on a rainy Sunday afternoon, but get the family moving. In addition to the fun you’ll have today, you’ll reap long term health benefits as well.
Catch some rays
Sun exposure is no longer the enemy it was once thought to be. In small amounts, sunlight has a number of health benefits. A little sunlight raises vitamin D levels, which is good for your mood and for your general health. And sun exposure via the eyes or “phototherapy” is a well known treatment for depression and seasonal affective disorder (related to that dip in mood in the fall and winter). So if it has been a hard week and you need to relax, spending time outside can do wonders.
Count your blessings
Gratitude is good for you. We have all heard that being grateful is good for us. And it’s true. Counting your blessings can boost your mood quickly and remind you how fortunate you are. Rather than sitting at your desk feeling victimized by all your work (or homework), try tallying up all the things that make you feel fortunate today. Teach even young kids how to use gratitude to refresh their moods. Your whole family will feel better. And you’ll have that to be grateful for, too.
Get a few extra Z’s
When life gets hectic, it becomes tempting to shave a little time off your sleep. We tell ourselves that that extra half hour returning emails or working on a school project is going to lower our stress, but it never quite turns out to be true. Chronic sleep loss is associated with poor health, contributing to accidents, obesity, mental health disorders, and heart attacks (and many more health problems). So do yourself a favor and stick to your bedtime. Most adults need around 8 hours per night, and kids, even teens, usually need 9 or more. If the hectic pace interferes with sleep during the week, make sure to sleep in on the weekends or catch an afternoon nap. Your family will feel better with a little more rest.
Expand your circle of support
Human beings are social creatures and being social is good for our health and well being, but when we’re too busy, we really don’t have time to give or receive support from the people in our lives. Sure, we see people- at work, at soccer games and swim practice. We see the piano teacher and the colleagues we pass in the hall at the office. But to stay healthy, we need to take time to connect. If you’re family is feeling burnt out, maybe it’s time to host a cookout or invite the neighbors to hang out and watch the game. Take a little time to expand your circle beyond the nuclear family. It will be worth the extra effort to kick back and relax with friends.
Strive to meet a new goal
One of the bet ways to re-invigorate yourselves is to take on a new challenge. Maybe you’re tired of the day-to-day responsibilities, but you could get excited about beginning something new. Maybe the family needs to take an art class, or learn a language, or design a birthday project for grandma. Whatever the challenge, striving to meet a new goal can energize the whole family.
Dr. Deuter is a psychiatrist who specializes in the care of emerging adults.