What a Raccoon Reminded Me About Burnout

A few weeks ago I was chatting with a fellow coach’s wife Anne who was also in the process of moving. We were talking about the chaos that goes along with settling into a new community when Anne casually mentioned their new rental home had raccoons in the chimney.

Having had a little experience with raccoons, and many bad memories of living in rural areas, I asked what the plan was to remove the animals. Anne calmly informed me that she wasn’t worried because she’d been informed the raccoons would eventually move on.

Now, you must know that I consider Anne to be one of my dearest friends and we are very aware that we have completely different personalities. Normally I consider this a blessing, however, Anne’s “keep the peace, everything will all workout enneagram 9 attitude” was a little too calm for me. I broke out in a complete sweat.

Over the next few days, I would think of Anne and picture an angry raccoon waiting to pounce on her unsuspecting family from their fireplace. Needless to say, when photos of a raccoon in the fireplace arrived a few days later I was both unsurprised and a little relieved. Finally, someone would have to deal with the raccoons! But here’s the thing, none of the emotional energy I spent focusing on this situation did anything to change the outcome. This is why after a few minutes I took a deep breath, laughed, and thanked the raccoon for reminding me to let go of the things I can’t control so as to conserve my emotional energy.

What is Emotional Energy?

Emotional energy is how we feel about what is going on in our lives: our work, our relationships, ourselves, our situation. There are a lot of opinions about emotional energy but there’s an analogy I think we can all agree on. Think about the people in your life who you enjoy being around and those who are unkind. When you leave those you enjoy your energy tank is full. When you cross paths with a critic my guess is you walk away feeling exhausted or at least a little less energized. You may even find it difficult to complete the tasks you were planning to accomplish that day.

We Must Be Aware of Emotional Exhaustion

Medical News Today warns “emotional exhaustion can arise when someone experiences a period of excessive stress in their work or personal life.” When we spend our emotional energy on stressful situations we risk emotional exhaustion. While my example with Anne is silly there’s an important question here. How often do we find ourselves overly concerned with other people’s life decisions that have no bearing on our lives? Do you ever find yourself in an unnecessary conflict simply because you choose to cling to an opinion where friendly support will suffice?

Those at Most Risk for Emotional Exhaustion Include:

  • Those with demanding jobs
  • Perfectionists
  • People who struggle with loneliness
  • People who lack self-care
  • Those dealing with burnout

In a world where society insists we must have an opinion on everything all the time, it’s vital to stay attentive to fact that we’re all at risk for emotional exhaustion.

Wasting Emotional Energy

Monique Valcour of the Harvard Business Review writes, “Emotional exhaustion lies at the heart of burnout. As your emotional resources are used up in trying to cope with challenging situations — such as overwhelming demands, conflict, or lack of support at work or at home — your sense of well-being and capacity to care for yourself and others is diminished.”

As the end of summer draws closer I’m acutely aware that our calendars are going to be busier than they have been in an incredibly long time. As a coach’s wife, I’m more at risk for burnout in the fall when our schedules are at their fullest and we have very little time to decompress. In the fall my time is short on the things I need the most to avoid burnout self-care and time with friends. And let’s not forget how emotional those Friday night games can be! All of these things can waste emotional energy if I’m not attentive to maintain boundaries and pause to think through situations.

As much as I adore Anne, it’s important to point out that SHE NEVER asked me to worry on her behalf! My friend is more than capable of handling life and her family. She chose to share information as an invitation to engage in her life experiences not to fix anything. When we’re emotionally stressed we don’t always pause to consider why someone is sharing information. If we find that people in our orbit expect us to do things for them we may anticipate that friends who happen to mention life situations are also expecting things from us. This isn’t necessarily true.

Rather than taking on someone else’s stress and worry we can pause and simply lend a listening ear to our friends. That’s all they really need and you may even help your favorite people avoid burnout in the long run as well.

Anne’s relaxed attitude regarding the raccoons in her chimney isn’t the way I would handle things, but it still worked out. And seriously, did I really need to spend any time worrying when the guy removing the baby raccoon was so happy to complete his work?

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