Monotony is a sure-fire way to find yourself stuck in a rut. Often, with the demands of work schedules, family commitments, extracurricular activities, etc., we find ourselves questioning if we are spending the days of our lives doing what it is that we find fulfilling. So many people who seek counseling come in to the initial appointment stating that they are looking for change; a change in their relationships, their jobs, or simply their life goals. Routines can leave us feeling bored and insignificant, especially when the tasks on the to-do list are not bringing happiness and desired outcomes.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow discussed the importance of the hierarchy of human needs. He defined needs as falling into five different categories, with each category requiring mastery before moving to the next. The first and most basic human need includes our Physiological needs (think oxygen, food, water). Once the basic physiological needs are met, according to Maslow, our inclination is to crave Safety (housing, employment, health). Subsequent to meeting our safety needs, we move on to Social needs whereby we value the importance of relationships and connectedness. Once social needs are achieved, we move on to our Esteem needs where we desire to feel confident, respected, and valued. Finally, we seek to master Self-actualization and to find our purpose, to know and approve of the imprint that we are making and the legacy that we will leave behind.
Most often, people reach the Esteem phase and then become stuck or stagnant. They feel respected by others, tend to fill their schedules with fun social events and desired extracurricular activities, and from an outsider’s perspective, life appears to be satisfactory (or even ideal). However, just achieving a certain financial, social, or career status does not necessarily lead to self-actualization. Merely having money and friends does not equate to feeling purposeful and important, but rather we seek a more impactful existence. Thus, the burnout ensues.
These feelings of being “stuck” are a normal part of moving through life. However, if burnout is excessive and chronic, it can lead to more significant mental health issues. It is important that, when we are feeling burned out, we take steps to break the monotony and ensure adequate self-care.
One way of coping with burnout is to step back from the schedules and focus on mixing things up a bit. Rather than spending every afternoon following the same routine (i.e., gym, dinner prep, cleaning, television, bed), use that time to do something novel. It doesn’t have to be a dramatic change, but simply rearranging furniture, redecorating a room, or reconnecting with an old passion (painting, music, etc.) will stimulate you and break the repetitiveness of the same old daily routine.
For those couples with children, life may seem like it simply cannot change. The demands of homework, soccer, ballet, and birthday parties feel like inevitable, unchangeable parts of daily life. However, as much as we might feel like this is the case, it simply is not. Our children will be just as successful if we opt out of a playdate every now and then, or if we let a babysitter keep them while we do something for ourselves. Parents often feel guilty about taking “me” time. However, you can assuage this guilt by reminding yourself that you are a much more effective parent if you are refreshed, reinvigorated, and feeling more confident after taking opportunities to do what it is that leads you to feel fulfilled.
In addition to adding variety and engaging in self-care, it is also important to block off time for goal-setting and introspection. We can get so caught up in our daily to-dos that we forget to re-evaluate and assess if we are on the right track. It is important that we revisit those values that are most important to us and determine if we are being intentional about how we are spending our time. We may sometimes find that our days are byproducts of overcommitting to activities that are not necessarily that important to us. Changing our activities to align with our goals will lead us to feel less burned out and more satisfied and focused.
Finally, in order to prevent or cope with burnout, it is imperative to have a safety net of relationships that can help you reconnect with what is most important to you. Accountability is an important means of staying unstuck. Remember that your social network needs to include relationships with people who help you stay on track, who have similar morals, and who remind you of your value and worth.
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