We all know that feeling of being done. How many times have you said “I just can’t” in the past week? Might be a sign that you are burning out, and this doesn’t just affect your performance at the j-o-b. Burnout is the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual sense of being drained beyond belief. Not only does it affect us as individuals, but friends and family can often feel that they’ve lost us when we are so stressed, tired, and irritable that we can no longer be fully present for them.
So here are 10 self-care strategies for avoiding the dreaded Burnout, at work and everywhere else:
- SLEEP (OR DON’T) – Everybody needs sleep, but how much will depend on your particular circadian rhythms. The best bet is to actually listen to your body. Not enough sleep is the cause of a lot of bad decisions and irritable moods, but too much sleep might be a sign that you are actually depressed. Sometimes, spending time engaged in an intense, passionate hobby or fun activity can actually restore your energy even better than a good night’s sleep.
- ELIMINATE SOFT ADDICTIONS – You know those perfectly legal but still toxic things that we sometimes (or often) put into our bodies? Things like sugar, salt, cholesterol, and caffeine won’t get you in trouble with the law but they sure will kill your energy, joy, and ability to achieve inner peace. Just like narcotics and alcohol, they are addictive and have the tendency to make your crave more and more. Cut them out.
- DO EXERCISE THAT DOESN’T FEEL LIKE EXERCISE – So, we might all know that exercise helps us reduce our stress, but sometimes it’s stressful to get it in. Try to make your physical activity as organic as possible, so that doing it regularly does not seem like a stretch or a hassle. Dance to a 30 minute playlist, chase your kids or dog through the park, or challenge your friends to a competitive game of double-dutch. Whatever. Just keep moving for at least 30 minutes a day. Maybe the less it seems like a “workout,” the more likely you are to keep doing it.
- SPEND TIME WITH YOUR THOUGHTS. Get alone. It turns out that solitude is actually a key ingredient in the lives of highly creative and productive people. Enjoy some time with you, yourself, and well, YOU. Cherish the quiet and freedom to think without interruption or agenda.
- KEEP LEARNING. Your brain needs stimulation to keep from checking out under stress. Read something every day. Subscribe to daily blogs or carry a book in your bag for those short waits between trains, in lines, or at random times throughout the day. Find fiction or non-fiction books and magazines that spark your interest, and dive in.
- TAKE CARE OF YOUR SPIRIT. Spirits need to grow, too. What rituals and practices are most meaningful for you at this time in your life – reading inspirational quotes each morning? Meditation? Prayer? Chanting? Singing? Walking in nature? Studying a holy book with a group of like-minded souls? Whatever the case, don’t neglect your spirit. It needs the nourishment of regular attention to stay strong through challenging times.
- LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. Ever notice how we need a lot less sleep and have a much more positive outlook on life when we have a new love interest? The chemical changes that happen in our brain and body when we are dating someone new buffer us from the stresses of everyday life. Keep it going after the honeymoon phase by putting time and energy into pleasing your lover, and by being authentic and honest with him/her, even when it’s scary. Increased vulnerability (with a safe, trustworthy partner) can give us an energizing rush as we grow in a relationship.
- GET YOURSELF PLAYED. Let go of that Protestant work ethic; it’s a killer! Build time into your schedule to play. Take on a new interest or hobby, even if you’re not good at it. There’s just one rule: it’s got to be fun! Don’t wait until “work is done,” because work is never done. Go play by doing something that you find fun and joyful. Don’t worry…you’ll have time later to get back to work and the time you spent playing will actually make your work turn out better. I promise 🙂
- ENJOY THE PEOPLE IN YOUR LIFE. When we’ve got a million things to do, it becomes easy to start treating the people in our lives like furniture. They’re just there, right? But don’t wait until one of your relationships has a major problem before you give it the time and attention it needs. Commit right now to being present for the people in your life. When you are with them, be fully with them. Listen, give eye contact, create space for them to tell you their story and allow yourself to be curious about how they see the world. It’s amazing how this shift in perspective can help us feel more grateful for, and less drained by, even the most annoying people in our lives.
- TAKE OFF. Our brains and bodies are not designed for 40 or more hours of work, unless we absolutely love the work. Otherwise, you need to take frequent and regular vacations from your job. In addition, take regular and frequent breaks during work. If you don’t have the freedom to do it physically, do it mentally once every 90 minutes during the workday. I know, I know. But I’m not trying to get you fired…just trying to keep you healthy. If you can swing it financially, and are willing to downsize your lifestyle to accommodate less income, try to work a j-o-b no more than 3 days a week.
*BONUS*: So I’ve actually saved the most important tip for last. MAKE SURE THAT YOU HAVE A HIGHER SENSE OF MEANING OR PURPOSE FOR YOUR LIFE. Burnout sets in when we perceive that we are toiling endlessly for a task with no real purpose, or a purpose that we don’t find valuable. So figure out what really, really matters to you and then allow yourself to dream about how to make that the center of your existence. Yes, really.
Sometimes we adopt other people’s values or goals for our lives. Perhaps your partner wants you to start a business but you really want to go back to school. Or maybe you tell everyone that you’re a devoted social activist, but you kinda just want to travel and see the world. When you are on the wrong path and traveling fast, it’s no surprise that you will end up burning out. But, no worries – you will find your level of energy suddenly boosted when you get in touch with what you actually care about.
I hope these tips help. They’re adapted from a book by Ann McGee-Cooper called You Don’t Have to Go Home from Work Exhausted. You can find it here. And if you want help dealing with your personal case of burnout, you can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Until next time, I wish you much positive energy and mental health.