On the brink of burnout?
When you’re feeling like you’re on the cliff-edge, about to go tumbling down into total exhaustion, it’s time to take some serious action.
But even before then, when stress is starting to build and you can sense overwhelm looming large, there are steps you can take to get back on track.
According to a survey by Kalms, 87% of Brits have experienced burnout during the last 12 months – so you’re certainly not alone if you can feel dread on the horizon.
Whether it’s due to an unhealthy work environment, the stress of the news cycle, or the lingering effects of over a year of Covid-19, here are some expert tips to tackle burnout before it settles in.
Limit exposure to stressors
Work out what tiny things are piling on to your stress levels; emails, Slack messages, news alerts.
These are often things you can’t cut out completely, but what you can do is set up some boundaries.
‘Try to find a balance between being informed but not overwhelmed,’ says psychologist Jan P de Jonge, working with Feel Good Contacts.
‘Do this by limiting news consumption [or emails, or Slack messages] to set times during the day and preferably not when you should be relaxing, such as during meal times or at bed time.’
Restructure your day
Selina Barker, career coach and the author of Burnt Out: The Exhausted Person’s 6 Step Guide to Thriving in a Fast-Paced World, notes that if you’re drowning under the weight of your day, you might need something as simple as a rejig in structure.
What do your mornings look like? Are they marked by a rush to get out of the door, or a frantic commute filled with inbox scrolling?
What about the rest of your day? Are you finding yourself crashing after lunch, or have you noticed that you’re being pulled into meetings just as you’re hitting your stride?
Take a proper look at your routine and check that it’s working for you.
‘Learn how to manage your energy and design your day so that you feel energised, calm, and focused throughout: start the day doing something that energises you and sets you up for the day, take a 10-minute break every 90 minutes to recharge your batteries and in the evening do things that help you to unwind, release the stresses of the day and lift your spirits,’ suggests Selina.
Move your body
You know it, we know it, now it’s time to put that knowledge into action.
Exercise is good for us. When you’re feeling stressed, that’s tricky to remember, and it can feel impossible to make time for a proper workout.
But try to focus on just moving your body a little more during times when you’re mentally drained.
This ‘can act as a restorative activity and give you a boost of feel-good hormones,’ says Selina.
When you’re starting to go down the path of burnout, that negative inner voice creeps in and takes hold.
These patterns of thinking – I’m failing, everything’s going wrong, everything I do is bad – need to be challenged and unlearned.
Jan advises: ‘If things haven’t worked out as expected, then don’t see it as a failure. Treat yourself with kindness and learn to accept that things go wrong from time to time. Be positive; see the failure as a lesson for the future.’
Check in with your priorities
Crisis mode happens when every task is assigned the same label of ‘super urgent, the most important thing in the world, needs to be done right now’.
Take a moment to work out what’s actually essential, what you really care about, and what can be delegated – or just let go of entirely.
Jan suggests asking: ‘Are you working too many hours? Have you said “Yes” too often and too easily? Have you booked up all your available time? Is everything important?
‘Address this by recalibrating your priorities and review how much time you spend on each habitual activity. You and those around you will be happier for it.’
Make a list – and don’t try to tick off everything at once
Sounds obvious, but a to-do list written each day works wonders.
Make sure your list doesn’t run wild – be realistic with what you can actually do, and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t check off every single thing on there.
But looking back and knowing that you’ve tackled the few most important tasks on your list will make you feel far more in control than winging it.
Create your own stress toolkit
‘Discover techniques and habits that help you to calm down when you are starting to go into an urgent, panicked, or stressed-out state,’ recommends Selina. ‘Things that can help you to calm down are going for a walk, calling a friend, doing exercise, meditation. Experiment and find the things that work for you and always have them in your back pocket when you need them.‘
Carve out some actual down time
Proper relaxation time is key.
By that we mean time spent not scrolling, or doing life admin, or trying to get ahead of tomorrow. Schedule in some time to do something that feels good and is entirely unrelated to work.
That might be a bath, some yoga, or some truly trashy TV.
You can’t recharge if you’re not sleeping well.
‘It’s important to use the time before you go to bed to de-stress,’ says Jan. ‘Reduce your exposure to screens in the hours leading to bedtime. The blue light emitted from screens disrupts your sleep-wake cycle and can lead to wakefulness and lower quality sleep.’
Have a real think about whether your work is working for you
You can’t self-care your way out of the effects of a genuinely damaging job.
‘Make sure that the environment you work in is one you can thrive in,’ says Selina. ‘If you have a demanding client, a bullying boss or find yourself in a toxic work culture, then you need to change that.
‘Likewise, if you realise that the work you do is bringing no joy or meaning to your life, then it’s time to consider a career change to find work that makes you feel good.‘
Open your eyes and recognise when a bit of stress is becoming seriously unhealthy.
No job is worth sacrificing your mental health, and if you know, deep down, that you’re nearing burnout because of external factors, do what you can to change things – or get out of there.
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