Burnout is a phenomenon resulting from long-term stress that is characterized by exhaustion, cynicism, escalating health issues, and diminished performance.
Burnout and disengagement (a coping mechanism) are a significant threat to our well-being and are costing over $350 billion to US employers.
Most probably, we have all danced with burnout occasionally, but for some of us our burnout story went too far, and not only are we physically and emotionally exhausted all the time, but we are also experiencing:
- Sleep disturbances
- Difficulty concentrating
- Challenges with effective processing of information
- Unexplained illnesses, (physical and emotional)
- Irritability and impatience
- Memory impairment
When we find ourselves in the painful state of burnout, we feel like we are at a dead end with no way out and we cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. We expect the solution to come from outside sources -our employer to balance the demands and the resources available to meet those demands, or we start looking for another job. Research, however, is showing that it can take a minimum of two years to reverse the negative impact of burnout and return to our healthy, high-performing self, even if we change jobs and go to healthier workplace culture.
So, what can we do that is within our control to neutralize the toxic impact of burnout on our body and mind?
It goes without saying that reinstating balance by practicing basic self-care is critical to avoiding the long-term consequences of burnout. Some examples of self-care are:
- Eat well. (Add as many fresh whole foods as possible – Avoid anything that sits on a shelf.
- Avoid consuming large quantities of alcohol and caffeine.
- Create a nighttime routine that helps you Improve your sleep quality.
- Get a minimum of 30 minutes a day of physical activity.
- Develop a plan your day ahead the night before setting realistic expectations of what you want to accomplish..
- Get comfortable saying no and setting healthy boundaries.
- Commit to a daily of detaching your mental activity from taxing thoughts and becoming more and more comfortable with your power to reinstate a calm state on demand.
- Journal for five minutes before you get up in the morning. Choose an intention for the day and identify things you are grateful for.
In addition, I would like to offer you three deeper responses to burnout that really helped me when I was not only struggling with burnout and disengagement, but was also experiencing some significant health complications as a result..
- See burnout for what it is. If we peel back all the layers of the phenomena we call burnout and disengagement, right at the core we will find something we are all very familiar with: Fear! In fact, almost all challenges we have to deal with involve a battle between trust/love and fear. Challenge yourself to get to the core of what is truly worth being afraid of or losing sleep over. Are your fears reasonable and about things that are happening now? Or are you letting your work (title, performance review rating, etc.) define your identity and self-worth? Self-worth—the sense of your own value as a person—can only truly come from you and how you navigate life situations.
The practice: Every morning, take a few minutes to observe your thoughts before starting your day. Identify one fear that is holding you back today. Challenge your self to assess if this fear pertains to something that is here now and ask your self- “ is this fear a truth or a story”? You already have all the answers. You just have to be still enough to listen.
- Call burnout by name and speak about it openly. When we feel compromised inside the tight grip of burnout, we tend to isolate. We may feel ashamed and compare ourselves to how great we think others are—our neighbor, our colleague, our sister, our friend. We put so much energy into hiding until we get better. Yet, if we look closer, even the most successful people that we admire had to overcome failure and rise like the phoenix from the ashes. Every success story has a victory over the darker aspects of our lives.
The practice: Initiate a discussion about your struggle with burnout with the significant people in your work life—your work friends and your direct supervisor. Speaking openly about burnout can not only urge your organization to do something about it, but can also inspire the other (over 70%) of people who are struggling with disengagement and burnout as well.
- Create space to rest and digest in between sprints. When we are struggling with burnout we tend to find ourselves lost in the daze of never shutting down shop. We continue to work, even on evenings and weekends, in the hope that we will catch up and get back on track. Remember, part of the problem of chronic stress is that the most brilliant part of our brain is temporarily off-line. In order to turn our brain back on, we need to create the space to breathe and completely disconnect from the merry-go-round and the rat race.
The practice: Place your electronic devices on airplane mode and do as much as you can to nourish your soul and your body outside of business hours. Take a walk in a near-by park with your loved ones after dinner on weekdays. Let yourself reset by spending ample time in nature over the weekends, letting the sound of waves or the flow of a river wash away stressors you had to deal with during the week.
Throughout the course of our life, we have accepted a story of what will take us to some universal life destinations. Happiness, Success, and Freedom are three human pursuits that are probably on everyone’s list.
However, we seem to forget that we are in charge of determining the path to getting to those destinations.
Our struggle with stress and its cousins, burnout and disengagement, clearly indicates that somewhere along our journey we forgot how much power we have to change the words of our story and determine how it will end.
As much as you may feel hopeless and unable to see the light, remember that we can train our brain to work with us to create a happier and healthier reality. (We have the greatest Neuroscience discovery at our disposal to change our brain to for a happier reality – http://bit.ly/neuroplasticitymyndzen).
All it takes is committing to one small daily practice at a time, which can add up to making a huge difference long-term in our brain’s architecture, our health, and our happiness. And that my friend, is 100% within your control.