Have you ever experienced burnout? Now more than ever, feelings of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion can creep up in our lives at any moment. This often happens when our work starts to feel stale or overwhelming.
A demanding or repetitive routine is bound to lead to frustration and exhaustion if not managed effectively. You might come to feel lost, overcome, or as though your career has stagnated. You might drift away from colleagues and friends. It’s not uncommon for changes in appetite and eating habits to occur as well.
Of course, none of this is fun to live with. It can be especially detrimental when your success relies on being productive and staying on top of your game. In any case, burnout negatively affects all aspects of health, and is therefore important to avoid. Here’s how you can keep burnout at bay and continue reaching new heights.
Burnout and Stress
It’s worth noting that burnout and stress are not the same. The latter tends to be short-term, lasting several days in a row before subsiding with the cause. For example, you may be in charge of a large project or operating under a strict deadline. When the work is complete, the associated stress should lessen if not disappear entirely.
With burnout, however, the symptoms continue to stack up over an extended period of time. It can begin to feel like your work has lost its meaning and that it doesn’t align with what you really want to be doing. Another scenario is when the situation takes a turn for the worse. Your favourite boss might resign, or your workload exceeds anything sustainable.
There are several other known causes of burnout, including a growing disconnect between your values and your role in the organisation you work for. Burnout can also stem from:
- Not having clear objectives or expectations
- Being in an uncooperative or dysfunctional team
- Performing repetitive or uninteresting tasks
Recognise the Signs
The sooner you’re able to identify burnout, the easier it will be to plot the correct course of action and recover. If you end up at the point of physical or mental collapse, it can be extremely difficult to get back on track. Most psychologists agree that burnout is characterised by the following timeline of symptoms:
- Strong ambition or drive
- Constantly pushing yourself further
- Neglecting personal needs
- Blaming others for your mistakes
- Lacking time for obligations outside of work
- Denial and withdrawal
- Growing sense of detachment
- Anxiety and inner emptiness
- Mental or physical collapse
You certainly don’t want to be at the tail end of this process, so be sure to do some introspection and consider whether any of the signs of burnout relate to you whenever you’re feeling particularly stressed or tired. A few additional things to watch out for include trouble sleeping, feeling a lack of recognition for your work and wanting to leave your job.
Take Regular Breaks
It may seem obvious, but taking breaks is often easier said than done. This is especially evident among those who are highly driven and averse to the idea of relaxing. While you might feel under pressure to perform due to the high demands that are placed on you (or that you place on yourself), regular breaks are crucial in the long run.
Without them, your productivity will only diminish as the effects of being overworked pile up. You need not feel guilty about taking a step back from your responsibilities, as it’s beneficial to both yourself and everyone who is dependent on your output. Your body and brain are not designed to work perpetually, and thrive when given adequate rest.
So, what does that look like? First, it can help to make use of a time tracker app to get an idea of how long you currently work without taking breaks. That information will give you an idea of when to get up and stretch it out or sit in the park for a few minutes. You can experiment with different durations of resting time to determine what feels optimal.
In the context of your work week, it’s a good idea to introduce longer periods of self-care. For instance, you can dedicate Sunday afternoon to taking a warm bath or spending time with family. It should be something you enjoy. This way, you’ll be fresh, rejuvenated and ready for the challenges of next week.
Plan and Organise
As we touched on above, not having clear goals or objectives can also cause burnout. This is because not knowing where you’re going is stressful. It also blurs your sense of progress, disconnecting you from what you’ve done and the impact of that work, which can tie in with a lack of recognition. Burnout comes much quicker when your work feels meaningless.
Therefore, it’s important to maintain a clear itinerary and stay on top of your tasks. Your organisational system shouldn’t be complicated or excessively detailed, as that itself can be burdensome to manage. But having some concrete routine to follow is a good measure for mitigating burnout.
What you can consider doing is organising your time and tasks based on your energy level. At times when you feel alert, motivated and ready to work, you can put some extra effort into mapping out your objectives into the future. But when you’re struggling to focus, it’s better to step away and focus on more immediate tasks until you feel better.
Optimise Your Workspace
Your environment plays a major role in your productivity and overall well-being. If you use a dedicated workspace, take time to see how you can optimise and organise it for efficiency.
A messy desk and piles of paperwork are key sources of stress, while adequate lighting, a consistent color scheme and a few family photos or motivational pictures can do wonders for your concentration and motivation. Aim to build a space that reflects your personality and makes you want to tackle the next task. Here are a few suggestions:
- Place a plant or two on your desk
- Choose a positive colour scheme
- Dedicate specific spaces for each item
- Try bringing in more natural light
- Declutter and remove any unnecessary objects
- Use an ergonomic chair and standing desk if possible
For those without a dedicated office, or a job where you’re constantly on the move, you can turn to your living space and make it a clean, peaceful environment that you want to spend time in. If you do social work and you’re always out, for example, it can be immensely relaxing to come home to an organised and welcoming home.
The last thing you want is to get back to just another source of stress after a long and tiring day.
Reconsider Your Priorities
It’s easy to get lost in the onslaught of demands and distractions that characterise modern life. This can bring you to lose touch with your priorities and focus on doing the wrong things while neglecting what truly matters. To ensure that you aren’t wasting time and energy on meaningless activities, it’s important to reconsider your priorities.
You can start by checking your phone and other tech devices to see whether you could be spending less time on certain apps. It should go without saying that too much screen time is unhealthy, especially towards the end of the day when blue light, toxic social media, and stressful news can cut into your sleeping hours.
While spending enough time with friends and family is certainly important, there is a balance here and you shouldn’t hesitate to set boundaries where appropriate. If you’re not sure how you can reallocate your time, it can help to draw up a daily schedule to get a more accurate read on where your hours are going.
As a species that spent millennia being active and constantly engaging in physical activity, we know that exercise is a vital source of energy and is absolutely essential to all aspects of well-being. These days, many people learn to “deal” with stress by grabbing their favourite snack and curling up in front of the television.
Of course, this isn’t an ideal way to avoid burnout. While it might seem counterintuitive at first, getting up and going for a run or doing a round of yoga will leave you feeling more – not less – energized. A regular exercise routine will not only stave off stress; it will also improve your sleep and keep you feeling and looking great.
Have a Hobby
For most people, a career alone might not suffice as something to direct your passion and creative energy into. This is where a hobby or interest comes in, which can also serve as a healthy escape from the demands of work. An activity that has nothing to do with your job and uses a different skill set can give you a pleasant break from the weekly grind.
With the above in mind, you can effectively keep burnout at bay and perform your best at all times. There’s no solution that suits everyone here, so don’t hesitate to experiment and find what works for your situation.