When long-term stress puts our bodies and minds under immense pressure, we are most likely setting ourselves on an inevitable path to burnout. It often happens when we don’t listen to our bodies over time, allowing the build-up of pressure and eventually hitting the maximum peak that our body and mind can withstand.
This is the best way to describe what happened to me about 8 years ago. Not knowing what I was up against or how to overcome it back then led to some very hard-earned lessons. I started from scratch, trying all kinds of different methods to help me sustain my energy levels. I hope that making these processes accessible and the outcome readily available will help make your journey a little easier.
How to recognize burnout
A 2019 short study by Comparably found that nearly half of all workers feel burnt out, and the Mayo Clinic classifies burnout as a genuine health issue in adults. What’s worse, since it affects the body in ways that are often misdiagnosed as other illnesses, most people are unable to recognize the symptoms of burnout.
The Mayo article suggests taking a few minutes to ask yourself:
Have you become cynical or critical at work? * Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started? * Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers, or clients? * Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive? * Do you find it hard to concentrate? * Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements? * Are you using food, drugs, or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel? * Have you noticed changes in your sleeping habits? * Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or similar physical issues?
If you answered yes to 3 or more of these questions, there’s a strong chance you’re experiencing at least moderate levels of burnout.
How to recover or avoid it completely
When we consider the recent EU study that suggests you only need 66 days to transform your body and mind, it’s best to start by developing healthy habits and routines. James Clear’s Atomic Habits is one of my favorite books that outlines the effective power of starting small.
Healthy habits are easiest to build from a place of balance and stability. I talked a bit about that in my article on finding balance and how important that step was for keeping burnout from slowing me down.
Truer these days than ever before, humans require interaction. Calling on reliable people to be your sounding board can help greatly.
Here are my proven methods to prevent burnout or right the ship if you’re already dragging:
- Exercise more – nature is a great helper here. Simply taking walks and hikes in nature does wonders for your mood and overall health. A forest walk at dawn has been shown to activate the calming part of our nervous system (compared to mobile screens, which have the opposite effect).
- Stick to a healthy diet. When stress hits we naturally reach – not always the healthiest choice. We typically reach for food that is high in sugar, fat, and gluten, all of which add more stress to the body rather than actually alleviating it. Personally, I’m usually not too strict about my diet, but when I’m feeling stressed I make a point to watch what I put into my body.
- Good sleeping habits. Many people underestimate the importance of sleep. Our best resting window is from 10 pm till 6 am but there’s more to getting a good night’s sleep. Two simple practices have helped me a lot: no eating 2-3 hours before bedtime, and limited evening screentime (I switch off electronic devices at least 90 minutes before bed). Pro tip: a sleep monitor can give you unbiased input on the quality of your sleep, especially since it’s possible to become desensitized to the effects of poor sleep.
- Schedule free time. I usually recommend this first when an overburdened leader contacts me for help. Planning time for breaks and using these breaks for mindful resting is very important. The first step in our sessions is to create daily schedules that include gaps for some breathwork, meditation, or exercise in between meetings. No more back-to-back meetings!
- Sit with yourself daily. In my case, this was easier said than done. Calming my thoughts and blocking out distractions was difficult. But meditation is mastered only with patience and practice. We all have to find what works for us on an individual level. I started out using apps such as CALM and INSIGHT TIMER – both helped greatly. My greatest lessons from it have been how to listen to my body and understanding the importance of creating a healthy relationship with myself.
- Add joy to your day. This is a key step in my leadership coaching. We work on a simple exercise where we create a list of activities that they find draining and one of the activities that bring them joy. The activities that bring joy could be anything, a hobby, or something they are passionate about, and they set aside time for this activity every day.
- Build a great team. Learn the art of delegation! It’s easy to get stuck in the mindset that doing something right means doing it ourselves. Put together a team that you trust and commit to that trust. This will free up your time and energy for the creative work that will push your company forward.
- Ask for help. Truer these days than ever before, humans require interaction. Calling on reliable people to be your sounding board can help greatly. Intentionally practice opening up about what you’re experiencing. It especially helps to talk to someone who has experience with burnout, so if you feel stuck, find an expert, therapist, a coach, or at least a good friend who can lend a listening ear.
- Improve the environment. Change pace, introduce employees to mindful activities to help them cope with unavoidable work-related stress and give them the tools to manage it so that it doesn’t lead to long-term stress. Similar to the previous tip, normalize opening up so none of your employees feel trapped in their situation.
That’s my story. I’d love to hear yours!
When was the last time a situation in your life or at work pushed you to burnout? How did you get through it? Did you see it coming? If you are struggling with these symptoms now, what would help you get through it?
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