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(MCT)—Are you exhausted from managing work and family issues? Maybe you’re running on empty, but you keep giving away little pieces of yourself.

Siphoning off all of your physical and emotional energy will only work for so long. You can wake up one day to feel burned out, used up and miserable.

Most of us, when we’re in our twenties or thirties, love to stay busy. But after another decade or two, we can easily hit the stage of burnout.

Burnout can grow to full-scale depression, sometimes requiring anti-depressant medication and psychological counseling.

If you’re feeling burned out or even mildly depressed, you need to start looking after yourself. This usually involves doing less, not more.

“When burnout starts blazing, you can’t just relax over the weekend,” says an accountant we’ll call Jason. “Last year, I was so burned out I couldn’t unwind from Friday to Monday.”

Jason belonged to five civic clubs and helped run a youth program in his city. At home, his wife and four children needed his attention.

“I forgot that I needed anything,” declares Jason. “I treated myself like an emotional ATM machine. If anybody needed anything, I’d pull another $20 worth of energy out of me!”

Getting control of your life requires you to pay attention to small things.

These tips can help:

Let your brain rest. You don’t have to watch the news, check email or return calls between dinner and bedtime. Try sitting alone for an hour, allowing your thoughts to calm down.

Meet a friend to do absolutely nothing. Don’t meet for exercise or solving the world’s problems. Instead, just relax on the sofa together and catch up.

Turn problems over to their rightful owners. Your in-laws and friends might have everything from speeding tickets to rebellious teenagers. But, avoid carrying these problems around in your own mind.

“Just hearing other people’s problems takes away part of your emotional strength,” says a counselor we’ll call Jeanette. “My advice is this: Be careful about what you allow inside your brain.”

Putting energy back into your own life is similar to clearing cookies and history from your computer.

“I’ve decided to watch only 15 minutes of news each night,” says a minister in our region we’ll call Donald. “I used to go to bed thinking about things like unsolved police cases. With problems of running a church, plus the news overload, I was growing emotionally unhealthy.”

Donald says that relaxing was tough for him at first. “I’d sit down to unwind and all sorts of problems would shout for my attention,” says Donald. “It took practice to learn how to rest my brain and focus on happier thoughts.”

Slowing down to unwind will give you more energy over the long run. Honoring your own need to relax will have a definite payoff.

“When you’re rested mentally, your projects will flow faster and better,” Donald summarizes. “You’ll feel sharp and refreshed instead of dull and compromised.”

Donald told us that women in his congregation feel guilty when they take care of themselves — probably more so than men. He says women often feel so overwhelmed, they explain that their relaxing would cause them to feel even worse.

“My wife struggles with what I call ‘minister’s wife burnout,’” says Donald. “She gets stressed over going for a manicure or running an errand for an elderly neighbor. She’s slowly learning to go for the manicure today and do the errand for someone else tomorrow — or even next week.”

Judi Hopson and Emma Hopson are authors of a stress management book for paramedics, firefighters and police, “Burnout to Balance: EMS Stress.” Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.

© 2012, Judi Light Hopson, Emma H. Hopson and Ted Hagen.
Distributed by MCT Information Services