How To Combat Burnout During the Holiday Season, According to Mend Founder Ellen Huerta

After juggling working from home for the better part of a year, and with the holiday season upon us, many of us are too burned out to feel festive.

Almost an entire year of uncertainty, changed plans, and distance from those we love has understandably left many of us fatigued. This fatigue may be emotional or physical, but it has left many of us feeling unmotivated, tired, and ready for a vacation from reality. 

This phenomenon is known as burnout. In 2019 the World Health Organization (WHO) formally classified burnout as an international disease. Though the WHO did not recognize burnout as a health condition, they classified it as an occupational phenomenon, and defined it as follows:

“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;

increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and

reduced professional efficacy”

Though the WHO categorizes burnout as a work related phenomenon, it seems that all most of us have been doing in the past year is stressing about work as the boundaries between work life and home life have disappeared. The “new normal” created the perfect storm for burnout, professionally and personally. 

So what’s a person to do?

With the holiday season right around the corner, it seems Santa came early this year (a non-denominational Santa, of course). Founder of Mend, Ellen Huerta, has been working on an app for burnout. The new Mend feature is intended to be a personal trainer to help you mend from burnout. Burnout is available via web at letsmend.com, so it’s available to everyone on all devices. There are three different plans: a 3-month plan, a 6-month plan, and a 12-month plan. The prices vary, but the goal with the pricing was to make it less than one therapy session for the price of a monthly subscription. 

Previously, Mend’s app focused on a personlized approach to healing heart break, but this season the Mend team launched a track for healing burnout. I sat down with Ellen to ask about burn out, and her tips for the best ways to combat burnout during the holiday season and into the new year.

Why do you think so many of us burned out? 

I think that there’s almost this societal pressure to be productive, and not just to be productive, but to be extremely productive. There is a pressure to optimize your productivity, and I feel like we are all obsessed with how we can do more in less time. 

Because everything is being disrupted, our generation has less stability. A lot of us don’t have a stable career job with benefits, and so we are expected to do so much with so little and we end up burnout ourselves out.

What do you think the root cause of work related burnout is?

We’ve tied up so much of our identity in our work and achieving things, so when we get burned out so when we are completely exhausted and hit a breaking point, we also have an identity crisis. Like, whoa, I’m so burned out, and my life has basically become work, so who am I without this job? Who am I when I’m not productive? I think that’s a really hard question for anyone to answer.

Can you tell me a bit more about your personal relationship with burnout?

I have a really intimate relationship with burnout. I was completely achievement oriented in school, and achievement oriented in work throughout my 20s. Even now, so much of my identity is what I do, and there’s so much pressure to do a lot and balance so many things. 

I’ve gone through periods throughout my life when I’ve been really burned out, but I didn’t even have a word for it then. I was completely burned out in high school, I was burned out in college, and I burned out multiple times again in my twenties. I just didn’t necessarily call it burnout then.

It wasn’t until I started looking back at my health history, reading through my journals, and just thinking about my experience growing up and in college. It wasn’t until I did that that I realized there were very clear moments when I was burned out. I mean I was hospitalized in high school and college for for burn out, but no one really called it burnout then. There are a lot of people who have those experiences, and they don’t even really know or recognize that they are burned out.  

How does modern day burn out affect women?

One of the reasons so many women are burned out is because there’s this invisible pressure and work that women have to deal with on top of what they actually do to make money. There’s this cognitive load of taking care of the household for many women. It’s related to childcare, where maternity leave and child care isn’t available. 

Humans used to live in villages and used to share the responsibilities of taking care of kids and that was really important. So women have to deal with that aspect of modern society, living in isolated communities and modern nuclear families.

And then there’s the pressure and stress that you may not even be aware of that is from being a woman in a patriarchal society. From sexism, racism, there are so many different societal reasons that contribute to burnout. A lot of it can also come from these larger societal issues. 

How has the pandemic made burn out even more prevalent? 

I feel like burnout is this cycle everyone is in right now, especially because of the pandemic people can’t escape work. They are at home and they are working, and the boundary between work and life is really blurry right now. There is less support right now during the pandemic, people have to do everything themselves, people don’t have child care, and a lot of schools are closed. So people have so much on their plate so they’re struggling to balance it all.

How does your new burnout track help people do that?

Our burnout track is like a personal trainer for burnout. Every day you listen to a personlized audio training based on evidence-based strategies to help you feel better. The goal of our tailored trainings is really to help you turn inward and understand the roots of your burnout, so you can take care of yourself. You’re then asked to journal or lof any self-care activities you’ve done today to help you keep track of what works for you. 

Burnout is different for everyone, and even though there are common systems, everyone has to create their own personalized burnout plan, and that’s what our program helps you do.

What are some of the trainings covered in the burnout track of the app?

Some of the more popular training topics have been topics around perfectionism and how that contributes to burn out, the science of burnout, how burnout affects the brain, and a lot of the different mindfulness practices, like self-compassion, that help with burnout. 

Why are the holidays so tough on us, especially this year? 

The holidays are such a tough time. I know from working with heartbreak for so many years, the holidays are one of the hardest times of year for people, especially people who are struggling with heartbreak or burnout. 

A lot of people are experiencing burnout from working from home and working remotely. There’s the benefit of not having to get dressed or commute into work, but you’re missing that spontaneous connection that happens at work. Whether or not you love your job or all your co-workers, generally you get some social connection from work in person, and a lot of people are missing that. 

So what we are seeing is people are spending so much time on zoom and video calls—so much screen time—but they are not getting the benefit of this in person social connection that you get from being chemically in the same sphere as someone.

What is your top tip for preventing burnout during this holiday season?

So especially during the holidays, really try to reduce your screen time. I think there is a tendency for some people to want to over schedule themselves when they have time off. So maybe you feel obligated to set up zoom calls with every different group of your family and lots of different groups of your friends, but especially this holiday season take the quiet time you do have, even if it’s just a day, and make sure you’re not on any screen, and just be with yourself. Just focus on your physical experience where you are with whoever you are with if you’re quarantining or locking down with people, otherwise we will all be spending our entire holidays on zoom. 

Any final thoughts on burnout?

Burnout is temporary and I think that’s really important for people to remember. In the moment it feels like you are going to feel that way forever, and in that way it is very similar to heart break. For example, when you first go through a break up and you lose someone that you really loved you feel like you’re never going to get better or find someone else. It is the same with burnout when people are really burned out they have a hard time seeing a time when they feel like themselves again. But burnout is temporary, and with the right support, you can heal yourself which is really empowering

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