African Americans and Burnout

Burnout is a phenomenon that impacts us all, but the stressors found in the lives of African Americans make their experience unique. To overcome burnout, you need to know what it is, why it happens, the signs to look out for, and how to fight it.

Defining Burnout

Burnout is “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation, usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration,” according to Merriam-Webster. You will typically hear this word bounce around workplace hallways or from exhausted parents, but thanks to COVID-19, the word has increasingly made its way into today’s vocabulary. African Americans are especially affected by the stresses and frustrations of today’s world. Mental Health America found the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data that shows that “adult Blacks and African Americans are more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness than adult Whites.” The reasons for African-American burnout are not surprising.

Why It Happens

According to Elizabeth Grace Saunders, a writer for the Harvard Business Review, some reasons burnout occurs are:

  • Being overworked
  • Feeling like you don’t have control over your life
  • Not being appropriately awarded for your time and effort
  • Negative relationships
  • Deficit in fairness

It is no surprise that African Americans are feeling the effects of burnout. COVID-19 has turned our daily lives upside down as we see community members losing their jobs and lives. This, in turn, increases anxiety and stress at home. The social-emotional development of our children may suffer as the pandemic continues as well. So, how do you know if you are experiencing burnout?

Signs of Burnout

According to Bryan Robinson, a Forbes contributor, the signs to look out for include:

  • Physical and mental exhaustion and fatigue
  • Lower interest in commitments and loss of motivation
  • Weakened immunity to illness
  • Feelings of being undervalued
  • Depressed, helpless, or hopeless thinking
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Loss of meaning
  • Short temper, moodiness, and impatience
  • Inability to fulfill responsibilities
  • Emotional detachment from prior involvements
  • Withdrawal from social activities and coworkers
  • Work inefficiency and absenteeism
  • Problems focusing and thinking clearly

How to Fight Burnout

Burnout stems from many issues, as you can see above. At the core of all these issues, however, is fear, lack of peace, and lack of rest. When you are constantly “on”—working, worrying about money or safety, etc.—your body produces a significant amount of stress hormones. This can lead to depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and more. Your physical and mental health will both suffer.

You need a safe place to be and safe people to be around. It is important to first identify the fact that you are experiencing burnout, then take action to give your mind, body, and spirit the rest and peace it needs.

First of all, it’s okay to not be okay. Let someone know how you are feeling. Find a mentor, friend, counselor, or trusted relative to share your thoughts and feelings with. Ask them to check in on you.

Second, make a plan. You can find rest, but it means you need to make conscious steps toward it.

Here are some things you can do to rest:

  1. Turn off social media. There is so much on there that can raise stress levels when you are already overwhelmed. Turning it off can lead to better rest, especially in your mind.
  2. Focus on the things you are thankful for and that are going well in your life.
  3. Get a hobby. Finding something to do that you love can help you relax when you need it.
  4. Discover your purpose. There are many programs out there that can help you identify your strengths and live a life full of purpose. One of them is Empowering Confident Youth.
  5. Prioritize your health. Don’t ignore your symptoms. Focus on finding ways to improve your daily health. Eat well, drink water and exercise.  
  6. Sleep. Create the right atmosphere in your bedroom to help you sleep. Sleep is vital to your physical and mental health.

African Americans have come through many struggles, and while we continue to experience burnout in overwhelming numbers, there is hope that you can overcome and experience greater rest and peace even in challenging circumstances. Remember to reach out and ask for help when you need it the most.