By Stacy Pollack

Burnout can be characterized by feelings of emotional exhaustion (being unable to recover), depersonalization (detachment and hostility toward a situation),  and low personal accomplishment (linked with feelings of low self-efficacy). This can be experienced when someone feels like their stress cannot be reduced with a positive solution.

Representation burnout refers to the stress, fatigue, and exhaustion of being the only person of a particular identity within a certain environment. This kind of burnout affects anyone who identifies as the "only one" in their given environment. It is experienced by minorities who daily live within nondiverse spaces. At a time when stress and anxiety are at an all-time high, representation burnout can feel even more extreme for minorities.

A woman in a wheelchair talks with co-workers

Image source: Getty Images.

I spoke with Marah Lidey and Naomi Hirabayashi, the founders of Shine, a wellness app whose mission is to serve and support a more diverse and inclusive community. Here is what they said on the important topic of representation burnout! 

What can those suffering from representation burnout do? What does this look and feel like?

"The warning signs are often uncomfortable feelings, like adjusting your energy for the room or holding back on speaking up because you know your perspective is different. A good way to identify warning signs is to reflect on past interactions that may have had an impact on your day, like the conversations that stuck with you and stressed you out." 

Here are a few tips to help practice self-care when you experience representation burnout: 

"Find Your Safe Spaces: Identify and surround yourself with people, whether at work or outside of your job, who have shared lived experiences, where you don't have to explain yourself or your background when you're around them.

Set Boundaries: Setting boundaries can go beyond unplugging completely after you leave the office; it's also about not taking part in conversations that drain your energy or make you feel like an 'other.' By establishing boundaries at work, you have control over what you decide to share or not share, which helps you better control the conversation.

Lean on Allies: One way to tackle burnout is to lean on allies for guidance or emotional support. Whether from your safe space or professional network, knowing that you have a person to share the burden with, particularly in moments of high stress, helps you work through difficulties in healthy ways.

Find Ways to Disengage: Unplugging doesn't mean you don't care about what's happening in the world, it just means you're prioritizing your wellness so you can properly address the issues you're willing to fight for."

What can organizations do to make people feel like their diversity is not only welcomed, but an important part of the company makeup?

"It's important to remember that diversity does not equal inclusivity. A company can have diversity, but not have inclusivity: We need representation and systems to support more marginalized experiences. 

Systems of support can come through formal programs like affinity groups at work, formalized mentorship or sponsorship programs, to informal game nights where team members get a chance to learn more about each other's experiences. A game we love at Shine is Not So FAQ that aims to solve the inclusion problem in the workplace."

What should companies be doing today to assess for resiliency over hustle?

"Make resilience a core part of your culture.

For Shine, it starts during the interview process. One of our core questions is 'Tell us about a time where you experienced something difficult and how you handled it.' The question gives the candidate the space to answer as personally as they choose, and share more on their experience.  

On an ongoing basis, every Friday, we do Weekly Reflection where each team member speaks to one pride from the week, one learning, and the one focus for next week. The 'one learning' is a chance for team members to speak to something that was tough, that they pushed through or felt humbled by. By sharing learnings weekly, across all team members, we honor the resilience that comes from the tough moments, not just the big wins."

These two founders remind us not to be afraid to know and own your power, and to hone in and be proud of what makes us all unique! 

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