7 tips to fight Burnout
These last couple of years have been both physically and mentally draining. We’ve had to adapt to remote work, juggle careers and homeschooling, miss out on essential celebrations and milestones, and distance ourselves from friends and family.
If all of this, plus constantly evolving lockdown restrictions and worries about the COVID-19 virus itself, has left you feeling exhausted, you’re not alone. A survey by the Harvard Business Review found that 60% of respondents felt burnt out often or very often during the pandemic, while 85% felt that their well-being had declined over the last year. Meanwhile, a study by the American Psychological Association found that 84% of adults experienced emotions associated with prolonged stress throughout the pandemic.
But what is burnout?
Simply put, burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion caused by excessive, severe, or chronic stress. It is typically characterized by a lack of energy or motivation and a sense of hopelessness or cynicism, as well as the increased mental distance from one’s job.
Unlike with regular fatigue, those experiencing burnout may feel overwhelmed or incapable of coping with stress or handling responsibilities. Burnout can also lead to trouble concentrating and reduced job performance.
The good news is that burnout is avoidable. Whether you’re feeling burnout already or sense you’re heading down that path, here are some ways to protect your mental health:
- Practice Healthy Habits:
Taking care of your physical health is one of the best ways to improve your mental health. In times of high stress, it’s important not to let good habits fall through the cracks. This means maintaining a healthy diet, getting a good night’s sleep, practicing good hygiene, and exercising regularly. Try to eat nutritious foods while being mindful of your caffeine and alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a depressant and can significantly affect your mood, motivation, energy, and sleep, even days after. Meanwhile, caffeine is a stimulant that we can become overly dependent on when we’re already burnt out.
You should moderate your sugar and refined carb consumption, as both can leave you feeling sluggish and low energy. Try to go to bed at the same time each night, and aim for at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Research shows that getting less than 6 hours of sleep can increase your risk of burnout, as it can impact your productivity, concentration, and motivation. Likewise, regular exercise will boost your mood, improve your concentration, and help you sleep better. Even engaging in just 10 to 20 minutes of exercise a day can significantly increase your overall happiness level and relieve stress.
- Set boundaries:
For many, it’s been challenging to have a clear separation between work and personal life while working from home. Without a commute or physically leaving the office, it can be easy to get wrapped up in a task and work longer or later hours. Creating a “virtual” commute for yourself is recommended to give yourself time to unwind by taking a quick walk around the block and listening to a podcast or music.
If you used to read on the subway or train on your way home from work, pick up a book or listen to an audiobook at home when you finish working. Replicating this commute time can help you disconnect and more easily transition to your non-work activities. Do the same in the morning by having a cup of coffee or reading the news before launching right into work.
It can also be helpful to designate a specific part of your home for work only. This could be a guest room, desk, or even just a corner of your apartment. This space should be separate from where you go to relax, watch TV, or decompress, to prevent work stress from pervading your other activities. Likewise, try to set clearly defined working hours by logging off from your computer and turning off email notifications at a regularly scheduled time each day.
- Make time for fun:
Often, we get so caught up in our day-to-day responsibilities or caring for others that we forget to make time just for pleasure. Engaging in activities you enjoy can help you recharge, destress, and return to your work or chores with a more positive attitude. Hobbies can also distract you from everyday stressors, help you feel more in the moment, and ultimately boost your work performance. You don’t have to carve out a vast amount of time for these things either.
Even just finding ways to revitalize your everyday tasks can help. Ask yourself, ‘What brings me joy?’, then find and create structured opportunities to incorporate that into your day. Do a 10-minute yoga session, work on a puzzle, read a book for bed, try a new dinner recipe, or even play with your pet for a few minutes. Avoid checking the news, social media, or email during these moments and enjoy the activity at hand.
- Take regular breaks:
Whether you’re working from home, homeschooling, caring for children, or facing other stressors, it’s essential to take regular breaks throughout the day to return to your work or responsibilities with a fresh, renewed perspective. Try setting the alarm, leaving yourself reminders, or scheduling regular breaks into your calendar. This could be for lunch, a quick snack or coffee, a walk around the house, or just for a few minutes of stretching.
- Practice mindfulness:
Practicing mindfulness can reduce stress, help you feel more rooted in the present, and help you stay in touch with your emotions. For some people, mindfulness may mean breathing exercises like this body scan or starting a gratitude journal. Spending time being aware of your surroundings is a great way to stay present and positive in times of increased stress.
A great way to practice mindfulness is to engage as many senses as possible in one activity. For example, wash dishes with fragrant dish soap, be aware of the sensation of the bubbles and hear the squeak of the gloves. For others, it may mean getting outside and observing the world around you, paying attention to the outdoors sounds, smells, and sights. Studies have shown that physically placing yourself in nature can reduce stress and anxiety and boost your mood. You can also try focusing your attention on something that requires active thought and focus, like reading a descriptive novel or going on a bike ride.
- Take time off:
While microbreaks each day can be a great way to alleviate stress, time off from your routine can be incredibly rejuvenating. Use your well-earned paid time off to plan a vacation and give yourself something to look forward to. If you can’t afford to take a vacation right now, even just giving yourself a mental health day can help your recharge. This may mean taking a day off from work, while for others, it may mean just using a weekend day to sleep, eat well, and relax. Give yourself time to reset and remind yourself that taking the time to recharge makes you more productive and efficient and can lessen your stress and feelings of burnout.
- Reach out to loved ones:
Feelings of loneliness often accompany burnout, but it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Many people are struggling with similar feelings right now. It can help to share your experiences with supportive loved ones or keep a line of open communication with your supervisors or colleagues. Sharing these feelings can help you feel less isolated and more optimistic, as well as figure out ways to better manage your workload.
With all that has gone on in the world in the last year, it’s understandable that you may feel burnt out or exhausted. Luckily, these feelings are not permanent or inevitable. If you feel like you are struggling with your mental health right now, reach out to your primary care provider to work on a treatment plan.0 Like