How to Prevent Burnout: Strategies From Expert Dr. Darria
Tired of trying to do it all? Learn how to choose your priorities — and let go of the rest.
By Katherine W. Giles
The ideas and suggestions written below are provided for general educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice or care. Always seek the advice of a mental health professional with any questions you have regarding your health.
Over the last generation, the dueling demands of work and home have increased drastically for women. Work-life balance feels impossible. Sustaining relationships, working full-time, and being a hands-on parent — in a digital world where employees are expected to be available 24/7 — can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Layer on the unrealistic expectations piled on women by society and social media, and the result is a generation of women struggling with burnout.
For over 20 years, LUNA® has championed women and supported their whole health. That mission requires understanding and bringing awareness to the issues women face — like the growing phenomenon of burnout. That’s why LUNA partnered with Dr. Darria Long and TrueveLab for The Burnout Study in Women, promoting women’s well-being by providing resources and information on the causes of burnout and how to fight it.
The Burnout Study in Women
As an ER doctor and a mom of two, Dr. Darria Long spends her days solving problems and finding solutions. The Yale- and Harvard-trained physician founded TrueveLab in 2021 to facilitate data-driven research in women’s and children’s health. When she began researching the causes of women’s burnout, she found only limited data — making it tough to develop solutions. “The World Health Organization defines burnout as extending from work … and that’s it,” says Dr. Darria. “As if our lives exist in silos. There’s no woman I know whose life exists in a silo, whether she’s a mother or not, whether she works or not. We all have these multiple domains.”
The Burnout Study in Women is an academic, board-reviewed study that’s the first large-scale study of women’s demands, resources, and burnout in a post-COVID world. Partnering with LUNA was a no-brainer, thanks to a shared dedication to women’s holistic well-being. “LUNA knows that their consumers are so busy, they’re wearing 15 different hats,” Dr. Darria says. “They want to help them in every way possible, not just by feeding them, but in all the other things women do as well.”
Over 4,000 women participated in the study, which introduced a critical concept called the “Do It All Discrepancy.” Coined to describe the difference between how much a woman thinks she should do versus how much she actually can do, the discrepancy is a leading predictor of burnout: 82% of study respondents reported feeling they should be able to “do it all” … but only 7% feel that they’re actually able to.
“The Do It All Discrepancy really reflects how the heavy load that women carry has drastically increased over the last generation,” says Dr. Darria. “And that includes the really real responsibilities we have, like work, childcare, and health. And then we also layer on the idealized, ‘do it all’ things that we think we need to do…. When you stack them up, it makes for impossible demands on a woman.”
So what are the symptoms of burnout?
- Exhaustion: chronic emotional and physical exhaustion
- Cynicism/depersonalization/distant attitude: pessimism and feelings of detachment from friends and loved ones
- Feelings of reduced efficacy: feelings of inefficacy and/or depersonalization and disconnection from one’s work
“Burnout is to be chronically in a state where your demands exceed your resources,” Dr. Darria explains. “It’s not just a day where you didn’t sleep well last night and you’re just tired, but you are feeling this every single day for a prolonged period of time.” Maybe you feel like you’re operating on autopilot or in survival mode, living with a sense of hopelessness and loss of meaning, struggling to check off the boxes on your to-do list and dogged by the sense that you’re not doing anything well — as an employee, a parent, a spouse, or a friend. Burnout and chronic stress take a physical toll, too: According to the American Psychological Association, stress can negatively affect our heart health, metabolism, and immune system.
6 Strategies for Burnout Prevention
There’s no quick fix for burnout. But once you acknowledge the Do It All Discrepancy, you can take practical, effective steps to reduce your demands, increase your resources, and find better balance. Below, Dr. Darria shares six tips for how to avoid burnout:
1. Define your “all”
We can have it all, just not all at the same time. Women have real responsibilities. For every real responsibility, we can choose to do the bare minimum, to do it well enough, or to absolutely ace it. So what are the things you’re doing the bare minimum for? What are the things you’re going to be doing well enough? And what are the things where you’re going to be really thriving and killing it? Everybody gets to choose two or three top priorities — the “acing it” items — and that’s it. The rest you just do enough or the bare minimum.
2. Change how you use social media
The Burnout Study debunked a common myth about social media: It’s not the time we spend on social media that matters, it’s how it makes us feel. You’re more likely to feel negatively after comparing yourself to others on social media: 53% of respondents reported feeling envy, while 36% noted feeling worry. Think of it as “comparisonitis,” a tendency toward self-comparison that’s intensified by social media. Start paying closer attention to your emotions when you’re scrolling through your social feeds. The minute you see a “perfect” parent on Instagram and start to feel bad (a “comparisonitis flare-up”) unfollow that account. Next, focus on engaging positively on social media. Stop mindlessly scrolling. Instead, seek out friends to connect with and follow accounts that trigger positive emotions.
3. Delegate and automate
Make your to-do list more manageable when you delegate and automate. For each task, ask yourself: “Is this something I have to do?” Can you delegate it to someone else? Even small steps to create a better division of labor can reduce burnout. Put your partner in charge of booking summer camps. Ask a friend to research restaurants and book dinner reservations for your upcoming girls’ trip. Hand off a project to a coworker who could benefit from that experience. Next, if you find yourself making the exact same decision daily or weekly — which is exhausting and drains brain power — automate it. Create a weekly meal plan. Set up a regular delivery of household staples. Save templates for common business emails. Anytime you can take something off your to-do list, that’s a win.
4. Batch the small stuff
Order that wedding gift, sign up for a volunteer shift, pick up socks for the kids, respond to a school email.... Small tasks have a big impact on burnout because they qualify for our “bare minimum” category, but they still need to get done. They interrupt and derail larger, more impactful tasks — and take over your day. The solution? Batch the small stuff (BTSS). Whenever you get an email about a small task, move it to a separate “BTSS” email folder. If requests come in text or voicemail, create a BTSS note in your phone and jot it down there. The next time you’re sitting and waiting (in the carpool line, at the doctor’s office), open up your BTSS folder and plow through as many of those little tasks as you can.
5. Lean into social support
Yes, we have resources our mothers and grandmothers didn’t have (hello, Google!). But we’ve lost vital resources for emotional and logistical support because our communities are no longer local. We moved away from family for college, relocated cross-country for jobs, fled crowded cities for roomier suburbs during the pandemic. But it’s still possible to find social support wherever you are now. Instead of scrolling mindlessly on Facebook, jump on a text chain with friends. Schedule a girls’ night. Take a walk with a neighbor. Be there for somebody else, become a community for other people. And know you’re not alone. Learning from other women, knowing they feel the same way we do, is a key way to prevent burnout.
6. Make time for recovery and self-care
When it comes to self-care, there’s relief and there’s recovery. When you take a break from your responsibilities, do you seek relief by disconnecting in a mind-numbing way that doesn’t actually make you feel better (e.g., binge-watching Netflix and drinking rosé)? Or are you using that time deliberately to recover? Recovery and self-care are less about disconnecting and more about “What will actually make me feel better?” And that looks different for different people! Maybe it’s spending time with friends, reading in the tub, or taking a hike through nature. Figure out what your recovery looks like and make time for it.
Still not sure if your symptoms fit the bill for burnout? To help women assess burnout risks, the study authors developed the What’s Your Burnout Risk (and What to Do About It) Quiz. Answer a few questions to receive a brief, customized risk factor and prevention strategy report. It focuses on the areas that are your biggest drivers of burnout — and provides actionable guidance to help you take charge and reduce burnout.
The Do It All Woman doesn’t exist. She’s a figment of society’s imagination and social media’s unrealistic ideals. You decide what “doing it all” means for your life when you choose your priorities — and let go of the rest. How will you #DefineYourAll to reduce burnout and nurture your well-being? Visit truevelab.com to learn tips and strategies about how to prevent burnout by triaging priorities, delegating tasks, and more.