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Burn Baby Burn: Diving Deeper Into the Fires of Burnout

Burnout. We've all heard of it. There are countless articles, podcasts, blogs, videos, and other resources scattered across different platforms offering insight and tips for combatting this. With so many resources available, why do we still find ourselves struggling with the hot topic of burnout? In a profession where we encourage grieving families to take care of themselves by acknowledging and embracing their emotions, why are we still so often finding ourselves at the end of the line completely depleted? When did "service to others" become "sacrifice of oneself?"


girl covering face with hands

"Workplace burnout is an occupation-related syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It involves ongoing emotional exhaustion, psychological distance or negativity, and feelings of inefficacy-all adding up to a state where the job-related stressors are not being effectively managed by the normal rest found in work breaks, weekends, and time off" (World Health Organization, 2019).


The resources mentioned above can be helpful, don't get me wrong, but I think they miss out on certain things the same way other topics tend to fall through. There's often a lack of relatability. It's easy to tell someone how to practice self-care, or that they need to spend time doing things that they enjoy, but we're still missing the elephant in the room- talking about the reasoning for burnout itself. Even though the openness of mental health has increased over the years, there's still an element of "we don't talk about that" when it comes to the uncomfortable conversations of burnout. Things like public perception, internal struggles, or subconscious validation can play big roles in what's important to us and how deeply it affects us. Our childhood background, culture, and other developmental categories can also play a part in how we react to the stressors commonly rooted beneath burnout.


This past weekend, I accomplished what some would consider an unbelieavable feat. I took time off from work. Gasp! Not only did I take time off from work, but I went to the beach. I know! A vacation? Double Gasp! However, contrary to what one might assume, this wasn't a vacation. It wasn't until I arrived Wednesday night, after a long day at work, that I realized this was much more than a vacation. This was recovery.


girl on beach with sunset

With tears in my eyes as I struggled to bring my bags inside, I remember stopping to look at myself in the mirror. My body hurt. I had countless bruises on my arms. My skin was pale. My face was breaking out so bad. I almost didn't recognize the girl in front of me. The only thing that I recognized was that I was very clearly in the stages of burnout. On a danger scale of 1-10, I was dancing with a 9. I'm saying all of this in hopes that my vulnerability will give some comfort if you, too, are battling burnout. In a cycle that can feel very isolating, please know that you are not alone in this.


On my last night away, I went and sat on the beach to see if I could find some sort of clarity with my thoughts. I couldn't understand why I had been so easily irritated lately or why I felt no joy in the accomplishments that were literal dreams achieved. As I sat there embraced by the star-filled sky, listening to the crashing waves, I really dived into those deeper meanings to find out what happened to make me feel so defeated and broken inside. Soul-searching, if you will. As much as it hurt, this is what I came to realize.


#1. Stepping Away From Work Doesn't Mean Stepping Away From Your Calling-Set the Guilt Aside


So often we believe that taking time off is a bad thing. Speaking as a millennial, we often fear that it will come across to employers that we aren't committed or invested.

We're afraid that it will feed into the stereotypes that we are entitled and always expect handouts. While this might sound melodramatic to some, it's the constant guilt we feel when taking time for ourselves. It almost feels like we're letting the team down or doing a disservice to the families by not being available 24/7. Yes, this profession is one that never stops, but that doesn't mean we aren't meant to. When we finally realize that taking personal time is not selfish then we cut down on the constant need to work ourselves into the ground.


Honesty hour, I have always believed that everything happens for a reason. When I lost my son, Sawyer, in 2019, I was called to this profession. I had no idea why, but I knew that his loss was the catalyst for me to find my purpose in life. With that, I was going to make sure that I never forgot the price paid in order to be here. Everything I did was to honor my son and to show that his loss was not in vain.


Now, it's perfectly normal to have someone or something that fuels you forward in life. For the first two years of being in this profession, however, I took this to extreme levels. This caused me to never take time away from work. Covid just happened to be the perfect excuse used to propel this intense mentality of "can't stop, won't stop." I felt that if I stopped going, stopped working, then it would mean I forgot my reason for being here in the first place. Two massive burnouts later...I finally realized that I can still honor my son while honoring my mental health and sanity.


There are more ways to honor Sawyer than by working myself to death. Yes, I can honor him by serving families during hard moments, but I can also honor him by enjoying the sunsets, laughing, and living life in the moment. It's no longer a flex when one brags about never taking time off. It just feels like a bigger reason to do just that...take the time off. Leave the guilt behind.


#2. You Will Never Be Everyone's Cup of Tea-Let Other's Opinions of You Go


A lot of what fuels people, whether they want to admit it or not, is the purpose of proving something to someone else. Some people will work hard for the chance to prove to their boss that they deserve a raise. Some will cover extra night calls to prove to their coworkers that they are reliable. People put the work in to prove to their families that they are a provider and capable of taking care of what needs to be done. There's nothing wrong with this at all, but the unhealthy part comes when we push ourselves to prove something to the people who have no desire to understand us.


Everyone wants to be liked (unless you're in your villain era). If something negative is said about us, most people will try and fix the situation that caused this negative comment to begin with. Unfortunately, negative conversations are happening all the time. Most often, they're held behind closed doors. You cannot control how other people perceive you. You can try, but, at the end of the day, people are going to decide on their own who you are and what they think of you. Stressing yourself out trying to right the wrongs of idle gossip is nothing more than a waste of your time. Seeking validation or vindication will never provide you any peace.


I've learned that you can do 9 things right, but that 1 time you slip up will be the one that some people cling to. Does that make you a failure? No. Does it suck that the one time you're not on your A game is the one time that alters others perception of you? Absolutely. But, at the end of the day, if someone is not willing to give you a chance outside of one mistake, then are they really worth keeping in your circle? People who truly know you will not be persuaded by the opinions of others. Always remember that.


#3. Letting Go Doesn't Mean Giving In-Set the Pride Aside


Some people come into our lives for a season. We've all heard this. Not everyone is meant to go with you into every chapter of your journey. Some jobs aren't meant to be held forever. Your path in life, and the idea you have for yourself, can change in the blink of an eye. That's often very scary to let go of. So, we cling to it with all of our might in the hopes that the person or the situation will work itself out and we can be happy once more, right? Sometimes we just need people to say it honestly so allow me to be the voice of bluntness:


Letting go of the relationship doesn't mean you didn't love them.

Letting go of the toxic job doesn't mean you were too weak to stick it out.

Letting go of a dream doesn't mean you didn't want it bad enough.

Letting go of a hope doesn't mean you didn't pray hard enough.

Letting go of an opportunity doesn't mean you're too scared to take chances.

Letting go of control doesn't mean you're giving up care.

Letting go of disrespect doesn't mean you are being disrespectful.

Letting go of painful memories doesn't mean you are forgetting the lessons.

Letting go of your enemies doesn't mean that they win.

Your life is your story. You are the main character. The plot to your life is not going to be the same plot as the person next to you. You both will have different backgrounds, character lists, themes, adventures, and lessons to learn. Let go of the idea that your story has to match theirs. How boring would it be if every book in a bookstore was identical? If there's a minor character in your story that doesn't add to the plot...write them out. Keep going. If someone doesn't like your story, don't try to rewrite it to make them happy. Let them go find a story that best fits their taste. Keep writing.

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#4. You Are Not the Center of the Universe-Set the Ego Aside


My mother will get a chuckle out of this one, but it's true. We get wrapped up in the idea that people are talking about ME, things are being done against ME, or someone's mad/upset at ME. Here's the truth, people don't think about you as often as you think they are. Mainly because they are doing the same thing you are which is thinking of themselves. I'm not hating on it because look at #3 above. You are not the center of the universe, but you are the center of your journey and yours alone. With that being said, let's look at it from a work standpoint. Some of the most common reasons why people won't take time away from work is that they've got to be the one to get a certain task done or else.


"So and so passed and I waited on them when their mother died so they'll expect me to wait on them this time."


"There's no one else that can embalm or cover removals except for me."


"I can't leave because I'm the owner/manager. There's no one else that can do what I have to do."


Now, let me preface, I do understand that not all situations are the same so take what you will with the next part. These excuses come from the fear of letting go of some form of control. Let's be honest, if a family emergency popped up, I don't know many people who would care what's going on at work because they'd already be doing 90mph down the road to wherever their family member is. So, it is possible to leave but yet, we still find reasons not to even when the real emergency is ourselves.


At the end of the day, funerals were happening long before us, and they'll be happening long after us. If it's a worry of no staff to cover, options are available like renting a license for a few days. Trade embalmers and transport companies are all over the place and most have a license on staff. Lean on surrounding funeral homes. (We should all be willing to help each other, and if you don't want to ask another funeral home because they're your "competition" then it may be time to look and work on some of the pride and ego aspects.) Answering services are available to take calls. If you have a staff that you're afraid to leave in charge, this can be addressed with adequate training. Also, you can just try believing that they're capable enough to handle it (because majority of the time they are.)


#5. I Can't Do It All-Set the Control Aside


I will be the first to admit that I have a hard time with this one. I find it incredibly difficult to let someone else take the lead because I know how high my standards are, and I know that I can get it done. Which is the quickest way to become burnt out. Contrary to what we believe, we are not made to do it all ourselves. There has to be some give and take somewhere along the way. There's only so many hours in the day, and half of those are spent eating and sleeping hopefully. Delegation is a beautiful thing. Practice it in moderation. There's no need to shock your system by trying to give it all up at once.


That's one of the things I really enjoy about the team I work with now. This is the first time that I feel comfortable with leaving things in my teams' hands, and I know that it's going to be taken care of. I have no doubt that a family will be in good hands if the service lands on my off day. I can turn my phone on silent and never fear missing 50 phone calls. We leave each other alone on our off days because our level of dedication rises to the occasion of serving families with care, respect, and dignity every time. It's been a hard lesson to learn on my part, and I'm still learning, but take the baby steps and learn to trust your team.


#6. It's Okay to Admit That Life Sucks Sometimes-Set the Shame Aside


Sometimes life just sucks. It can feel like things are hitting you all at once with no mercy. The losses seem to outnumber the wins, relationships feel like they're hanging on by a thread, health issues make the day feel harder to get through. All of these things can build up to where it only takes one small thing to send the tower of cards crashing down.


The healing comes when you realize that admitting this is fine. You don't have to make it sound fancy. Sometimes there's no other way to say it other than this just sucks. Regardless of the circumstances, you are allowed to have bad days. Give yourself grace. In the words of Scarlett O'Hara, "After all, tomorrow is another day."


BONUS: You Will Not Eliminate the Effects of Burnout Overnight-Set the Idea of Failure Aside


girl and dog on beach

A big part that is often overlooked in the many articles on burnout is this...you are not going to eliminate your burnout overnight. The progression leading up to your burnout didn't happen quickly. Therefore, overcoming it won't either. You are not hopeless just because it isn't instantly fixed by a weekend getaway or a day of no technology. Switching jobs won't cure you if you haven't dived deeper into what is fueling that downward spiral. It's okay if you feel like you've made progress only to feel right back in the same old symptoms. Have patience with yourself. Have patience with each other.


Next time you see a coworker that's acting a little more irritable than normal or isn't as chipper as they usually are...don't immediately go on the defense. Offer them a safe place to talk without judgement, or just give them space to work through it. You can always offer to help with the workload just enough to give them some time to breathe. Our funeral home families ARE our families. We see each other more often than we see our own families at home. Heck, some of us don't have famillies to go home to. So give each other the same grace that you give to your grieving families. At the end of the day, we are all in this together.


 

Have you experienced burn out while in the funeral service profession?

Is there a stressor that you feel needs to be on the list?


Resources: NFDA offers a "Take 5" program for funeral professionals facing Burnout. Check out their link below:


*Disclaimer: I am not a professional psychologist and nothing in this article should be taken as a diagnosis of any kind. If you, or someone you know, is struggling then please seek help from a professional. Everything in this article is personal opinion and/or personal experience/observation. It is not a reflection of my employers' beliefs and/or a "one size fits all" article meant to label a set group of people. Take what resonates and leave the rest. :)


This article is just a generalized overview based on personal opinion and feeling. It is not meant to speak for all people. The views expressed in this blog are mine alone and do not represent the views of my employers or funeral homes associated with.

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Guest
Jun 25

Amazing insight explained while beating your drum! Loved it!!

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Thank you so much!

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Guest
Jun 23
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Regan, this is spon on. Thank you. We all need to hear this.


Mike Ewing

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Thank you for your feedback, Mike! 😊

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