It is a silent foe that you might never see coming. For the past few days, you have felt as though two barbells have found a home around your ankles during your morning commute. Even dressing to the nines in your finest chiffon dress and black suede pumps is not enough to pull you out of such a funk. After another two days of work, your alarm clock rings and you cannot bring yourself to get out of the bed. Even the draw of a warm, morning shower is not enticing enough to clear the roadblock that is the workday ahead. Sound familiar? Have you heard of the term “burnout?” If not, it is time to get familiar.
Burnout occurs when a person is pushed to their emotional, mental, and even physical limit at such a consistency that they are simply unable to continue on in a healthy way. According to a March report from Indeed, 52% of respondents identified themselves as feeling “burnt out.”
According to Keresse Thompson, a licensed clinical social worker and host of the podcast, “Diary of an Empath,” burnout can occur to anyone and at any time.
“When we start something new, it can seem exciting. We have neurotransmitters like dopamine that keeps us motivated and tells us that we are doing a great job. Most people are unlikely to express that they are overworked especially if they are in a new position as they want to prove themselves worthy. After some time, you may find that your job or what you are doing becomes more taxing. You may notice that you have become more irritable, less motivated, less job satisfaction, have had sleep disturbances or even felt fatigued.
If you continue to ignore these early symptoms, you may find yourself in complete burnout. Indicators of this stage include:
- Physical symptoms intensify and/or increase in number
- Obsessing about work frustrations
- Pessimistic thinking
- An ‘escapist mentality’
Once you are in this stage you are at risk for a complete breakdown,” Thompson said.
Breakdown sounds like quite the terrifying term, and indeed it is not something to be ignored. Yet, it is not something to be feared either. Over years, workers on the 9 to 5 have developed methods to fight back against burnout. Although a one-and-done approach is not currently a viable option, a bit of persistence and some steps to follow can help you get your mojo back in order. We reached out to experts on the topic of burnout and asked them about their suggested methods of fighting burnout.
Dr. Holland-Kornegay’s “Three R’s”
Dr. Tasha Holland-Kornegay, licensed counselor and mental health expert, breaks down a comprehensive approach to combating burnout in what she calls the “three R’s.”
“Rest, recharge, and restructure every day. By rest, I mean implement relaxation periods into your day. It’s important that these rest periods aren’t mindless or unenjoyable. Do something that’s meaningful to you, like watching a great movie, playing a fun video game, or reading an engrossing book. This is your time to have fun and feel good about it afterward.
Recharging is a bit different — this is where you do more wellness-based activities, like meditating, exercising, or stretching. These are super nourishing activities that teach you more about yourself, finding self-compassion, and bringing deep calm to your days.
And by restructure, I mean taking account of the parts of your life that are burning you out and doing something about them. While you might not be able to change key components of your job, you can always find ways to minimize your work’s influence on your personal life by leaving work at the office, updating your available hours, minimizing tasks that are delegated to you, and creating stronger boundaries between work and home life.”
Christa Reed’s Task Listing Approach
Christa Reed of Job Searcher utilizes a listing strategy to help her avoid overwhelm.
“Identify your tasks and segregate them. With these few steps you can bring more value to your everydays at work:
- Make a list of all the tasks you possibly do at work.
- Separate them by acknowledging which ones need thinking, which are the tasks that you do mechanically, and which of those tasks need both.
- Rank them in order to find out which ones you do regularly.
- If it turns out that thinking is not what you do for a major part of your time spent at work but you are mostly doing mechanical things, then this is a great opportunity for you to change it.
- Make a plan on how you could move from mechanical tasks to thinking tasks. You can do this by delegating tasks to others or investing in a Software as a Service (SaaS) system that takes over tasks that will save time for you.”
Stacy Naugle’s Dietary Approach
Stacy Naugle, expert on effective diet and lifestyle enhancements of Your Vegan Family, believes in the power of food to keep you far away from overwhelm.
“Preventing burnout begins by strengthening your body’s capacity to resist stress and function with a high level of energy, focus, and stamina to inspire the sustained actions necessary to fuel long-term success. Eating a wide selection of high-performance foods builds this capacity. Foods that are high in omega-3 oils such as flax and chia seeds, and walnuts support high brain function. High-fiber foods nourish your gut biome which produces feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine to elevate your mood and focus. You can support a healthy gut biome by eating a broad range of whole foods with an emphasis on high-fiber kiwi, broccoli, beans, and lentils. Invest in yourself and support your body so it can support you to burn bright, not out.”
Jenna Miller’s Wellness Techniques
Jenna Miller, yoga teacher and health practitioner, highlights the importance of holistic bodily health in keeping your mind in good working order.
“One of the most important steps you can take is to balance your blood sugar. Skipping meals, drinking caffeine and consuming sugary, processed snacks might save time and provide a quick energy boost. But those habits cause blood sugar levels to swing from high to low and ultimately leave you feeling lethargic and unfocused. To feel more balanced, aim to eat regular meals and snacks that include protein, healthy fat and fiber. You’ll be less reliant on quick carbs for fuel and, when you do grab an occasional coffee or treat, you’ll be less likely to experience a big swing.
Heal your gut. Poor digestion, food intolerances, and overgrowth of bacteria (dysbiosis) can contribute to brain fog and lack of clarity. Some gut issues take time to diagnose and repair, but one step you can take now to start seeing results is to eat a clean diet. Removing processed, packaged food from your diet gives your digestive system a chance to rest and recover, and can go a long way in eliminating that lethargic, foggy-headed feeling.
Incorporate diaphragmatic breath. Deep belly breathing encourages you to use your full lung capacity and dials up your parasympathetic nervous systems response, otherwise known as rest and relaxation. Time pressure, demands and constant distractions can leave you feeling frazzled, but diaphragmatic breath helps you find your center and get clear again. I recommend 5-20 minutes of deep breathing as a daily practice. The benefits are cumulative, meaning you’ll become better adept at managing stress the more you practice.”
Despite the many positive effects that come from making some changes in one’s personal life, it is also absolutely crucial that the environment in which one works is not actively fighting against their efforts to reduce burnout.
According to Kimmon Williams of Anthology Communications, employers are in the position to cultivate environments featuring preventative measures against burnout.
“Whether we’re talking about burnout or poor mental health, everyone is facing the same stress: the collective trauma of a pandemic; there are solutions employers can use to help reduce workplace stress.
- Provide or direct employees to mental health resources. If your company offers health benefits that cover mental health services, remind your employees of this fact. You can also highlight free related resources and apps for everyone to try.
- Encourage employees to make time for self-care. Sharing information about mental health resources does no good if employees are worried about the perception of using them. Provide workers with healthcare and wellness benefits to every extent possible and encourage them to take advantage of these resources. Lead by example.
- Proactively prevent and address toxic aspects of work culture. Toxic work culture will harm your reputation. It’s crucial to proactively assess and address sources of unhealthy behaviors in order to keep your employees happy, maintain your company’s reputation as a great place to work and boost your recruiting efforts. Ask them.
It’s so encouraging to see more employers understanding stress in the workplace and its impact on whether people can be productive and engaged in work. So, awareness of the issue is an important place to start,” Williams said.
If you feel yourself starting to slip down the slope towards burnout, the first step in every case is not to feel hopeless. Take a strategy, or strategies, listed above for a spin and see what wonders can be worked for you. Remember that burnout can be interpreted as a call for change in your life and is not something over which to completely lose your cool. Make your plan, apply it, and do your very best to stay positive!