Protecting Yourself from Burnout
rē•ignite your self-worth in and out of the workplace
Whether we realize it or not, we’ve all likely experienced burnout at one point. Whether it’s related to school, work, or our personal lives, excessive and prolonged periods of stress take a toll on our physical, mental, and emotional health.
Madison Utendahl, founder of the Brooklyn-based all-female design and creative studio Utendahl Creative, intimately understands the concept of burnout. She describes it as “an internal emotional disconnection that leads to external physical symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, stomach ailments, lack of memory and delay in mental cognition.”
Leveraging firsthand experience with burnout, Utendahl used her battle as a force for change, launching her namesake studio and enacting company-wide policies designed to combat stress and put a heightened focus on rest for all staffers — all while promoting the importance of authenticity and self-worth. “Utendahl Creative fully functions under an operating model that believes rest, time off, and leisure lead to brilliant creative work and that there is immense power in letting our minds wander,” she says. But how do we all get there?
It can be easy to turn a blind eye toward burnout, to chalk it up to the “laziness lie” and a perceived lack of hard, consistent work. Utendahl says she was in denial regarding her burnout until friends and family confronted her about excessive work habits and recurring health issues. “For months, I disregarded their commentary and labeled their suggestions as misinformed. However, my symptoms continued to progress and, primarily for my stomach issues, I decided to go to a doctor,” she explains.
While several rounds of tests revealed nothing was wrong with Utendahl’s physical health, her doctor suggested that she was experiencing extreme burnout due to relentless stress. Utendahl knew there was an issue with the amount of time she worked and her working conditions. Still, it wasn’t until a healthcare professional expressed their concern that she fully understood the implications of her situation.
In order to acknowledge the potential for burnout or recognize the symptoms before it’s too late, Utendahl encourages individuals to ask themselves one simple question: Are you happy with how you spend the majority of your day?
“If the answer is no, then it’s important to recognize that you are fighting many forces when you neglect joy,” she explains. “Our bodies and our minds naturally create symptoms of awareness for us to realize that we are out of alignment with our values.”
rē-framing perfectionism in our lives
Perfectionism — which many of us strive for due to societal or personal expectations — is just one facet of burnout arising when we constantly push ourselves to do the best and be the best, no matter the consequences. To Utendahl, perfectionism and society’s perception of “laziness” are societal constructs that primarily affect women.
“Once I learned and identified that I was operating within the container that society had falsely led me to believe was ‘the ideal,’ I ended up making a concentrated effort to look inward versus outward,” Utendahl says. “I have reframed perfectionism and laziness through the lens of self-worth. I no longer prioritize what an outside force may think or believe and, in turn, spend my time prioritizing how I feel.”
Protecting ourselves from burnout
To preserve our emotional and mental health, burnout isn’t a feeling that we can put on the back burner to deal with later. Instead, we must protect ourselves from it through regular practices actively. We can rē•spin burnout by acknowledging that we all are entitled to a life filled with joy, presence, and rest. And for Utendahl specifically, preventing burnout starts with rē•prioritizing rest – both for herself and her team.
In her personal time, Utendahl leaves her phone in airplane mode overnight so that when morning comes, she doesn’t feel pressured to respond immediately to texts, e-mails, or even messages on Instagram. On the work front, her company closes for five weeks throughout the year, ensuring her team has time to rest and recharge. “It’s been a ritual that has allowed for us to do profound and groundbreaking work while also reminding and reaffirming to myself that time off to let our minds wander leads to brilliance,” she says.
By recognizing burnout and taking the necessary steps to prevent that overwhelming feeling, we can realize our authenticity and self-worth across all facets of life. Both are important elements in Utendahl’s life and are crucial to her holistic well-being, helping her “live a life filled with abundance, intimacy, care, and self-fulfillment,” she says.
“While I am imperfect in my consistency with them, I do the best that I can to ensure that authenticity and self-worth are a part of my core values,” she explains. “As a Black woman in America, it’s very easy to feel like you are worthless. And I believe that I can take my power back by being confident and having a strong sense of self-worth.”
Photog credit: Belle Morizio courtesy of Domino Magazine