“I’m so burned out!” “I’m exhausted.” and “I just need to make it to the weekend.” These should be red flags, but are often just the response to “How are you doing?” Burnout is rampant for so many people. How do you avoid it? How do you recover?
- Take care of your health. Now, I know this is obvious, but I have to include it. Get enough sleep. Eat healthy foods. Drink enough water. Exercise. Go to the doctor when appropriate. Wear sunscreen and your coat. All of these things are very simple, but so easy to let go. Sleep can go out the window because I just need to stay up a little longer to finish this assignment, I can’t stop scrolling through my news feed, or I want to watch one more episode of my favorite new show. Eating healthfully and getting regular exercise can be removed from your calendar through excuses and poor planning. Schedule in exercise and activity and avoid removing it (even though you have sooo much work to do) at all costs. Plan for your meals. Take a lunch with you if you might not have time to choose a healthy lunch option during your lunch break (this can save money as well as calories and nutrients). Make a list of meals full of healthy foods before you go to the grocery store. Planning is a key element to making healthy choices. If you are running around like a chicken with your head cut off, you are going to make the easy choice (run through fast food, doing more work instead of taking a walk, etc.) rather than the healthy choice.
- Take care of your mind. I have read so much about how meditation and mindfulness actually change how your brain functions. Dan Siegel talks about improvements in well-being and resilience in his new book Mindsight. When we are able to slow down to focus on our breath and to observe our thoughts, feelings, and 5 senses from a calm space, we will be able to better manage our emotions and enjoy our lives. I don’t know how many times I have asked one of my clients to take a breath when they come in stressed out about something. If we actually slow down and just focus on breathing slowly in and out, our voices lower, our postures calm, and we are able to think more clearly about what is happening. It can be easy to run away with our anger, our worry, or our sadness, but we can always delve deep within ourselves to that calm space that Dan Siegel talks about if we just slow down, breathe, and observe. You don’t have to stop to become mindful. You don’t have to be upset to try mindfulness. Just become aware of breathing in and out and take stock of your body, starting with your feet. It is amazing how different your perspective will be when you become fully grounded in your body. I try to do this every time I remember and I feel much more grounded and ready to handle anything throughout the day.
- Take breaks. Breathing does not require a break, but you do. Make sure to plan breaks throughout the day, so that you can refresh your concentration and motivation. If you are always pushing past the breaking point, you are not necessarily more productive and you will surely end the day exhausted and wrung out. Taking breaks also includes planning and going on vacation. It can be hard if you have a position of importance or if you own your own business, but vacations are critical to the sustainability of your work. Resting, changing your environment, and thinking about things other than work help to create new opportunities for inspiration. They also are required to keep you functional. Vacation does not require that you spend thousands of dollars to go around the world. A camping trip may refresh you more than an action packed trip to Europe. You decide where your escape will lead you. Just make sure to incorporate periods of rest and exploration to get the most out of the time off.
- Manage your reactions to conflict and stress in the workplace. All the self-care and breaks in the world will not help you avoid burnout if you are unable to manage your reactions to conflict and stress in the workplace. In a previous blog, I talked about the fight or flight response. It is critical that you understand how this natural instinct impacts you as well as how to cope with it (calm yourself down or energize yourself to stay in balance). Another thing to be aware of in the workplace (and sometimes with family and friends) is that our energy and mood can be greatly impacted by the energy and mood of others. All of us have felt someone’s anger enter a room with them or sat with someone who is feeling depressed and felt drained and sad ourselves. There is a lot of research (and controversy) surrounding how we understand and empathize with each other, but a promising idea is mirror neurons. Researchers have found that when you observe someone completing an action, the same neurons light up in your brain as the person performing the action. There are many different theories about mirror neurons, but it is clear that when you see someone yawn, you are going to yawn too. When you see someone frown, you are more likely to frown as well. Why does this matter? Well, some Botox users helped scientists to discover that frowning actually impacts sadness. You frown because you are sad, but you also will feel sadness because you are frowning. Your physical actions reinforce and encourage the emotion. UGH! What can you do about this horrible cycle? Well, if you know that you will be tempted to frown when you are talking to someone who is sad (and that will lead to your own sadness), take a deep breath and work to keep your face neutral. Now you can take it further because smiling will help you feel happy, but I don’t think your sad client or friend will appreciate you smiling while they are crying.
- Manage your time. I have talked at length about simplifying your work and life as well as how to sustain motivation by managing your time more effectively. I have also gone in to detail about getting organized. I won’t get into all of that here. The big key elements are to: plan instead of react (10 minutes in the morning to plan your day will lead to a much more productive day), schedule time in a way that honors your natural rhythms and is sustainable (don’t keep going past exhaustion – it doesn’t work), and to create systems for efficiency (put similar tasks together in your schedule, time block for email and other daily tasks, create templates and procedures that you can do over and over quickly). When you are strategic about your time, you will be less likely to miss things and less likely to run around reacting to the crisis of the day (or the hour or the minute).
What tools have you used to manage or avoid burnout? What has worked and what hasn’t? Leave some comments with helpful tips for the rest of us.
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If you would like help avoiding (or recuperating from) burnout, feel free to give me a call (424-241-3205) or shoot me an email (email@example.com)!