It is very easy to miss the signs of a burnout until they are already there. A burnout can affect anyone and is increasingly used to describe a common set of symptoms facing everyone from employees to leaders. So, are you burnt out?
Go ahead and ask yourself the following questions.
- 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?
- Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
- Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
- Have your sleep habits changed?
- Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or other physical complaints?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be experiencing job burnout.
The long-term consequences of overdoing it can be damaging to our work, careers, and relationships. Sadly, we often focus on telling stories of entrepreneurs in the early building days, without looking more closely at the downstream consequences of the early hustle mania: many entrepreneurs face a burnout years later, long after any media mayhem has died down.
Unless you have a solid support system in place, just trying to push through and “survive” can negatively impact your relationships, your work, and your overall wellbeing. How, then, can you build mental resilience to feel good, and thrive under whatever circumstances come your way?
ANSWER: Build a “Burnout Toolkit”
The biggest problem for us is how we address stress and resilience and the lack of diversity of options. It’s easy to get into a rut: go to the bar, let off steam with a drink or two, stay up late and watch television to zone out, and repeat on a daily basis. Perhaps your “tool” of choice is exercise. What happens if you sprain an ankle? Having only one strategy for staying emotionally resilient can put you in a pickle if it is no longer available.
We like to think of mental health and work resilience as needing a full toolkit of options to work well. It’s not sufficient to have just one strategy for dealing with a difficult amount of work. We need several tools that we can use and adapt, depending on the situation.
Here are 10 strategies to fight job burnout.
1. The first step is to figure out if you are experiencing job burnout.
Awareness that you are experiencing job burnout is an essential first step. Now, don’t ignore it and make it a priority because speaking from experience when you push it back because you just need to push through actually makes things worse and you could end up not being able to work at all.
2. Try to get more sleep.
Easier said than done right? Getting too little sleep is a major factor in predicting a burnout and a likely contributor to job burnout. Sleeping better is also an important sign that you’re recovering from a burnout and ready to go back to work. We came across some useful sleep strategies – you can read them here.
3. Do cardiovascular exercise regularly.
Cardiovascular exercise has been shown in studies to significantly reduce burnout symptoms in as little as 4 weeks.
4. Practice yoga.
Yoga programs are helping school teachers, nurses, medical students, and first responders prevent and fight a burnout. Studies show that it can significantly reduce emotional exhaustion.
5. Try mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness meditation is a technique that allows you to just be exactly where you are and observe without judgment. You can do mindfulness meditation through free audio guided meditations online or apps like Headspace. Practice for as little as 10 minutes a day. Observe your thoughts without judgment, and let them come and go like passing waves in the ocean or clouds in the sky.
6. Practice mindful breathing.
Meditation can sometimes sound intimidating or challenging. Many people imagine meditation is sitting in a dark room in a contorted, uncomfortable position trying to make your mind go empty. But meditation does not have to be physically uncomfortable or even seated. And you don’t need to force your mind to go blank.
Try a simple mindful breathing exercise, which is a form of meditation. Inhale for 4 counts of breath, and exhale for 4 counts. Say to yourself with each breath, “Breathing in, I calm my whole body. Breathing out, I calm my whole body.”
7. Try mindful walking.
If sitting is uncomfortable, try mindful walking. Pair your steps with your breath. Inhale for 4 steps, exhale for 4 steps. Adjust the number of steps based on your pace of walking to create an even, calming breath pattern.
8. Make time for other activities focused on self-care and self-compassion.
Self-care and self-compassion is different for everyone and what you feel is right can change day to day. Massage therapy has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. A silent walk in nature or playing music can be restorative. Experiment to find what nourishes you.
The key is doing the activity from a place of self-compassion. It sounds really simple, but you’d be surprised how hard it is to give ourselves “permission” to treat ourselves well.
9. Talk about your situation with people that you trust.
Talking with a trusted supervisor or mentor to explore options on how to modify work demands or achieve better work-life balance can be helpful. Many companies also have an employee assistance program which may offer confidential counselling. If things are not improving, you can treat burnout symptoms with the help of a mental health professional.
10. Don’t let the feeling of not having enough time stop you- this one is super important so don’t forget about it.
The most common reaction to the strategies listed above is that people already feel like they don’t have enough time. The paradox is that making time for yoga, meditation, additional sleep or exercise will actually give you more time.
How is this possible? Yoga, meditation, exercise, and sleep improve focus, concentration, and energy, so you will be able to complete tasks more effectively and efficiently. Also, our experience of time is influenced by our nervous system. The sense of urgency and the frustration of feeling rushed is heightened when you have an overactive sympathetic (“fight-or-flight”) nervous system.
Yoga and mindfulness activities help us learn how to slow down and become fully aware of each moment, so your sense of time will actually expand. Doing restorative activities regularly puts the brake on your fight-or-flight response, so you will feel less rushed and stressed even when faced with the same to-do list.