[Content Warning: Mention of suicide]
For the finale of our Mental Health series, we’re going to talk about burnout and the toxic culture of work productivity in this session, ‘In a Rut’.
Disclaimer: Penawar is a peer-led support group for Muslim-raised women and non-men to give each other community care. We are not mental health professionals nor are we trained in crisis care.
On 28 July 2019, Penawar held a support group session to talk about ‘burnout’. ‘Burnout’ has recently been listed as an occupational phenomenon in their recent classification of diseases by the World Health Organisation.
A lot of Penawar members and participants understand this phenomenon all too well. It’s this overwhelming feeling that paralyzes you. You feel anxious to do the simplest task, like mailing something out or as simple as updating our resume. We held this session to gather women and non-men who are feeling the effects of ‘burnout’ and are in need of support.
Breathe in, breathe out
We began the session differently this time, by beginning with breathing exercises. Often, we forget to take deep breaths or even breathe when we’re stressed. The 2-minute breathing activity was a great way to relax, calm down (even if it’s for 2 minutes) and be in the present.
What triggers you?
After that short exercise, we started talking about ‘burning out’ and how we catch ourselves before we implode. Some of our participants knew the feeling all too well. Due to the intense academic pressure of Singapore’s education system, which follows through into our tertiary education and even in our workplace. A common trigger for many, is that the most minor occurrences that would either catalyze a crying session, a burst of anger or a state of paralysis. However, not all reactions to burnout are the same.
Double work life
We also looked at the factors that trigger our burnout. For some, it was a constant comparison on social media, in life or at work. This endless feeling of inadequacy. This is something that occurs commonly among Muslim women, and yet we are unable to be honest about it because of the constant pressure of being able to do or have-it-all.
Social media becomes the very platform to demonstrate that the idea of having the perfect life, or being a desirable woman. We are not only supposed to have jobs, but to excel in them, to show that we are constantly engaged in activities outside of work, and on top of that, to have an active social and romantic life. Or even when we’re resting, we’re supposed to show how we are doing that. The overwhelming pressure to curate our lives becomes work.
Social media is work itself, and hence contributing to that sense of burnout. But more importantly, it’s the underlying sense of inadequacy and need to prove our self-worth that perpetuates this constant burnout. The consequent effects of burnout are merely symptoms of a deeper problem that is also societal and cultural.
Coping with burnout
As with any Penawar support sessions, we choose to not simply dwell on the problems. Once we were able to identify the common symptoms of burnout, we moved on to discuss the various strategies of coping or addressing burnout. Some of us highlighted the importance of disconnecting, be it from work, other people and also social media. It’s healthy to maintain boundaries, and one important and useful way is to simply disconnect.
We identified how there is wisdom in maintaining silence, to be able to refrain from constantly having to react to anything that we see or hear around us. Some of us took the brave step of leaving their jobs, or taking long breaks from their studies, because they prioritised their health and well-being.
Cure for burnout?
We concluded the session with each participant making a commitment of self-care. This includes making time for our loved ones, committing to earlier bedtimes and even adopting healthy habits like journalling. Further, to emphasise on the notion of community care, we also took turns affirming another participant in the room, for their courage and their resilience in whatever struggles they may face.
We acknowledged that there is no one (1) cure for burnout, since that would require a deeper and more systemic change beyond our individual efforts. Nonetheless, we also accept that these strategies are still necessary, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem.
5 Participant Quotes
5 Self-Care Tips:
Stick to routines. I take my meds before sleep. When the meds kick in, then I sleep. I don’t set bedtime as it’s too much pressure. That way, I trick myself into sleep. If I can’t sleep, I meditate to clear my mind, which hasn’t been easy to do either.
Stick to work hours. By 6pm, I’m out of the office and don’t work overtime. If I’m not done by then, it means that it was too much work for me to complete in 1 day. It helps me to be disciplined and clear my mind by not thinking or bringing unfinished work back home.
Do 1 different thing every day. Take a different route home or find new environments to be in to start afresh. Switching things up helps us get out of that funk.
Find spaces that affirm your identity or beliefs. My idea of rest is the opposite of solitude. I hang with people I like spending time with. I join gatherings with like-minded people and push ourselves in the direction we aim for. I get good energy from these interactions.
Plug off when on break. I’d go on a 3-week getaway with my mom and not check my phone for text messages or go online to keep up with the news. Sometimes I feel guilty. But it helps take my mind off things that were stressful to me.
(Words by our Penawar participants from Session 3: In a Rut)
IT’S OKAY TO NEED HELP…
See this list of support services we’ve compiled for you. It’s not exhaustive, so we’re open to suggestions in the comments. We won’t publish your comment if it’s inappropriate and abusive.