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It Matters That We’re All at the Brink of Burnout

May I admit something?

I’m tired.

It’s the kind of bone-deep tired that I know, if left unchecked, can easily turn into burnout.

And here’s what else I know: no human being is immune to burnout. But women of color are at greater risk – burnout affects us more often than it affects white and other dominant group people.

This has always been true, due to the psychologically damaging and physically exhausting impacts of facing racism and sexism in the workplace and wider community.

But I think we’re particularly susceptible now as we navigate our "post"-pandemic reality. After all, most of us are expected to return to the workplace in some capacity – places often rife with exclusionary and biased behaviors. This, after we spent 2.5 years figuring out how to homeschool, work from home, isolate and manage our grief at the rise of anti-Asian violence and anti-Black police brutality.

I understand that many of us don’t work in jobs that have resources to support mental health, which is why it’s so important to be our own best caregivers by recognizing and addressing early signs that can signal burnout.

As I feel my own tiredness and see it reflected in my women of color friends and colleagues, I’ve been thinking about what helps me address it.

There are three main practices that help me avoid burning out:

  1. Solitude: I ensure I find ways to spend time alone when I need it. I'm lucky that I get to decline opportunities when I need a break–a perk of working for myself–but I do have to push back more often than I ever thought I did. And while I don't navigate the same challenges as an employee may have to when declining a request from a boss, it's still hard for me and a guilt-ridden process to feel like I'm letting others down. What helps is knowing that if I don't make time for quiet, I'm letting myself down. What does solitude look like? Sometimes it means spending a car ride breathing deeply instead of catching up on the news. Or reading casual fiction rather than the latest bestselling, thought-provoking book. Or taking a walk around my neighborhood in silence, rather than listening to a podcast. In short, taking brain breaks alone, rather than spending non-work time “leveling up” to become more informed.

For me, preventing burnout often means reminding myself that it's ok not to be caught up on the latest news, podcast, book or tv drama. That brain breaks are just as necessary as opportunities to stretch my brain.

2. Community: Checking in and spending time with other women of color gives me a sense of belonging that is utterly energizing. Sometimes, that means holding space one-on-one with a friend. Other times, it's by attending a gathering with people who make me feel accepted, appreciated and understood.

When I reflect on how many times a check-in message from a friend or even a stranger appreciating something I wrote, arrived like clockwork just as I was losing my cool, it's often felt like a touch of magic to my weary soul.

3. Education: Learning about the systems and structures of our world helps me zoom out on my situation. It gives me a chance to think about the big picture. And I know I’m not alone in that! I have been energized to learn that 20,000+ people have enrolled in my new LinkedIn Learning course, Moving DEI from Intention to Impact. Learning and reflecting through seeking out books, courses and podcasts often helps me feel restored. When I walk away feeling like my mind was stretched, it often refreshes me to take on new challenges. Of course, it has to be in the right balance with the solitude I mentioned in step 1. Sometimes I need to lean towards learning and sometimes I need to lean away, depending on which one I need to feel whole again at that moment.

Taking the opposite action to what I need is when the burnout feelings exacerbate. Self-care should always be customized. Candles and massages may work for some. It may not work for you. And that's ok.

I want to be clear: the practices I describe here support me personally when I’m approaching burnout. But sometimes more serious interventions are necessary. I had the honor of interviewing my friend Dr. Yumiko Kadota for the New York Times last year, and her experience shows that burnout can be a severe physical, mental, and emotional condition requiring professional support.

Wherever you are on the depletion spectrum, this is a gentle reminder from me that it’s always wise to listen to your body, prioritize your mental and emotional wellness, and seek resources and community that make you feel whole, welcomed and supported.

Speaking of such resources, have you seen mental health resources curated by Megan Thee Stallion? They are fantastic, and a prime example of the way women of color use their platforms to support and heal each other.

Now, you know I love to hear from you: What activities or practices help you restore when you’re feeling depleted?


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