For Women Who Do It All: How You Can Prevent Burnout

How to ask for help (when you don’t really want to)
For Women Who Do It All: How You Can Prevent Burnout

It’s OK to ask for help.

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That’s what Cleveland Clinic women doctors wish they’d learned sooner, according to recent interviews. It’s what they want other women to know, too.

“Women are masters at multitasking,” says psychiatrist Lilian Gonsalves, MD. “We are caregivers, educators, administrators, housecleaners, accountants, chauffeurs, chefs, maintenance workers, designers, landscapers — and that’s when we’re not working!”

Women juggle so much that stress and strain are common, she says. Anxiety and depression occur twice as often in women as in men.

Asking for help is the obvious way to share the workload and relieve stress. But why does it sometimes seem like asking for help is the one thing competent, capable women can’t do?

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Why asking for help is hard

There are many reasons women don’t ask for help, Dr. Gonsalves says.

Some women grew up in families where men did not help with housekeeping or childrearing. The generational pattern continues even if women are working or involved in activities away from home. Other women may think no one can do things as well as they can, or the way they like. Refusing help is a way to maintain control.

“Whatever the root cause, doing everything all the time can sprout irritability, hostility and anger,” Dr. Gonsalves says. “Insomnia and fatigue can result. So can an overall lack of motivation and loss of joy. These are signs of burnout.”

Three ways to get help — without asking for it

If you’d rather bear the burden than admit you need help, you’re not alone. For you and countless other self-sufficient multitaskers, Dr. Gonsalves suggests three ways to get the help you need — without actually asking for it:

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  1. Say “no” more often. “If you say ‘yes’ to everything and everyone, you say ‘no’ to yourself,” Dr. Gonsalves says. Practice saying no to reduce your to-do list. And cut back on tasks that no one notices but you, such as straightening throw pillows and wiping stray crumbs off the counter.
  2. Schedule time for yourself. You schedule medical appointments, personal care and other activities for your family members. Do the same for yourself. “Women often make themselves last priority,” Dr. Gonsalves says. “I encourage my patients to schedule time for exercise and personal interests, and get at least seven hours of sleep each night.”
  3. Appreciate others’ contributions. Let go of the idea that you’re the only one who can do things the right way. Allow your kids to make their beds their own way. Don’t rearrange cupboards when someone else puts the dishes away. Thank your husband for shopping for groceries, even if he didn’t buy the items exactly as you would.

“These tips can ease the burden, but never be afraid to come right out and ask for help too,” Dr. Gonsalves says.

Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, she adds. At some point, everyone needs help to feel good and function at their best.

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