Burnout and the Power of Nothing
Updated: Feb 18
I'm trying to do more of nothing.
I have this bad habit—and maybe you can relate—of overcommitting myself to things and then feeling flustered over everything that needs to get done.
And I have always been that way, or at least from college onward. Freshman year, I took five classes a semester and volunteered a lot of my spare time to the literary magazine. I remember spending six hours of a Saturday proofreading one of the magazines because I just enjoyed doing it. Sophomore year, I became the literary editor and devoted more time to the magazine while taking six classes in the fall (I think I took five in the spring though). I spent half my summer taking classes as well. Then junior year, I took five classes, spent one last semester working as the literary editor, worked in the computer labs as often as I possibly could, and was co-chair of the choir committee in my dorm. And then I had chest pains, an anxiety attack, and spent the spring semester in therapy (while still not compromising on my class load or my computer lab responsibilities-- although I did quit the magazine and briefly stepped down from choir). Not that I really learned from it because the following school year, I took another full load of classes, was an upperclass mentor in the dorm and on 3-5 committees, was working all the hours I could in the computer labs on campus, and I tacked on a job at the school library.
No wonder I had migraines and skipped classes and work as often as I did. I would have been a better student and employee (and friend and girlfriend and human being in general) if I had managed my schedule better. I kept filling my time with things to do, and I literally worked every day. Well. Except for when I called out because of a migraine or because I was burnt out from working literally every day. I was the same way the next year too (I had two senior years), except that I quit the library job. Which is sad. I loved working in the library.
And I was not any better after college. I worked 70 hours a week sometimes between two jobs, but that was mostly out of necessity living outside of DC (bills gots to get paid...). But then when I got a nice full-time job and started grad school, I finagled my schedule so that I could work 40 hours a week while still taking three classes at a time for a few semesters. Then when my practicum and internship came along, I was working 40 hours and interning 20-30 hours on top of that, so I would be out of the house from 6:00 in the morning to 10:00 at night sometimes. After that, I worked all hours possible at Walmart (underemployment.....) and volunteered whenever I could at the women’s shelter.
Since living out here in the Fayetteville area, I have been doing the same things. I have been a runner. I spearheaded the community involvement team for the running club. I was an organizer for a stay-at-home mom group. I briefly had a photography business, where I did a lot of photo shoots. I taught undergraduate psychology and sociology courses online. Not to mention that I was a stay-at-home mother and a wife at the time. Eventually though, I burned out on a lot of things. I had to step down from the community involvement team and the stay-at-home mom group. I stopped doing photo shoots. I even stopped going to meetups with the running club.
Right now, I work as a mental health counselor for three different agencies, and I provide ABA therapy for another agency. When I am not working, I am working on my dissertation for my PhD program, spending time with my loved ones, making music or photography…
OR DOING NOTHING!
Because I am learning to embrace what I call The Power of Nothing. I think that this is underrated. We live in a busy and overstimulated time when we feel as though we need to be doing something constantly. And if we do not feel up to it, we feel guilt and feel the need to make up some excuse to justify why we “can't” do something, as if simply not wanting to do something is not justification enough. But really, sometimes you just need time to yourself.
And that is okay. Doing anything in moderation is okay. By that logic, so is doing nothing. Obviously, I am not saying to do absolutely nothing all the time. Because too much of anything is a bad thing. By that logic, so is doing nothing.
You can do this too. Budget time for your nothing, whether it is napping, going for a walk, meditating, taking a bath, or binge-watching your favorite show.