Ten Ways Of Avoiding Burnout
Burnout is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion. It can occur when you experience long-term stress in your job, or when you have worked in a physically or emotionally draining role for a long time. You can also experience burnout when your efforts at work have failed to produce the results that you expected, and you feel deeply disillusioned as a result.
You might be experiencing burnout if you:
- Feel that every day at work is a bad day.
- Feel exhausted much of the time.
- Feel no joy or interest in your work, or even feel depressed by it.
- Feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities.
- Engage in escapist behaviors, such as excessive drinking.
- Have less patience with others than you used to.
- Feel hopeless about your life or work.
- Experience physical symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, sleeplessness, or heart palpitations. (Make sure that you see a physician about these!)
Studies show that people who experience burnout early in their career often find it easier to recover than people who go through it later in life. However, it's important that you know how to recover effectively, whatever stage you're at in your career.
Recovering From Burnout
Burnout doesn't go away on its own; rather, it will get worse unless you address the underlying issues causing it. If you ignore burnout, it will only cause you further harm down the line, so it's important that you begin recovery as soon as possible.
Recovery from burnout is a slow journey; not a quick dash to some imaginary finish line. You need time and space to recuperate, so don't rush through this process.
The recovery strategies that we've outlined below are all useful in different situations. Some of these strategies will work for you, while others won't, so find a balance of strategies and best practices that feels right to you. If you believe that something isn't working, don't be afraid to try something new.
Think About the "Why" of Burnout
You first need to identify why you've experienced burnout. In some situations, this will be obvious. Other times, it will take time and introspection to uncover this.
First, look at any resentment that you feel towards your work. Often, feelings of resentment point to something important that is missing.
Here's a good example: Jennifer manages a team halfway around the world, so her workday often starts at 6 a.m. She doesn't mind this because she likes her team and her job. But she feels resentful when her boss forgets that she works so early and repeatedly asks her to stay late, which causes her to miss important time with her family.
In this example, burnout didn't occur because Jennifer disliked her job; in fact, she loved what she did. She experienced burnout because she hated missing out on family time in the evenings.
Take time to think about any negative feelings that you have about your role, and, perhaps, use a technique like the 5 Whys to get to the root of the problem. Once you've identified the cause of your burnout, write down at least one way that you can manage or eliminate that source of stress or unhappiness.
Another useful method for identifying underlying causes of burnout is to keep a stress diary. Each day, write down what causes you stress and record why the event stressed you. Stress diaries can be illuminating, so long as you keep up with them for a reasonable period of time.
Once you discover the root causes of your burnout, look at what you can do to resolve it. This might involve delegating some of your responsibilities to others, adding more autonomy to your job, working from home one day a week, or even changing roles.
Focus on the Basics
If you've experienced burnout, your body may be in need of attention. This is why it's important to think about the basics of good health and well-being.
- Start by getting plenty of exercise: Countless studies have shown that this offers many physical and mental benefits; not only does regular exercise help reduce stress, but it also boosts your mood, improves your overall health, and enhances your quality of life.
- Next, make sure that you're getting enough sleep, eating well, and drinking plenty of water throughout the day: These might sound obvious, but busy professionals often ignore their most basic needs. Instead, they take care of others and their responsibilities far more than they take care of themselves. This can contribute to burnout.
- Take an inventory. Make a list of all the situations that cause you to feel stressed, anxious, worried, frustrated, and helpless. Don't rush through it. It's not a race; it's a process. In fact, you should consider it a work in process, adding to it as things enter your mind. Next to each item on the inventory, write down at least one way to modify that situation to reduce its stress, and then begin implementing them into your routine. Don't get frustrated if you don't see immediate changes or feel immediate results. Burnout doesn't happen overnight, so it's unrealistic to expect it to go away overnight. Consistent implementation of positive changes into your routine is the best way to see improvement.
- Just say "no." While you're "recovering," avoid taking on any new commitments or responsibilities. I know you have to live in the real world and there will be some things that you just can't get out of doing.
- Delegate as many things as possible, even if the person you're delegating to may not do them as quickly or as well as you would.
- Take breaks between big projects. Burnout puts your mind and body in a weakened state, so avoid jumping from one stressful, time-consuming project to the next in order to give your mind and body a chance to recover.
- Control your devices. Gadgets, such as iPads, computers, and smart phones, can consume large amounts of your time and energy. Turn them off as much as possible.
- Socialize outside your professional group. This can provide fresh perspectives, stimulate new ideas, and help you discover previously undiscovered resources.
- Resist the urge to take work home. Yes, we realize you have a job to do and at some point, the work has to get done.
Reinforce effort, not outcome. Not even the best players hit home runs every time they get up to bat. Remember to reinforce yourself for trying rather than only for the end result