Burnout is real. Burnout is our new cautionary word for stress at work that goes too far.
It literally means “afflicted with or incapacitated by stress -in middle English, it is a variant of distress, meaning great pain, anxiety, mental suffering.
When denied and ignored, burnout can lead to serious mental and physical health issues or worse.
It reflects a chronic depletion of an individual’s coping resources resulting from work-related stress. Fatigue, mood issue, sleep problems and cognitive impairment are the most common symptoms. When denied and ignored, burnout can lead to serious mental and physical health issues or worse. How can you avoid that?
Here is the good news. If you know sleep deprivation, poor physical health, poor body awareness and a negative mindset contribute to burnout, you can do something about it and prevent it.
Let me tell you about my client Gini. Gini is a forty-five-year-old executive. She puts in long hours, takes on extra projects and barely sleeps. She feels she must to make the grade and compete with her male co-workers to stay ahead. She is a perfectionistic high-achiever who doesn’t mind the sacrifices, she says.
At a certain point it began catching up with her, she admits now. She started having fatigue, difficulties focusing, more anxieties about the work, and kept getting sick with every little cold that went around the office. She noticed but she didn’t slow down. She was just upset with her body failing her.
Then about a month later, she felt faint and passed out at work. She felt so embarrassed. She saw it as a weakness. When she went to the mandatory doctor’s appointment encouraged by her boss, her doctor did some tests and found she was dangerously anemic, pre-diabetic, her thyroid was hyper-functioning. She had extreme adrenal fatigue and her heart was showing signs of high stress. The doctor relayed her concerns and discussed the changes Gini needed to start making- including eating healthier, sleeping, getting exercise and stress-reduction skills. She was so lucky. It so easily could have been cancer or an auto-immune disease.
As time passed, she recognized how unhealthy and burned out she had been and how very fortunate of a wake up call it was.
Gini was resistant to say the least, since she operated from this over-achieving framework. She and I worked out a way to make small doable changes at a time that enhanced her work capacity while getting her healthier. As time passed, she recognized how unhealthy and burned out she had been and how very fortunate of a wakeup call it was.
You may not notice until something bad is happening but you can choose to be smarter and start making modest changes now that will not only improve your work performance, they will significantly increase your physical and mental resilience and sustainability. And the best part is these are all lifestyle behaviors you already do in some form every day. Now you get to do them more consciously.
Here are 5 straightforward ways to support your mental, emotional and physical health to have more endurance and adaptability in the face of stress at work. Enhancing your use of these skills will reboot your stamina, focus and vitality.
1. Get Real Sleep
Sleep is absolutely fundamental for being attentive, healthy, in a good mood, thinking clearly and being productive at work. The problem is that despite current research validating the importance of sleep, our work culture continues to minimizes its impact and continues to encourage long work hours and quantity of work over quality sleep and excellent performance.
Insomnia and sleep deprivation cause memory deficits, decision making and concentration impairments, unstable moods, a higher risk for heart disease and diabetes, weight gain and weakened immunity. It is highly correlated with burnout.
It is estimated that 1 out of 3 of adults don’t get enough sleep. Seven hours is considered the absolute minimum as reported by the CDC for optimal health and well-being. Many people believe they only need 5-6 hours to be optimum. However, it just isn’t as true as it seems.
Being honest about how much you sleep has to happen first. Then you can make small cumulative shifts in your lifestyle to improve your sleep, especially during the workday schedules.
Let’s cover a few basic tips:
- Set a similar time within an hour to get to bed.
- Stop screens (T.V., phone, computer, video games) at minimum of a half hour before bed. Some people may need a longer before bed.
- Keep your room quiet and dark at night.
- Leave your phone in the other room. Use an alarm clock.
If you are having serious trouble sleeping and experiencing insomnia, then you will want to find a professional to help you make the necessary changes and new habits.
To see if this is impacting your work performance- try prioritizing sleep for two to three weeks and then notice your mood, clarity and performance at work.
2. Take a Lunch and Eat Real Food
Eating nutritious food versus high carbohydrate food. When we eat high sugar foods, it disturbs our mental, emotional and physical resiliency. You may want to eat poorly when you are stressed for the quick energy response, yet it just adds to the decreased immunity, making you more susceptible to getting sick, poor sleep and burnout.
Altering this habit means having healthy food choices accessible. It also means eating in calm relaxed environment for good digestion and not working at your desk and computer. Gut health more and more is linked with brain health and overall immunity.
Simply eating healthier can be an easy prevention of burnout.
In addition, good nutrition can lower your negative immunity and stress responses. Nutrition is now being related to epigenetics, our genetic health and mood. Simply eating healthier can be an easy preventative skill for burnout.
Try stepping away from your desk, going and sitting somewhere peaceful outside if possible. Not being in a rush. Enjoying your food so it can fuel you.
Being alone while eating for some people is very restorative. Other people prefer to socialize and interact. Really listen and see what your body-mind internally tells you it needs most each day. And then don’t override it. Just listen and do it. You will see the benefits as soon as you come back from lunch and return to your work, rested, rejuvenated and ready.
3. Get Moving during the Day
One of the best things you can do to revitalize your brain, body and wellbeing is to get present in your body. Body awareness supports our wellbeing. Movement and exercise increases mindfulness, interoceptive awareness and positive states of mind.
Body awareness supports our wellbeing.
On the contrary, burnout is associated with depression, where people have much less awareness of their bodies. Working long periods of time at your desk without standing and moving can lead to feeling more disconnection in your body. You are more at risk for diabetes, depression and obesity.
Taking time between focused work periods to be briefly active is shown to improve mood, energy and overall well-being. This leads to higher productivity naturally. For example, working 90 minutes and then taking a ten-minute break to move around.
Also going outside and simply standing directly on the Earth helps your body reduce stress, inflammation and mood changes. It is called Earthing. The Earth’s surface electrons have a compelling regenerative effect on our physical, emotional and mental well-being.
Try it. Take a few breaks and go take walk outside and stand on the on the Earth and see what you notice. It might surprise you.
We all breathe automatically. Breathing with consciousness is a dynamic and easy tool to use. Simply breathing with more awareness or breathing deeper can lead to reduced stress levels.
For example, deep belly breathing is associated with decreased stress, tension and anxiety, with improved cognitive performance. It also triggers the relaxation response in our nervous system and body. This helps us release tension, which leads to improved cognition and creativity.
Being able to be more conscious and take breathing breaks to stop, relax the body and breathe deeply 1-10 times can reset your attention, lower stress hormones and keep you more focused.
Another valuable breath for quick relaxation and lowering of stress is called the 4-7-8 Breathe described by Dr. Weil:
Sit with your back straight, your neck aligned and keeping the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, behind the front teeth throughout the exercise.
- Exhale completely out your mouth through the teeth.
- Close your mouth and inhale through your nose for 4 counts.
- Hold your breath for 7 counts.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, through the teeth for 8 counts.
- Then inhale and repeat the cycle three more times at a minimum.
The more you practice breathing with awareness the more effective and efficient the outcomes are. Set your phone alarms 3 times a day for breathing and see what happens.
5. Positive Thinking and Self Reflection
How we talk to ourselves makes a big difference in our internal level of stress and coping skills. When we are judgmental or negative with ourselves, this impacts our mood, our focus and productivity.
Keeping the mind more positively focused with self-talk helps to reduce work-related stress and cognitive anxiety. It increases our self-confidence.
“Burnout is about resentment. Preventing it is about knowing yourself well enough to know what it is you’re giving up that makes you resentful. “ – Marissa Mayer
Taking time to self-reflect on our experience also helps us have more awareness and choice of how we make good choices for ourselves.
Being kind and compassionate with ourselves is a simple way to stay more centered and clear. We can change how we interpret people and their actions in a difficult situation so that it helps us to cope better. It can promote more acceptance, less resistance and we can move past conflicts easier. These awareness strategies can strongly promote your mental and emotional wellbeing.
To summarize, burnout can sneak up on you without you even realizing it. When you become too hyper-focused on work and less aware of your body and mind and their needs, you will likely experience some negative impact. Without attention, you could suffer greater consequences.
These simple strategies are small lifestyle adjustments with sleep, food, breathing, movement and positive mindset that can have a significant impact on your mental and physical health as well as your capacity for being highly productive and efficient at work. With a little awareness, you can greatly enhance your work, health and life.