Grief-Brain + Emotional Burnout

Dog wrapped in blanket

This blog took three weeks to write, because unsurprisingly, writing about burnout when you are actively burnt out is incredibly difficult.

It’s been said about grief: 

“It doesn’t get easier. You just get stronger.” -unknown. 

I fully believe this. And actually, I would add (and emphasize) that it gets harder. Like, a lot harder. You have to be strong if you want to move forward.

Saturday will mark two months since I lost my Dad, and almost every day has felt more challenging to get through than the day before. (Plus, the stress feels collective so it’s like I’m carrying all of the days of grief with me at once.)

This is all causing me to have what I call “Grief-Brain,” which includes:

  • Inability to focus or concentrate on most things.
  • Difficulty remembering things (resulting in me telling one person the same thing six times and forgetting to tell someone else once)
  • Not really caring about the same things that I normally do.
  • Having a short-fuse/little patience.
  • Ineffectiveness of the usual self-care activities.
  • Increased irritation and distraction from noises.
  • Feeling very blocked and unmotivated to write, workout, etc.

It’s all I can do, keep moving forward. Every day is a constant battle to be productive.

I know part of this is depression – I have been dealing with anxiety and depression for most of the year, resulting from feeling an extreme lack of control over literally anything. 

And I know it’s also emotional burnout.

“Emotional burnout is a state in which one feels worn-out mentally because of accumulated stress from a situation in their personal life. It could be work-related, school-related, relationship related or it could be related to any other aspect of your life. Burnout can be very exhausting to experience.” –Psychology Today

Normally, I work through stress and burnout with these self-care activities:

  • Cooking
  • Wine & Crime Podcast
  • Listening to Audible
  • Jogging at the park
  • Home workouts
  • Knitting
  • Writing

But because the stress and grief is causing a mental block, it feels almost impossible to focus on these enough for them to work.

Even writing, which has always helped me process my emotions, hasn’t been easy to do: as I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, it has took three weeks to get through this one.

To get it written, I followed my usual style of writing an “ugly” first draft – random thoughts, phrases, quotes, etc. Everything that pops into my head that could be remotely relative.

I let the draft sit in my notes, added things randomly as I thought of more, and focused on changing my routine and self-care activities to reflect who I am now.

Something that became clearer and clearer as the draft took shape is that I am not the same person that I was before July 2020. The most noticeable change is that I no longer care about the little things.

I have always been one to get caught up in the little things, and the death of my father has put things into perspective that most of the little things literally do not matter. I know it’s cliche, but only the big things matter.

In accepting that reality, I realized: if I’m not the same person, why am I trying to manage burnout the same way that I always have?

So I put some more thought into it, and realized that for me, self-care has recently looked like:

  • Getting a tattoo in memory of my Dad
  • Shopping for fall stuff
  • Paint night at home with my mom and my best friend
  • Going to the zoo
  • More shopping for fall stuff
  • Buying adhesive fake nails to give myself a nice at-home manicure
  • Going to brunch
  • Even more shopping for fall stuff (I may have gone a bit overboard this year…)

Related: Going All-in on Holidays and Seasons (coming soon!)

Fortunately, all of this has helped “unblock” things so that I finish this post, and cross some other things off my to-do list that the emotional burnout has been causing me to hold back on.

When I stopped trying to push the usual activities, and actually paused to listen to my body and my mind, I was able to better identify my needs and work through them.

I know I’m not alone in the emotional burnout.

When I look at social media, I see so many other people that are grieving like me. And I also see people struggling with their own health issues or those of their family members. I see people entrenched in advocating for social justice issues. I see people dealing with fear and uncertainty from COVID – especially teachers, parents, and students navigating the new school year.

Whoever you are, whatever emotional burnout you are facing – I see you and I care about you. 

My hope is that after reading this post, you can recognize the signs of burnout and listen to your body to see what you need to work through it. You may find yourself needing a new strategy like I did.

Self-Care Activities to Try

Resources on Emotional Burnout

Published by allisonljensen

Marketing professional + event planner, grief and self-care blogger.

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