Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has seemingly boundless energy, and a demanding workload as a member of Congress — and even she deals with burnout.
Earlier this month, the the 32-year-old congresswoman took to Instagram to describe her experiences with burnout “in really big episodes and smaller episodes too.” Out of necessity, Ocasio-Cortez wrote in an Oct. 16 Instagram story, she developed personal strategies to help herself cope.
Burnout results from chronic workplace stress that’s not successfully managed, according to the World Health Organization. It’s characterized by three symptoms:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- negativity or cynicism related your job
- a lack of professional efficacy
Ocasio-Cortez wrote that she likes to think of burnout as a cup that represents “your whole self and humanity.” There are some activities in life that empty your cup, like caregiving or working, and others that fill it, like spending time with friends or cooking a nice meal.
In a perfect world, you can find a healthy balance between pouring from and filling up your cup, and your workplace is structured in an anti-burnout way.
“But when you are so obligated to fulfill mentally, physically, spiritually or emotionally demanding work that it crowds out ANY time or energy for you to do the things that fill your cup, your cup runs bone dry — this is burnout,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote.
Her analysis is spot-on, Chicag-based burnout management coach Emily Ballesteros tells CNBC Make It. And, Ballesteros says, Ocasio-Cortez’s four tips for healing from burnout are worth recommending too:
Start by prioritizing activities that will replenish the depleted areas of your life. “Filling your cup is your job now,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote.
For example, if you’re physically exhausted, catch up on sleep and rest. Or if you’re emotionally drained, Ocasio-Cortez recommends making a list of “things you selfishly want to do just for you,” she wrote. Go on a hike, write in a journal, take a yoga class, get your nails done or visit a museum.
Once you’ve established what you want to do, put it on your calendar and cancel any conflicts, Ocasio-Cortez wrote. If you don’t get ahead of your emptying cup, the burnout will get harder to manage down the line.
Ballesteros recommends a similar exercise: Color-code how you spend the hours of your day, with red signifying depleting responsibilities and green representing activities that refill you.
“Balance will look different in different seasons of life,” Ballesteros tells CNBC Make It. “But if your schedule is entirely red, then consider it a literal red flag to you that things need to change.”
Often, people agree to take on more work or responsibilities out of guilt or obligation. “Your standards for saying YES to things must now be way higher,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “You need to delegate, cancel and ask for help.”
Setting boundaries means that you may occasionally upset someone. If you’re worried that setting boundaries will jeopardize your job, consider expressing how you’re feeling to your manager or employer.
“Sometimes a lot of this is a communication issue, and as someone who manages people I ALSO find that people don’t speak up enough at work when they should,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote.
Ballesteros agrees: People often suffer in silence when experiencing burnout, because they don’t want to seem incapable. “Boundaries are not about capability, they are about capacity,” she says.
The consequence of quietly overextending yourself? Burnout can lead to physical effects like insomnia, alcohol or substance misuse, high blood pressure and vulnerability to illnesses, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“Your health is more important,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “Anyone who conditions their relationship or presence solely based on what you do for them isn’t a healthy factor.”
How you manage your time can affect your propensity for burnout. Don’t discount the “microscopic decisions that make you happy or reduce the pour,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote, like turning a meeting into an email or asking a friend or family member to take care of your kids for an afternoon.
Ballesteros says it’s normal to fall into a habit of doing things the way you’ve always done them. “However, if you recognize that something is no longer working, don’t be afraid to minimize, automate, outsource, pause, delegate or eliminate items that take more than they give,” she says.
Look at how you spend your time, question when things could be done differently and again, exercise your boundaries.
“It may feel ruthless or selfish at first but consider the alternative as potentially developing a chronic illness, panic attack, etc. Not good,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote.
It’s always important to have something to look forward to. Otherwise, Ocasio-Cortez wrote, it “creates real despair.”
Short term, that could mean putting nightly do-not-disturb time on your calendar, or making plans with a friend who fills your proverbial cup. Long term, try something like planning a vacation in advance: Having an “end date” in sight can make your workload feel less overwhelming.
“I found that when I committed time off once a quarter — like blocked it off my calendar and scheduled around it — life started to feel way more manageable for me,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote.
Ballesteros agrees, noting that creating predictable rest is key. Think, she says, about being at a workout class or sports practice. When your trainer or coach doesn’t tell you when the next rest is coming, your brain starts wondering just how much energy to exert.
“That same tension is present when you’re exerting yourself in your personal and professional life without rest in sight,” she says.