I’ve been exhausted many times in the last decade. Not exhausted in the sense of having one too many late nights partying – chance would be a fine thing – but physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. Nothing left in the tank exhausted.
Burning the candle at both ends had taken its toll. It had ignited the flames of overwhelm. I was completely burnt out.
Many women have suffered the same.
A Montreal University study which analysed participants’ emotional exhaustion, cynicism and professional effectiveness found exhaustion in the workplace was more prominent in women.
The reason? Because they’re less likely to be given positions of power. Confined to roles where they have little latitude in decision-making and a low level of authority leads to overwhelming frustration. No surprises there.
Before making the leap to freelancing, I experienced this myself. In one corporate role I was putting my hand up for extra work, completing tasks on behalf of managers, and attending meetings with senior bodies.
Yet, when it came to contributing to management decisions, my input was quickly dismissed. Despite being involved in projects from go to woe, I was still considered "admin". It was apparent I should know my place.
On one occasion I was told that I hadn’t proven myself enough to be called "senior". Another time I was overlooked for a promotion, which went to a male colleague instead. A common scenario, we know.
Sure, we’ve made progress towards closing the gap in gender promotion rates, but there’s still a long way to go.
Studies have shown that almost 60 per cent of men were promoted twice or more in the past five years, compared with only 41 per cent of females, and women continue to be underrepresented in leadership roles.
Despite this cause of frustration, women carry on. We fight fire with fire, ignoring the impending burn. We continue to prioritise our feelings and needs so low and don’t always speak up when we should.
The same goes for other areas of our lives. Take parenting for example.
Until I became a mum, I had no idea just how much additional pressure and responsibility I’d feel. Being responsible for keeping another human being alive was beyond scary, the to do list never ending.
Then I returned to work and the pressure cooker lid started to rock. Sadly, I’m not alone. A UK study found that chronic stress is 40 per cent higher in women bringing up two children while working full-time than among women working full time with no children.
Women working full time and bringing up one child had an 18 per cent higher level.
Another study found part-time working mothers feel the need to work longer to compensate for the possible stigma associated with part-time working mothers. It’s no wonder we’re experiencing burnout. We just don’t get a break.
“Over the last few decades as women have worked more, their ’traditional' duties have continued and still seem to be expected of them,” says health and wellbeing psychologist, Marny Lishman.
“Social media and the perception of other women having it all also adds to the pressure to be the same. Women are reluctant to admit they’re struggling and don’t take burnout seriously.”
It’s true. We’re so busy trying to prove ourselves, be successful, be there for our families and maintain a social life. We wear a number of different hats and strive to do more with less.
We’re always connected and available and the mindless scrolling we’re all guilty of fills our brains with constant noise.
We don’t want to show vulnerability, and an ingrained fear of being judged makes us nervous about airing our weaknesses. However, as Lishman notes, we’re not made for unrelenting chronic stress, constant pressure or overwhelm to the point of exhaustion.
It’s a lesson that I’ve slowly learnt.
I left a couple of jobs following frustration and subsequent depression. I sought help with my baby when overwhelming tiredness hit. And I’ve recently acknowledged that I can’t "have it all".
I’m determined not to let burnout take hold again. In the future my wellbeing won’t go up in smoke. Can you say the same?