In a previous article on burnout, I explained that despite the very real danger that burning out poses to an individual’s health and performance – and not just in the short-term – it is becoming ever more prevalent as the pace of life continues to increase and the boundaries between life and work dissolve.
The good news is that there are lots of things individuals can do to support and protect themselves from burnout, even if the world around them does not. If you think you might be at risk of burning out, the following practical, actionable tips can really help.
Take care of your body
It is no secret that most of us could benefit from addressing one or more areas of our physical self-care, whether that means moving around more often during the working day, drinking more water, improving our sleep hygiene or addressing our nutritional habits. You probably have something in your mind right now that you know you could do to improve your physical well-being. I would encourage you to choose one thing to focus on (such as drinking more water) and don’t try to tackle too much at once.
Explore and express your emotions
Stress, overwhelm and burnout take an enormous toll on us emotionally as well as physically. Living with chronically high-stress levels is exceptionally challenging, but for many people, finding a way to explore and express their emotions healthily can help turn down the intensity dial on their feelings. Find something that works for you – perhaps a mindfulness practice such as meditation, body awareness, box breathing or colouring in, or maybe a creative outlet such as dance, drawing or journaling.
Tame your monkey mind
Mindfulness practices such as those mentioned above can also help calm the mind, which often goes into overdrive in burnout. There are also other practical strategies that can help you be in charge of your mind rather than the other way around. For example, taking 30 minutes to do a huge ‘mind dump’ of all the things swirling through your head can help you make sense of exactly what needs doing and by when. Simply write down every single thing that is on your mind, from the huge life questions (What legacy do I want to leave my grandchildren?) to the tiny, boring errands (post my nephew’s birthday card). Once out of your head, you can begin to categorise them and build them into your week or month. Like most people, you will probably see that you are, in many instances, overcommitted, in which case the next tip will really help.
Develop your support system
Talk to your friends or partner, but also consider using a professional source of support such as a coach. Not only will a coach be able to offer you a different kind of support specifically because they are not involved in your personal life, but they have also been trained to offer a blend of cheerleading, challenge and containment, offering you a place to go where you can share everything that is on your mind.
Say “no” more
Setting clear boundaries can be a huge force for good for people in the midst of burnout. Did you know that when the word ‘priority’ came into the English language, it was only applicable to ONE thing? Now, we talk about multiple – often conflicting – priorities, but the origin of the word reflect something powerful: that we are probably overcommitted in one area or another. Saying no, asking for more time, and managing others’ expectations are all key to navigating burnout and overwhelm successfully.
When was the last time you took a day off from your devices? If your answer is, “I can’t remember,” you are not alone – but if you really are suffering from burnout, it might be worth trying it. Get off your phone, tablet or laptop and outside. Connect with loved ones. Make new memories. Read a book. Go for an aimless walk. Remind yourself that you are not just a human doing: you are first and foremost a human being.
See a doctor
Finally, if you suspect that you are close to having a breakdown, which is one of the body’s final warning signs, then I would urge you to see your GP or a medical professional. There is no shame in burning out; as I said earlier, it is part of the wider systemic context that we live in. The important thing is to get the support that you need.
There is no pill to cure burnout. Ultimately, recovering from it or protecting ourselves from it requires that we think carefully about how we live each day and making smart, strategic choices that do not just propel us forward in the short-term towards a ticked off to-do list, but support us so that we can remain energised and engaged in the long run.
Elizabeth Reilly is an executive and leadership coach and co-founder of the Work Psychologists. Elizabeth’s commercial background allows her to quickly grasp the complexities of today’s organisations and bring clarity to the issues involved. Working in fast-paced and highly fluid environments – from entrepreneurial start-ups to FTSE 100 – she particularly relates to the challenges faced by senior executives and has supported business leaders and teams across a wide range of sectors, including advertising, banking and tech.
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Elizabeth quickly grasps the complexities of organisations and strategic challenges