Solutions for burnout
May 6, 2009 8:24 AM   Subscribe

I feel stressed out, fat, and awful. Do I need therapy, weight watchers, a medication adjustment, or to just buck up and exercise?

I have a two year old and a demanding job. I am dealing with others' demands from 7:30 am to 9:00 pm each weekday and it is starting to catch up with me.

At the end of each weekday I feel exhausted and I fall into unhealthy habits. I eat unhealthy foods, I eat too much, I don't exercise because I am so tired at the end of the day, but at the same time I wind up staying up late zoned out surfing the internet so that I can mentally shut off.

Weekends are better, I spend time outside and getting some fresh air and exercise, my daughter is usually better behaved, I go to bed at a more reasonable hour and I feel more relaxed.

Quitting my job is not an option in this economy as I support my family. However I am starting to feel burned out and I need to do something to improve 5/7 of my week.

I have bipolar 2, I have been taking medications for it for years, and I seem mostly stable. Last time I saw my shrink she thought my medications were ok and recommended stress reduction and exercise. I am 5'11 and 220 lb so I am definitely overweight.

Intellectually, I know exercise would help, but I can’t bring myself to get up at 6:30 am to do it. I know I shouldn't eat things that are bad for me, but it's a small pleasure that may be the only pleasure I have in a given day.

How do I fix this feeling of burnout if I can’t quit my job? Does therapy help with this kind of thing, or would I just be stressing myself out more to try and shove it into a weekday? Am I just depressed and I need to fix my meds? Do I need to just buck up and do the diet and exercise thing, even though I feel so overwhelmed I know I probably would quit in short order? Should I be shoving in Weight Watchers or something into my day to help with diet and exercise even though I don’t have a concrete weight loss goal? Where do I start?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Can you get a babysitter/nanny to help out in the afternoons or evenings when you get home from work? This would free you up to do that exercise you know you should do.
posted by at 8:27 AM on May 6, 2009

You don't mention how old your daughter is, but maybe you could exercise with her? She doesn't have to do anything physically demanding, but when my brothers and I were much younger, we would toddle around the grassy infield while my parents ran laps around a track or get brought along in baby joggers or baby bike seats when they went on longer trips.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:42 AM on May 6, 2009

If you work in a tall building, a nice refresher is to take a ten-minute break and walk up and down the stairs. If you can do this three times in a day, it's enough exercise to make a big difference. Even once a day is significant, as compared to no exercise at all.

Exercise is more important than dieting, especially as a first step, because it improves your health even if you don't lose weight, and it helps ward off depression. Find some sort of exercise you can enjoy, and make it happen. There's always strapping the kid into a stroller and going for an evening walk.
posted by Ery at 8:44 AM on May 6, 2009

Intellectually, I know exercise would help, but I can’t bring myself to get up at 6:30 am to do it.

So why don't you do it after work? I've found exercise is actually the opposite of exhausting, and if you're feeling tired/ stressed out from work (assuming this is a sitdown, non-physical job) it will actually make you less stressed.
posted by delmoi at 8:54 AM on May 6, 2009

Oh, anonymous, I feel for you. I started going to therapy at lunch time once a week. It really did help. Occasionally it would go for more than an hour, and I'd be late getting back to work. Luckily I had the kind of cube farm job where if anybody noticed I was missing, they didn't say anything.

I've also done Weight Watchers successfully (although I've totally backslid during my latest depression episode). I did it online - no having to make time for meetings. This worked well for me, because really all I needed from the program was the accountability of the raw numbers, rather than the rah-rah feel-good cheerleading that works well for some people.

Assuming your area of the world is heading into summer, can you take your daughter for walks in the evening? Just getting outside for one trip around the block was often enough for me to recharge after work when my daughter was a tot.

Do you have an SO who can share more of the childcare duties, so you can have the occasional hour or two to yourself? See my comment in this thread about what my husband and I did when our girl was little. Maybe a schedule like that would help?

Feel free to MeFiMail me for more details.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:57 AM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sorry - this got long...

I can really relate to this. My daughter is six now, but I. have. been. there. I should also be exercising and generally taking better care of myself, but I am too exhausted after work, and I cannot get up early enough to exercise (not a morning person!).

A lot of gyms have on-site child care services. I never did this, though, because I felt guilty about my daughter being in child care all day, being picked up and taken... to another child care setting! Plus I'm tired after work, and I have to get dinner made, kid bathed, homework, some laundry, dishes, etc. I know some other mothers that felt this worked well for them.

Some things that worked for me...

I have a similar problem with staying up late - for me it is usually television that keeps me up. I turn off the TV (or step away from the computer) and read a book when I think I should be going to bed. I often fall asleep reading. Don't underestimate how crabby/terrible not getting enough sleep can make you feel.

When I feel burned out, I revert to a "minimum necessary" mindset. In other words, what is the minimum necessary I have to do here to keep everyone fed, bathed, and in clean clothes? If there is something I think I should be doing that isn't contributing to those goals, I give myself permission to let it go.

When the weather is nice and if you can in your neighborhood, try taking a walk after dinner with your child. At his/her age, he/she can ride in the stroller, enjoy the scenery and you can get a little exercise. Just 15 minutes can really help your mood. You can also try an earlier bedtime. Sometimes I put my daughter to bed at 7:30 just because I can't be mommy anymore that day.

Finally, focus on ways to get more pleasure and joy into your life. Give yourself something to look forward to. A hobby is great, but even a video game or television show you like can give a more positive focus to your day.

Hang in there! Feel good about making small, positive changes in your life and go from there.
posted by jeoc at 8:59 AM on May 6, 2009

If you haven't checked out flylady, please do! All of the hurdles you're facing are real, and lots of people have gone down the same path. You need some serious encouragement! It's hard, but there are definitely things you can incorporate into your daily routine without spending money or even a lot of time.
posted by selfmedicating at 9:00 AM on May 6, 2009

So why don't you do it after work? I've found exercise is actually the opposite of exhausting, and if you're feeling tired/ stressed out from work (assuming this is a sitdown, non-physical job) it will actually make you less stressed.

Seconding this. It sounds counterintuitive, but once you get started you'll be surprised how much you start to really look forward to those post-work workouts. Crave them, even.
posted by hermitosis at 9:00 AM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Now that it's spring, take your daughter for a walk after work or after dinner. Either have her walk too, put her in a wagon, get her a tricycle/big wheel thing, put her in a jog stroller... whatever works for her, and for your wallet. It's a bit of exercise, yes. But it's also outdoor time, which it sounds to me like you need as well. *And* your daughter would probably like it.

If you want a bit more exercise, do a few jumping jacks and push-ups when you get back. (Push-ups on your knees is fine, but use a pillow). Takes 5 minutes, and your daughter will probably think it's funny.

And I agree with delmoi: you may think you're too tired to exercise, but you will feel *much* better afterwards, especially if you do something vigorous. You just need to teach yourself that.
posted by kestrel251 at 9:01 AM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

To keep healthy and feel good, these are the most important things: diet, exercise, and sleep. You need to get a handle on these things.

Exercise: Try an experiment. Go jogging/running on a weekday for just 2 minutes. It doesn't have to be at 6:30 AM. It can be whenever you can fit it in. Just 2 lousy minutes. Now, realize that even this small amount of exercise is much, much better than doing nothing at all. Do this every couple of days if you can. Add more minutes as you see fit.

Sleep: Set a reasonable hour for when you want to go sleep. Turn off the computer 30 minutes before this time, and do a relaxing activity like taking a warm bath or reading.

Diet: For the moment, stop fretting so much about what you are eating. Deal with this after you've handled your sleep and exercise issues.

Also, it's not good to be working like an animal all the time. It's admirable, but... no one is going to be giving you any prizes when you get a heart attack or a stroke, or if you get a mental breakdown. So take a vacation, get help at work, hire a maid, a babysitter, etc.
posted by Theloupgarou at 9:05 AM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

First, good for you for taking steps to feel better.

If you're interested in Weight Watchers, try doing it online instead of going to meetings. It's cheaper and far less time-consuming, and your only real commitment is tracking your food online each day. I find that, for me, weight loss does take an initial outlay of time and energy, but after you're a few weeks into it, it becomes much more automatic and you won't have to think about it as much.

Also, don't necessarily start "dieting" right away. Focus instead on adding good things into your diet rather than taking away the things you enjoy (that will come later). Add lots of water, fresh fruits and vegetables, yogurt, and so on. When I was on WW, I found that if I just focused on hitting the good health guidelines every day, there wasn't even room in my day for me to be eating things that were bad for me, nor did I want them.

Do try exercising, if you can. There's nothing that does a better job of providing the mental head-clearing effect that you sound like you really need, and it improves your sleep in ways you won't believe. Are there any gyms or a YMCA nearby with that offer childcare? Or could you take walks in the evening with your child in a stroller?

Good luck!
posted by anderjen at 9:06 AM on May 6, 2009

This doesn't address the deeper problems, but if you feel that losing weight through changes in your diet would help your mental and physical well-being, I have very positive things to say about Weight Watchers. Exercise is important, absolutely, but even if your time is limited and you can't spend hours at the gym, WW can help you start to make some changes that will help you feel healthier--eating healthier, perhaps starting to take short walks on your lunch break or longer walks on weekends. They acknowledge baby steps, which is really nice when you feel like you can't manage a big step like hitting the gym at 5AM every day. If you feel like your only options are keeping unhealthy habits or undergoing a radical transformation into a person who only eats healthy foods and goes to the gym every day, WW can be a good reality check: you can do it, you can take the first step, and then the next--and they don't have to be huge changes, and you don't have to be perfect, you just have to start.

I don't mean to sound like a shill, and hopefully there will be other perspectives here, but I've really enjoyed Weight Watchers as a way to keep track of what I'm eating without going nuts. I let the WW website calculate the "points" in my food, and just make sure I don't go over the limit they've given me. I find that a lot easier, at least psychologically, than counting calories on my own and trying to set my own limit. One of the great side-effects of starting WW has been, at least for me, figuring out what I really really like to eat (things that are worth "spending" higher points values on) and unhealthy or high-calorie foods that I don't actually enjoy all that much. That alone has improved my health, I'm certain.

Going to in-person meetings would obviously add events to your schedule, which may not be ideal, so I'd recommend just doing it online unless having in-person peer support is important to you. If you do it using an online account, your schedule shouldn't be disrupted--at least not by much. You fill in your information (weight, height, age, lifestyle, etc.) and you can either set a definite goal or the website can suggest a moderate short-term goal based on your current info (I find the latter much more palatable).
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:08 AM on May 6, 2009

It sounds to me like exercise is a good place to start. It will help with all of the other problems you're describing. But it doesn't need to be another source of stress. Start slow. Can you do 20 minutes of aerobic exercise 1 or 2 days per week? Maybe on the weekend, when you aren't so wrecked from work? And can you make sure that 20 minutes feels good? That means: don't push yourself too hard. Do just enough so that, when you're done, you still feel like you could do a little more. Believe me, if you can do just 2 days per week for a few weeks, it will make a difference in your energy level and how you feel about yourself. And you can always add another day per week when you feel you have the energy (which you will after a few weeks).

Seriously, this is what has made the difference for me in my exercising life. I've had so many false starts with exercise -- I thought I was coming up with a good plan, but it was just a recipe for burnout. "I must get up at 6:30 every single morning and exercise until my face is red and I feel like dying! Otherwise, I might as well not do it at all!" That was the wrong approach. The right approach is to start really slow, not overwork yourself, and make it as easy and stress-free as possible. You don't get any prizes for exercising harder, faster, more than everybody else -- you get a prize for making it a simple part of your daily life, so it becomes a habit that lasts for years.

Good luck!
posted by ourobouros at 9:09 AM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Perhaps look into Couch to 5k? It's a good way to get started without jumping into an overwhelming all-or-nothing approach.
posted by bunji at 9:40 AM on May 6, 2009

Seconding ourobouros and others who are suggesting creative ways to eek exercise into your schedule. Start small with a winning proposition.

but at the same time I wind up staying up late zoned out surfing the internet so that I can mentally shut off.

Don't do this. Find a book you love, get a cup of tea or whatever you like to drink, and read for half an hour to unwind. Then hop in bed.

(substitute any relaxing distracting pasttime for reading - taking a bath, meditation, yoga, knitting - as needed.)

Getting enough sleep will make everything just a little bit more bearable - it's surprising how quickly the lack can wear us down.
posted by canine epigram at 10:14 AM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Get the diet in order....clean out your cupboards from bad food and don't buy it again. Don't eat or order out for a month. Eat real food, mostly plants. Learn to cook.

Once your diet is in order, exercise and sleeping better is much easier.

I lost weight on diet and toned up with exercise later.
posted by melissam at 11:30 AM on May 6, 2009

Have you tried exercising with your daughter? I second kestrel251's suggestion of getting out and taking a walk. And/or you can pop in a yoga tape and do that together (my kids both loved the poses named for animals...we'd woof for Downward Dog and hiss for the Cobra, etc.). We also love our Wii Fit and Outdoor Challenge. My two-year-old stands next to me and copies my movements or just yells encouragement and jumps around. It's fun, a good way to spend time together and it doesn't really feel like exercise.
posted by jrossi4r at 11:53 AM on May 6, 2009

If you have time for therapy, you have time to work out -- it really doesn't take much and the benefits are ENORMOUS.

That said, weight loss is much more about diet than exercise. Start packing your lunches (if you don't already). I take to work everyday a small tupperware bowl of chicken breast, a bunch of strawberries, and some green pepper strips. Then I eat what I want at night. It's made a big difference in the number of calories I eat.

There's a big group of very overweight women at work who have been doing Weight Watchers for years. Reread that sentence to see what I think of Weight Watchers.

Finally, you have a daughter -- set a good example. It's great that you're thinking about these things; too many people don't. Now take action.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:01 PM on May 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Weight watchers has the best record of any program. Yes it doesn't work for everyone. But it does work for many and has saved lives. I lost 60 lbs.

Someone suggested doing it on line and avoiding the meetings. Not a good idea. The meetings are very important, they keep the project uppermost in your mind. Please give it a try. It helps if you have a buddy to go with you. Also, try different meetings until you find a leader that you really like. They vary widely in style and approach.

Good luck.
posted by charlesminus at 12:21 PM on May 6, 2009

You’re in a tough spot. I too am the primary breadwinner in my family with two young kids, and I know what a toll it can take.

One of the things that has helped me a lot is lowering my expectations. I have family and friends who keep a much cleaner house, read to their children every single night, return phone calls when they should, etc. But that’s not my reality. I just can’t expect that of myself right now. I do, however, give myself credit for the things I do well (maintain a great relationship with my husband and kids, make sure my family eats decent food, bring in steady income which helps us live better quality lives, and so on). These kinds of things normally go unrecognized as part of daily life. But they are very important and deserving of praise! If you’re being hard on yourself, step back and think about all the things you do, and give yourself credit for that. Similar to what Theloupgarou said…at the end of your life, you won’t be thinking about the housework that didn’t get done. To get really cliché here, life is short. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Also, consider what you might be able to drop from your life right now. My life got SO much easier when I admitted to myself that pursuing graduate studies was just too much, and dropped out of the program. I also switched jobs to cut down my commute, and while the new job is somewhat less fulfilling, the extra time has made me a MUCH happier person overall. Maybe you can make some similar changes?

Lastly, if you’re looking for a weight-loss strategy, I strongly suggest the No S Diet. It has the word “diet” in the title, but it is NOT a diet…it’s a program of systematic moderation. It has done wonders for my husband. Not only has he lost weight, he has gained a lot of insight into his eating habits and helped him add structure to other areas of his life. The system is very simple: No S means no snacks, no sweets, and no seconds, except on days that start with S (Saturdays, Sundays and Special days like birthdays etc). There is no counting or measuring; you eat one full plateful of whatever you want (except sweets), 3 times a day. The message board on the site is extremely welcoming and supportive; I really suggest you browse around there and see if it would work for you.

Good luck, and hang in there! You will get through this.
posted by yawper at 12:40 PM on May 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Do I need to just buck up and do the diet and exercise thing, even though I feel so overwhelmed I know I probably would quit in short order?

"Diets" don't work.

Changing behaviors works.

So maybe think about this: choose healthier foods that delight you, and don't have the foods you don't want to eat in the house. Do a little exercise at home in the evenings as a way to wind down--maybe Pilates in front of a fun, relaxing TV show? A half-hour of Pilates while watching a sitcom or travelogue or nature show you enjoy every evening is a great way to chill out from a stressful workday. Or bellydancing!
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:31 PM on May 6, 2009

What about working out at lunch? I do this and I love it. It breaks up the day and the gym is less crowded. Even with travel time you should be able to get in 20-30 mins. Alternately - there is a running trail about a mile and a half from work that I found and I go there and run about half of the time.

If that isn't going to work for you then I'd suggest the Wii with Wii Sports, Wii Fit and Outdoor Adventures.
posted by jopreacher at 2:04 PM on May 6, 2009

Someone suggested doing it on line and avoiding the meetings. Not a good idea. The meetings are very important, they keep the project uppermost in your mind.

As if I could forget the extra poundage flopping around on my ass? Maybe meetings worked for YOU - they may not work for everybody. I found them a complete waste of my very precious time. Keeping the Plan Manager open on my computer, which I was on all day, is what kept it "uppermost in my mind." And since part of the OP's question related to fitting more things into an already busy day, an online diet-tracking program (WW or something else) is a great suggestion.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:13 PM on May 6, 2009

As other have said I would really suggest yoga and suggest an actual class if it's possible for you to get away for twice a week or so. I was amazed how much it helps me with stress, in a way normal exercise doesn't. I am not at all a granola type person and I really didn't think it would be for me, but I love it now. I do power yoga which gives you quite a work out also, so you'd be getting some exercise and destressing at the same time.
posted by whoaali at 9:51 PM on May 6, 2009

Others have already suggested exercising with your daughter; just wanted to mention that when I was about two years old I vaguely remember watching Jack LaLanne's TV show with my Mom every morning (yeah, I'm that old) and the two of us exercising together. I loved it because it was one-on-one time with my Mom, and when I was reminiscing about that time with my Mom a few months ago, she mentioned that even though it was exercise, it was her only relaxation during the day back then. (My baby brother was a few months old at that time and sickly for a while as an infant, demanded a lot of attention and special care, in addition to her other daily chores.)

Also, I used to have a very stressful job with an extremely demanding boss. My nerves were on edge and my Lupus in high gear - I had a constant red raccoon-mask rash across my face. I eventually got into the habit of bringing lunch to work (fresh veggies during the months my Dad's garden was producing) and eating at my desk for the first 30 minutes of my lunch break, then slapping on my Walkman and going outside and walking aimlessly anywhere for the next thirty. It really did refresh and re-charge me (and I lost weight in the bargain, without even aiming for that). I got so addicted to that outdoors, "letting my mind wander to the music time as I walked time" that I kept it up no matter what the weather (using an umbrella or snow boots as applicable). I recommend giving an afternoon walk a try - keep a pair of sneakers handy if you're in a dress-for-success position - and just get out (even for 15 minutes up to the corner and back). There's just something about getting outdoors that is a shot in the arm.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:55 PM on May 7, 2009

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