“My candle burns at both ends — it will not last the night.”
– Edna St. Vincent Millay
Defining burnout is not as simple as one might think because it affects so many aspects of your life. In their book, Beyond Burnout, authors David Welch, Donald Medeiros and George Tate, describe burnout as a condition that affects us physically, intellectually, emotionally, socially and spiritually.
One of the first physical symptoms of burnout is fatigue. You may feel as though you do not have any energy to complete work tasks or that you are dragging by the end of the day. From an intellectual perspective, you may experience a loss of creativity or innovative thinking. Your sharpness and critical thinking skills could become subpar when problem solving. When you are experiencing burnout, cynicism may replace enthusiasm or positive thinking. The loss of dreams and positive expectations can have an emotional impact resulting in feelings of helplessness and depression. Another social implication of burn out is having feelings of isolation rather than engagement. You may choose to disconnect from others and retreat from activities. Furthermore, from a spiritual perspective, you may feel as if you don’t matter or you lack purpose.
In the last few years, 14% of the workforce has quit or changed jobs due to job stress. Moreover, according to a recent study, one in three Americans are expected to experience burnout on the job in the near future. The burn out phenomena does not seem to be going away. So how can you avoid becoming one of the unfortunate people contributing to these burnout statistics?
First, you must recognize the warning signs. You may be on the verge of burnout if you are:
- Frustrated and overwhelmed
- Lacking control about how to do your job or what goes on in the workplace
- Experiencing frequent emotional outbursts
- Withdrawn and isolated
- Dreading going to work
- Feeling sick or have health problems
- Coping by increasing the use of alcohol, drugs or food consumption
- Thinking about quitting (or running away) but have a fear of doing so
Unfortunately, taking a few days off to escape or taking a vacation to Tahiti won’t contain the burnout. Simply leaving one job for another is not an effective strategy, either. Burnout has more to do with attitudes, work styles, and behavior than it does the specific job situation.
8 Secrets to Avoid Burnout
1. Become a Master of Self-Management
Take the time to set clear goals and objectives. Ensure that they are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time sensitive. Take the time to plan out your day and focus on those activities that are most important. If you can, bucket activities that are similar so that you can focus on one area at a time (e.g. communication, meetings, feedback, reading, etc.) By dedicating some time for planning, you can be better prepared for what is ahead. Your preparation will allow you to have more control over your schedule and what you can manage at a given time.
2. Stress Management
Learn how you respond to stress. Are you the type of person who charges through stressful times or do you retreat? When you are stressed out, do you become irritable or more of a recluse? If you know how you respond to stress, you can develop better strategies to manage it. Some effective ways to manage stress are to take more breaks, exercise, or eat healthy foods. Taking some time to leave the building and go outside can relieve some tension. Being intentional about making time for play and rest are also positive ways to deal with stress. When I am stressed, I take time to get massages, paint, knit or listen to a book on tape. During more stressful times at work, I will play a music CD of classical or relaxing music. Keeping fresh flowers, inspirational quotes and pictures of my loved ones in my office help make my work environment pleasant. These personal touches transform my office into a sanctuary to which I can retreat when the day gets crazy busy. Discover what works best for you and practice good self-care habits.
3. Identify Your Personal Support Systems
Family, friends, co-workers, and professional organizations can all serve as support systems in your life. Who can you count on when things get stressful? Identify resources that you can use when you need them. I often intentionally schedule time to talk to my family throughout the week to keep me focused on what is most important in my life. Don’t hesitate to outsource services if it will make your life easier. By outsourcing several tasks (e.g. walking the dog, cleaning the house, lawn care, etc.) I have been able to use that time to fill my life with things like self-care, family time or finishing up something on my to-do list.
4. Expand Your Repertoire of Skills
Look for opportunities to learn new skills or assignments that provide an intellectual challenge. Participate in activities that use your natural skills, talents and abilities. Rather than becoming stagnant, you’ll be able to grow in areas you enjoy. As part of your development, you can look for chances to gain exposure or experience with skills you need for the next career level. If you do not have the ability to influence the type of projects you lead at work, perhaps you can find opportunities for intellectual stimulation outside of work.
5. Seek Balance in Your Life
Seek a balanced and well-structured lifestyle. Determine what’s important to you and create a lifestyle that embraces and supports you. Identify activities and things that bring you joy. Fill your day with people and tasks that you love. Schedule time for self-care and rest. You must be intentional about balancing your life. If you don’t make it a priority, no one else will. I really enjoy art and cultural activities. These activities make me happy and feed my creative soul. Each month I schedule time to visit a museum, see a show or participate in a creative activity to fulfill my need for culture.
6. Think Positively
Replace negativity with optimistic thinking. Helpless thinking is a major contributor to burnout. The burgeoning field of Positive Psychology is deeply rooted in focusing on what is right with people. By having a positive perspective on life, you can increase fulfillment and engagement. There are both physical and emotional benefits to looking at the world with the lens of “glass half full.”
7. Be Creative
Look for a different approach to the same problems or to unpleasant situations. Break free from your everyday routine. Let your workspace express your individuality. Seeking innovative solutions to common problems can challenge your thinking and stretch your creative skills. By taking a different route to work, you may experience your commute in a totally fresh way.
8. Humor and Playfulness
Humor reduces stress and promotes physical healing. It is essential for mental health and can add years to your life. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Watching a funny movie or television show can instantly lift your spirits and energy. No wonder they say humor is the best antidote. Enjoy yourself.
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