Burnout isn’t a new phenomenon. In the wake of the pandemic, however, it’s become a completely different beast.
Since the beginning of COVID-19, we’ve been through a lot. If you’ve been furloughed, had to close a business, or lost a loved one more so than others. Still, it’s been a hectic year filled with anxiety, stress, and uncertainty.
And, because there’s really no longer such a thing as separation between work and life, burnout is skyrocketing.
Spring Health, in a survey commissioned by The Harris Poll, found the following eye-opening stats;
- More than three-quarters (76%) of employed Americans report they are currently experiencing worker burnout.
- Roughly one in 10 (9%) employed Americans report experiencing complete burnout.
When left unchecked, this can lead to physical and emotional fatigue. Perpetual anxiety, irritability, and atypical moods will follow. Suffice to say that will have negative consequences on your relationships and productivity as well.
The good news? Not all is lost if you’re experiencing burnout. Here are 9 ways to combat this once and for all.
1. Burnout is not monolithic.
Why are we burnout? Well, we all have our own unique reasons. Research from Yu Tse Heng and Kira Schabram have, however, narrowed it down to the following three symptoms;
- Exhaustion, which is a depletion of mental or physical resources.
- Cynical detachment because social connectedness has been reduced.
- Reduced sense of efficacy where the value for oneself is drained.
“To recover from burnout, you must identify which of these resources has been depleted and take action to replenish those resources,” they advise.
“For example, when exhaustion is the primary source of burnout, we found that re-energizing acts of self-care are the most effective tool for recovery,” Heng and Schabram write. Studies have found that treating yourself with compassion and self-activities like meditation and napping can reduce reported burnout.
“On the other hand, when burnout is due to cynicism, self-care may not be the most effective strategy,” they add. “When feeling alienated, focusing on yourself may lead you to withdraw further while being kind to others can help you regain a sense of connectedness and belonging in your community.” Heng and Schabram have found that alleviating others’ challenges is the best course of action.
“Finally, when employees struggled with feelings of inefficacy, our research showed that acts focused on bolstering their positive sense of self were the most impactful,” they explain. “Interestingly, this can mean either self-compassion or compassion for others — the key is simply to accomplish something that will validate your own sense of personal value.”
2. Define your priorities.
Jim Collins is credited with the exceptional saying, “If you have more than three priorities, you have no priorities.” I get that you believe everything is a priority. But, when you’re trying to move a million little pebbles in one shot, how much progress are you really making.
Besides. Doesn’t this seem like a tedious and impossible feat? Well, you’re not wrong.
But, what if you honed on just three ger rocks? While also not easy, it’s certainly more manageable and less taxing.
Before getting overwhelmed, take a timeout and ask yourself the following question, “What are the three things you must do today?” Ideally, these should be the activities that bring you closer to your goals or values.
When you pinpoint these, add them to your calendar. Why? It will protect your priorities by making them non-negotiable.
3. Go beyond work-life balance.
“For years, work-life balance was the answer to having your cake and eating it too,” says Calendar co-founder John Hall. “Unfortunately, it’s a myth.” And, the pandemic has only proven this to be the case.
“For starters, there will be times when work bleeds into our personal lives and vice versa,” adds Hall. “That could be putting out a fire or responding to an important email. Attempting to maintain this non-existent balance while only stress you out” to the point of burnout.
The more ideal approach? Strive for integration. “Examples could be having your child file, sort, or organize your office or having a work call while taking your dog for a walk,” Hall states.
There are additional myths that John Hall lists as needing to be debunked;
- Life needs to be compartmentalized. “You can’t evenly split up your time between work and life,” he explains. “Rather, you need to devote the right amount of time to your current priority.”
- You can have it all. I hate to be the bearer of bad news. But, in life, you will have to make certain sacrifices.
- Time management is the answer. Nope. It’s all about managing your energy and focus.
- Technology will give you more free time. While these can be an asset you can’t automate every aspect of life.
- It’s what employees care about most. While flexibility is important, meaningful work, recognition, and empathy rank higher.
- The early bird catches the worm. “Unless you’re a morning bird, don’t fight against your circadian rhythms.”
- You never work during off-hours. There will be days when you’re working 12-hours. The trade-off? Some workdays will only be 4-hours long.
- The less you work, the happier you’ll be. “Even if you worked a 20-hour week, would you be happy if you spend the majority of your time just watching Netflix?” asks Hall.
- Everything needs to be scheduled. “Outside of your essential tasks and appointments, you can leave some free space so that you have a little wiggle room.”
4. Don’t neglect your core needs.
“You can help reduce the energy depletion associated with burnout and facilitate restoration by prioritizing three universal core needs: sleeping, eating, and moving,” Elizabeth Grace Saunders writes in The New York Times.
So, let’s briefly go over how you can attend to each.
Improve your sleep hygiene.
Inefficient sleep is a predictor of burnout. That actually makes sense. If you’re procrastinating at bedtime or having work-related nightmares, then those are both red flags. To rectify this, first, know how much sleep you need each night.
After that? Improve the quality of your sleep by;
- Setting a sleep consistent schedule.
- Avoiding your phone at least an hour before bed.
- Keeping your room cool, dark, and quiet.
- Reserving your bedroom only for sleep and sex.
- Rethinking your mattress, pillow, and bedding.
- Experiment with progressive muscle relaxation.
- Managing your worries, like writing them into a journal.
You are what you eat.
“What you put in your mouth also has an impact on your mood and energy,” adds Saunders. “Avoid foods that make you feel tired or too full.”
Instead, consume “lighter, healthier foods that increase your energy levels,” she suggests. “Similarly, eating smaller, more frequent meals can help maintain your high energy.
Sweat it out.
Finally, make the time for your body and mind to recalibrate, she adds. Ideally, exercising outdoors. Those who do this have reported, “greater feelings of revitalization, had increased energy, and reduced tension, confusion, anger, and depression.”
However, if you feel stress creeping up on you, find ways to release this negative energy. It could be going for a quick walk or exercises that you can do right at your desk.
5. Live your truth.
Saunders also points out that “you need to know what restores you and invest in those activities to prevent burnout.” And, this depends on your personality.
If you’re an extrovert, then you “may need to hang out with friends or family on a daily basis after work to buffer against burnout,” she writes. “ Someone who is highly introverted, on the other hand, may require time alone to recharge.”
Another element of burnout prevention? “Live the truth of your work situation reality — what you can actually change, and where you will need to find alternative sources to meet your needs,” states Saunders. “According to the “Areas of Worklife” model, the workload is only one of the six contributors to burnout. Control, reward, fairness, community, and values are the other five elements.
“These other contributors revolve around feeling supported, appreciated and safe,” she adds. “Ideally, you can either shift your current work environment or find a new job where all of these areas meet up with your expectations. But in some cases, that’s not possible. In those circumstances, you have other options.”
If so, you might have to adjust your expectations. For example, if lunch meetings aren’t a colleague’s bag, find other ways to connect with them. Maybe you’re both fans of the same baseball team and you could catch a game together — or at least have something to informally chat about at the water cooler.
6. Get out of town.
Research shows time and time again that vacations are vital to our overall health and well-being. Also, this can put enough distance between us and work that we can actually disconnect. And, after being cooped up in our homes for a year, we could use a getaway now more than ever.
But, herein lies another problem. How can you actually skip town without worrying about work?
Firstly, since you know what your priorities are, tackle them ASAP. Whatever else you have to do can either be rescheduled, delegated, or scrapped.
At the same time, don’t overextend yourself. Make sure that you’re still taking time to rest and recharge.
You might also build your off-the-grid tolerance. For example, when you go for a walk or into a store, leave your phone behind. You can also block out unavailable blocks of time into your calendar so that you’re not as accessible.
And, when you’re away, set up canned responses an out-of-office message for your Outlook or Google calendar. Besides preventing your inbox from becoming too flooded, this lets others know that you’re away and who to contact if it’s an emergency.
And, if you don’t feel safe traveling by air, try a road trip or staycation.
7. Find small moments of joy.
Not everyone is cut out for remote work. Some of us enjoyed those in-person conversations with our work friends or office parties. Others might miss the background noise or solitude provided by a commute.
“These are all things that are unconscious stimuli that, you know, are such a big part of what makes our days valuable and what makes us feel just, you know, part of the world, a part of our environment,” explains UCLA psychiatrist Jena Lee.
Unfortunately, returning to that pre-pandemic life might not be here any time soon. “With nearly 80% of companies planning to keep remote work options beyond the pandemic, a lot of us are going to need that extra boost,” says NPR’s Claire Miller. “So a question to ask ourselves is, what makes our days rewarding?”
Whether if it’s through a hobby like gardening, laughing at your dog when they roll in the grass, or catching up with a friend, take stock of the small joys in life.
8. Strengthen your support system.
I might be stating the obvious. But, a strong support system is essential. And they even bolster health outcomes.
Personally, I also think that they can be used to make venting more productive. They’re also a healthy distraction.
If it’s been a while, make it a point to strengthen your support system by calling a friend that makes you laugh. You could make dinner plans with your family or expand your professional network via LinkedIn.
9. Help others around you.
Finally, research shows that being helpful to others is can mitigate everyday stress. Examples include soliciting positive feedback and lending colleagues a helping hand. Even if you can’t obtain this within your organization, seek it elsewhere, like volunteering in your community.
Image credit: anna tarazevich; pexels; thank you!