Have you ever reached a point in your life when you had difficulty staying motivated? A time when you felt sapped of all your energy? When your patience was maxed out and it was negatively impacting your job performance and relationships? I know I have.
We all have bad days: days when even the simplest task requires us to engage all our limited reserves or days when we’re irritated, apathetic, and have a short fuse. Who hasn’t had a time when they felt like running away from it all? Normally the bad days pass and we manage to recharge and get back to feeling like our usual selves.
But what if that bad day turns into a week, or a month, or even a year or more?
If the occasional bad day has become the norm rather than the exception it might be an indication of burnout. When I was in this place I didn’t see the signs of burnout and thought I should just push through and it would get better. I was so wrong.
What I know now is that burnout is a state of emotional, psychological, and physical exhaustion that results from enduring chronic and long-term stress. Before looking at ways to prevent burnout it might help to dig a little deeper into what burnout typically looks like.
According to Association for Psychological Science there are three different types of burnout. I’ve outlined them here and added some personal examples:
This is the frenetic, hair-on-fire work ethic of giving it all you’ve got until there’s nothing left to give. Overload burnout makes people feel as though their goals and ambitions are out of their hands and that they are at the mercy of outside factors such as unrealistic expectations, demanding bosses, or office hierarchy. It feels like there is just no way to win and no time to pause.
Wait. Burnout from boredom? Yes. Lack of opportunity for personal growth and development can lead to disinterest, poor performance, and can negatively impact morale. People who feel under-challenged tend to become cynical and manage stress by withdrawing from work directly or indirectly. If you’ve ceased contributing to meetings, refrain from speaking up when things require attention, or have stoped giving it your all, you could be experiencing “under-load.”
When a person is worn out and facing a stressor they don’t choose ‘fight or flight’, they just give up. They may still want to achieve a goal, but lack the motivation to push through the obstacles necessary to achieve it. Worn-out for me felt heavy and hopeless. It showed up in my home and work life. I stopped caring about things that used to be really important to me. I was forgetful, anxious, and resentful of others. I was truly worn-out.
What I know to be true is there is hope. Regardless of the stress or challenge you face, burnout is not inevitable. With a few simple mindset adjustments and behavior changes you can prevent burnout AND get more done. Here’s how. Author Herbert A. Smith, suggests choosing ‘satisficing’ over perfectionism. Satisficing is a combination of the terms satisfy and suffice. It means selecting the first option that meets a given need rather than searching for the optimal or perfect solution. Is it time to try satisficing and shift from being a Type A personality to a Type A minus? I agree with him. Perfectionism can lead to burnout. Here’s some ideas to consider along with some that worked well for me.
Prune your calendar
Any farmer worth his or her salt knows that pruning apple tree branches or out-of-control grape vines ensures a more productive crop. Similarly, thinning out your calendar can help make you more productive while, at the same time, putting you back in charge of your time. Could your calendar use some pruning to make your efforts more fruitful? Ask yourself- what can you say no to today – just for today. What one thing can wait or be rescheduled?
Get creative – hobbies and art
Hobbies give the brain and body time to unplug from the stress of responsibilities while restoring energy in the process. What pastime do you enjoy but have been absent from your life? Is it time to dust off that knitting needle, paintbrush, or tennis racket? For me, doing art projects with my daughter helped me get present and feel more relaxed. While art is not a hobby of mine spending quality time with my daughter doing her hobby was a win-win for us.
Prioritize your well-being in micro-bites
Including down time on your daily ‘to do’ list – even 10 minutes can make a huge difference. It could be as simple as setting a timer on your watch to drink water, walking in nature, or it may require more effort like planning a getaway or vacation – whatever floats your relaxation boat. I found the Relax Melodies app a big help to quiet my mind so I could focus on what mattered and plan to take breaks. I also asked co-workers to take walking meetings with me instead of sitting at our desks. Movement as a micro-bite was a boost for my well-being.
Sleep on it
Prioritize going to bed at the same time every day. Allow yourself to nap when you can. It is amazing how restorative sleep is for your body and mind. Rest is essential for energy and a clear mind.
No single strategy will prevent us from experiencing the occasional ‘bad day’. But by incorporating one or more of these behavior changes into our day-to-day lives we can learn to avoid burnout.
When we’re proactive, set realistic expectations, are mindful about managing commitments, and take excellent care of ourselves we not only increase the chances of avoiding burnout, we end up enjoying the process of achieving our desired goals.
Burnout is the reason I designed and lead Brave Wisdom events. For me the way back from burnout required me to be Brave (admit I was there and do something about it) and listen to my body and support team, which I call Wisdom. Rest, boundaries, asking for help, building a support team and carving out “me” time was essential for me to reboot from burnout.
I truly enjoy helping people strategize ways to avoid or reboot from burnout. I’d be honored to support you or anyone you know that is experiencing signs of burnout.